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The Otter


The fur of this animal is of such exquisite softness and beauty

as to be in great demand for commercial purposes, bringing a very

high price in the fur market.

The otter cannot be said to be a common animal, although it is

found throughout the United States and Canada, being rather more

plentiful in the cold northern localities than in the southern

latitudes. It is an amphibious anima
, and can remain for a long

time beneath the water. In size it is larger than a cat, and it

possesses a tapering tail some eighteen inches in length. Its fur

is of a rich brown color, and the hair is of two kinds, the one a

close, fine, and exquisitely soft down, which lies next the skin,

and which serves to protect the animal from the extremes of heat and

cold, and the other composed of long shining coarser hairs, which

permit the animal to glide easily through the water. In producing

the beautiful otter furs of fashion these long hairs are plucked

out, leaving only the softer down next the hide. The food of the

otter mostly consists of fish, for the pursuit of which he has

been admirably endowed by nature. His body is lithe and supple,

and his feet are furnished with a broad web, which connects the

toes, and is of infinite service in propelling the animal through

the water when in search of his finny prey. His long, broad and flat

tail serves as a most effectual rudder, and the joints of his powerful

legs are so flexible as to permit of their being turned in almost any


The habitation of the otter is made in the banks of the river which

it frequents, or sometimes in a hollow log or crevice beneath rocks.

The animal generally prefers to adopt and occupy a natural hollow

or deserted excavation, rather than to dig a burrow for itself.

The nest is composed of dry rushes, grasses and sticks, and the

young, three or four in number, are produced in early spring.

The track which the otter makes in the mud or snow is easily

distinguished from that of any other animal, on account of the

seal or impression which is made by a certain ball on the sole of

the foot. Otter hunting is a favorite sport in England, and indeed

in the northern parts of our own country. Hounds are used to pursue

the animal, and on account of the powerfully scented secretion with

which the creature is furnished by nature, its track is readily

followed. When attacked, the otter is a fierce and terrible fighter,

biting and snapping with most deadly energy and never yielding as

long as life remains in the body. The bite of an angry otter is

extremely severe, and for this reason we would caution the amateur

trapper on handling the animal should one be taken alive.

Although so fierce and savage when attacked, the otter is easily

tamed when taken young, and can be taught to catch fish for the

service of its master, rather than for the gratification of its

own palate.

In the winter when the snow is on the ground, the otter navigates

by sliding, and when on the ice he may often be seen to run a few

steps and then throw himself on his belly and slide the distance

of several feet. They are very fond of playing in the snow, and

make most glorious use of any steep snow-covered bank, sloping

toward the river. Ascending to the top of such an incline they

throw themselves on the slippery surface and thus slide swiftly

into the water. This pastime is often continued for hours, and

is taken advantage of in trapping the playful creatures. A short

search will reveal the place where they crawl from the water on

to the bank, and at this spot, which will generally be shallow,

a steel trap should be set on the bed of the river, about four

inches under water. The trap should be secured by a stout chain,

the latter being ringed to a sliding pole, page 145, which will

lead the animal when caught into deep

water. If deep water is not near at hand, the spring pole, page

144, may be used, the object of either being to prevent the animal

from gnawing off its leg and thus making its escape.

The trap may also be placed at the top or the slide, two or three

feet back of the slope, a place being hollowed out to receive it

and the whole covered with snow. To make success more certain a

log may be laid on each side of the trap, thus forming an avenue

in which the animal will be sure to run before throwing itself on

the slope. Care should be taken to handle nothing with the bare

hands, as the otter is very keen scented and shy. Anoint the trap

with a few drops of fish oil or otter musk, see page 151. If none

of these are handy, ordinary musk will answer very well.

The trap may also be set and weighted with a heavy stone and chain,

as described for trapping the beaver. Another method still is to

find some log in the stream having one end projecting above water.

Sprinkle some musk on this projecting end and set the trap on the

log in three or four inches of water, securing it firmly by a chain,

also beneath the water.

A rock which projects over the stream may also be utilized in the

same way as seen in the page title at the opening of this section.

Smear the musk on the edge which juts into the water, and secure

the trap by the chain as before. When the animal is caught he will

fall or jump into the water, and the weight of the trap and chain

will sink him. In every case it is necessary to obliterate every

sign of human presence by throwing water over every foot print, and

over everything with which the naked hands have come in contact.

Where the traps are thus set in the water it should be done while

wading or in a boat. In the winter when the ponds and rivers are

frozen over the otters make holes through the ice at which they

come up to devour their prey. Where the water is a foot deep beneath

any of these holes the trap may be set in the bottom, the chain

being secured to a heavy stone. When the otter endeavors to emerge

from the hole he will press his foot on the trap and will thus

be caught. If the water is deep beneath the hole the trap may be

baited with a small fish attached to the pan, and then carefully

lowered with its chain and stone to the bottom. For this purpose

the Newhouse, No. 3, is best adapted, as the otter is in this case

caught by the head.

The beaten track of the animal may often be discovered in the snow

in the winter time, and a trap carefully sunk in such a furrow

and covered so as to resemble its surroundings, will be likely

to secure the first otter that endeavors to pass over it. A trap

set at the mouth of the otter's burrow and carefully covered

is also often successful, using the sliding pole, page 145, to lead

him into deep water.

Every trapper has his pet theories and methods of trapping all

the different animals, and the otter has its full share. We have

given several of the best methods; and anyone of them will secure

the desired result of capture, and all of them have stood the test

of time and experience.

The skin of the otter should be removed whole, and the operation

may be performed in the following manner: Slit down the hind legs

to the vent; cut the skin loose around the vent, and slit up the

entire length of the tail, freeing it from the bone. With the aid

of the knife the skin should now be peeled off, drawing it backward

and carefully cutting around the mouth and eyes before taking it

from the head.

With the fur thus inside, the skin is ready for the stretcher as

described on page 273, and the tail should be spread out and tacked

around the edges.