Traditional Dena'ina Use of Snares

A person holding a traditional dena'ina snare

Used to capture birds like grouse and ptarmigan as well as ground squirrels, these small snares are made of bird feather shafts, sinew and wood. If snares like this were placed in a wet environment, they were sometimes waterproofed with spruce pitch. A Dena'ina Athabascan elder in Lime Village once commented that if a person is very hungry and they have no snares, they can remove the lines from their snowshoes to make snares, replacing them after they have caught the game.

Snaring, one of the most common methods of harvesting small game, was traditionally done during the fall by women and girls in the area around what is now Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. During fall hunting, local Dena'ina families went in to the mountains in search of caribou, Dall's sheep, and moose. While the men hunted big game, one woman would watch the infants and the rest of the women and children went out into the mountains, trapping ground squirrels and birds with snares such as these, or more recently, with small steel traps. Individual snares would be set where the birds tended to rest, land or feed.

Young Dena'ina girls were taught how to set snares for ground squirrels among other chores - this way they would never be totally dependent on males providing them food and raw materials. Ground squirrel meat was eaten, and their pelts were made into many things - parkas, underwear, pants, blankets, and other clothing.

These snares were accessioned into Lake Clark's park museum collection in the early 1990s with no indication of when or where they were made, or even who gave them to the National Park Service. It's a mystery! While this is not uncommon in museums, the items still hold cultural significance and value for those who wish to learn about the traditional items past generations crafted and relied upon.

Six traditional Dena'ina snares

"We trap squirrels.
We make lots of snares,
we use eagle feathers, wings from all kinds,
from ducks too.
We made lots of snares.

I know how to make it too,
snare with a stick on there,
that’s all I used in the mountain,
little snare.
[You have the bird wing and cut it and make it round?]
Um-hum, with sinew too.

My mom had lots of snares,
she made lots too.

We put [the snare] above the squirrel hole
and that qunsha [squirrel] come out
and get in there and it kill it. [You used to get lots?]
Lots, whole side of the mountain,
we set snares.

After the season [fishing season]
we got up there
and set the snares.
Right now we go up the mountain [September month].
I make a parka out of it,
those little skins, gloves, hat,
that squirrel is pretty. [you get ready for winter eh?]
Um-humm, all the winter stuff,
we make."
—Mary Hobson, 2007
Interview with Karen Evanoff, 178

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2 minutes, 28 seconds

Join Lake Clark Museum Curator Katie Myers as she goes "into the vault" and shares information about Dena'ina animal snares that are preserved in the park's museum collections.

Explore the Lake Clark Museum Collections

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve

Last updated: October 29, 2021