The Trapper Who Nearly Trapped Himself

Written by Milton Parent

Chris Hamling Jr. with the cougars he shot on his Wilson Lake trap line, c. 1946.
Chris Hamling Jr. with the cougars he shot on his Wilson Lake trap line, c. 1946.

Chris Hamling Jr. was tired. He had just set his traps at Wilson Lake, Kemball Lake and right up to the Hamling Lakes. He decided he would try and get back to his home at Box lake, but he knew that it would be dark before he returned. Fashioning a ‘bug’ from a five pound lard pail, he set out with his pack and 303 rifle with a full clip of eight shells and one in the barrel.

After travelling several miles, darkness set in and he lit his primitive little lantern, the candle flickering a dim glow on the crisp snow. As he approached a trap that was close to the trail, he was taken aback. My God, there was a cougar caught in the trap! Chris realized that he had to shoot it, and because there was a bounty of $40, he didn’t mind having the animal, but he didn’t appreciate trapping them.

Now the problem arose of how to kill the snarling cat with the bug in one hand and the rifle in the other. Finally he bent a small tree over and hung the bug on it and leaned the rifle over the bow so that the light shone on the cougar as well as down the barrel.

Before he could shoot, he heard the growl of another cat behind him. Sure enough, standing tense and defiant, there was another cougar only 20 feet away! The hair stood up on Chris’ neck. This was getting a bit too social for his liking. He swung the bug and the tree the other way and without hesitation, fired at the cat. It fell with little reaction. This accomplished, he loaded the two cats on his pack. They were not large and he thought they probably had only recently left their mother. However, it was a good load of at least 110 pounds.

Off again, the snow crunching under his feet, he sighed and hoped this was the end of a rather nerve-jarring journey. But 15 yards along was his next trap and there, incredibly, lay another cougar, his front leg held in the jaws of the merciless contraption! It was cold, but Chris was starting to sweat and his warm breath puffed down the gleaming gun barrel as he prepared to finish the animal, as he had done to the last one.

No sooner was the limp body taken to the trail than a curdling scream pierced the winter night. Visibly shaking now, Chris held the lantern above his head. The reflecting eyes of yet another sister stood within yards of him. His fear turned to mild anger which allowed him to once more set up to shoot the animal. The deed performed, Chris reloaded the cats and started dragging the other two behind him.

The ranch was not too far away now. About two miles and the bounty would be safe at home and he could rest his weary body, but all was not over for this night. He had traversed only a couple of hundred yards, when he heard a growl that definitely thundered over the previous encounters.

Straining to get a glimpse of this beast, his foot slipped and for a moment, he lay vulnerable to fatal attack. The cat had come close as Chris struggled to his feet. He tried to raise the gun but the heavy pack prevented him from aiming properly. He dropped the pack and raised the gun at a faint outline against the snow. The rifle cracked, he saw the cat jump into the bush. It seemed to disappear, so Chris loaded up and headed for Box Lake. He had had enough excitement to last him for the night.

Next day, he went back up his trail only to find the big cat laying just beside the spot that he had encountered it. It was shot through the shoulder and must have been the mother of the other four. Chris had the mother cat’s head mounted to remind him of that night, though it is doubtful he would ever forget it.