Man-Trap!

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Pic: Rod Fleming

Ever seen a real man-trap?

My neighbour was given this with a load of other bits and bobs. She thought it was a toy, but closer examination made me disagree. For a start, it was quite clearly a gun of some order, but it didn’t have any kind of handle. There wasn’t a conventional trigger either.

It might have been a toy cannon, but it didn’t have a carriage. Yet opening it up revealed that it was chambered to take a real twelve-bore shotgun cartridge. Plus it’s made of very heavy cast iron. It’s just not like a child’s toy at all.

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Showing how the hammer is held cocked by a simple hasp. Pic: Rod Fleming

We scratched our heads over another glass of wine while I played with it. Then I saw that the hammer, when cocked, was held back by a simple hasp. This had a lever on the end with a hole in it. That was when the penny dropped.

‘It’s a trap,’ I said, trying not to sound like that Dagon look-alike in Star Wars. Three French faces swivelled towards me—my neighbour, her son and another local, a vigneron.

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You can clearly see the rebate in the chamber to hold a cartridge. Pic: Rod Fleming

‘A trap?’ quoth they, somewhat disbelieving.

‘Yes,’ I insisted. ‘This hole is to attach a trip line.’ I cocked the little weapon, and with the lightest of pressure on the lever, the hammer snapped down. ‘Like that.’

Immediate disbelief was followed by a rush to the computer, where my neighbour set to Googling.

And this is what we found. The little gun is indeed a trap—a ‘piege de braconnier’ in fact, which means ‘poacher’s trap’, though maybe a better translation would be ‘trap for a poacher’ judging by this advert, from 1967. It turns out you mount the little bugger on some suitably sturdy piece of wood, then lead the trip line to your door, or across a path that an intruder might use, and then BANG! Lights out; a very effective ‘man-trap’.

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Advert from 1967 showing similar device

Well, the advert does specify that this was only to be used for blanks, but another site noted that ‘while these are not illegal, after numerous “accidents” involving such devices loaded with live cartridges containing shot, their use was strictly controlled.’

Live cartridges? Accidents? Bloody hell, I’ll say. That thing could blow a sizable hole in you. It is distinctly lethal. Even loaded with blanks, you’d probably drop dead of a heart attack.

Anyway, they’re apparently not that rare (which says something) though I had never seen anything like it before. So I thought I’d share. Meanwhile my lovely neighbour is cleaning it up to put on display. I did offer her a couple of cartridges to try it out, but she declined. Very wise.

I’m sorry it’s been a bit slow here on the French Onion Soup! blog lately, but I have been very busy getting the print and e-books of the same name finished and out; so why not buy or download a copy?

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