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 [Page 188] 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.