Rabbit Gums

When I was growing up and visiting my mother’s family near Union Grove Church on the border between Moore and Randolph counties, I sometimes would stumble across one of these odd contraptions set up in the edge of one of the distant fields: “Rabbit Gums” my uncles and Grandfather set out to catch dinner. I never developed a taste for bunny, but I was fascinated with their traps.

The Chriscoe rabbit gums were wooden rectangular boxes made of thick sawmill plank, with the far end closed and a trap door at the other that slid down like a guillotine. The top of the door was tied to a stick balanced on one end; a notched trigger clipped into the box and held the door open. Rabbit food (apples/ carrots/ turnips/ etc.) was put inside the closed back end; when an animal (not always a rabbit- I remember hearing stories about angry possums and skunks caught in rabbit gums) crawled in the box and nibbled on the food, the trigger would pop loose and slap the trap door down to catch the rabbit. Most of the time.

The “gum” part of the name Rabbit Gum is a holdover from farther back in history, when black gum trees were burned to hollow out the center, making natural boxes for bee hives, chicken nests, rabbit traps and etc. “Gum” became a generic term for whatever served the same purpose as that original hollow block of Gum wood. This internet hunting forum page has pictures of a natural black gum rabbit trap. [Here’s the link unembedded- http://www.huntingenthusiast.net/viewtopic.php?t=2917&sid=9a46a54fca77896678c6bbcef9df44cb ]

Local historian Frank L. FitzSimons of Henderson County, NC, wrote here of rabbit gums-

“In early days the fall of the year was the season to set rabbit gums. This was before rabbits were protected by stringent game laws and wild rabbits supplied a sizeable portion of the fresh meat eaten during the winter months. At that time it was not against the law to sell wild game in our stores and meat markets. It is rarely done now but in the days of another generation practically every boy on a farm in Henderson County had a string of rabbit gums …

“Every farm boy used his own favorite bait in the traps … Some held to apples. Others claimed that onions were better than apples. Some boys baited their gums with salt. Then there were those who argued that the best bait of all was a combination of cabbage leaves, onions and salt.

“My uncle taught me to bait traps with apple slices. This was his preference because apples were readily available that time of the year and would keep in the trap for a long while. In addition to placing a large slice in the trap behind the trigger, he also placed tiny bits of apple in a pathway leading to the entrance.

“At the beginning of one winter a rumor spread through town that some boys were killing and skinning cats for rabbits. The market for rabbits was completely wiped out until some wise person came up with the idea of leaving the fur on one hind foot for identification…. When a boy caught a wild rabbit, skinned and dressed it for sale, [and] the fur was… left on one of the hind feet… the purchaser could know the animal being sold was actually a rabbit.”

I discovered these homemade rabbit gums in a former parking lot next to a textile mill in Salisbury that was being torn down. They gently reminded me of the 1950s in rural Randolph. But an April 2007 Craigslist post from Morehead City announced a bigger business:


Obviously rabbit gums haven’t vanished into history quite yet!


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16 Responses to “Rabbit Gums”

  1. lesa tatum Says:

    Thank you for this article. I am from Rockingham county and my dad made rabbit gums his whole life and my sibllings and I would help. My brother just recently made one. I was talking about it at work one day and people told me they had never heard of it called a gum before and it must be a phrase that only black people use. I told them they were crazy and that everyone I knew, regardless if they were white or black or native, called it a gum. I will show this article to those crazy folks. I will also add the skill of building one on my resume.

    Thanks again,


  2. Richard Smith Says:

    I baited rabbit gums when I was a child, and still do today–70 years later.
    I always used applea. When I used onions I quite oftn caught an opossum, and then I would burn out the gum and set it aside until next year.

    I still make my own rabbit gums but I put hardware cloth over the rearend so I can see what I have caught without opening the box. It works…
    Richard Smith

  3. kenneth taylor Says:

    I also made rabbit gums 1984 things got rough so i used my survival skills taught me by my gramps.I also used apple.I used plexi glass on the rear.

  4. eric chriscoe Says:

    As a child, i saw these on my grandfathers farm. He used them, up until his death. Amazing and effective!

    Eric Chriscoe

  5. vickie nelson Says:

    when I was a little girl my father would set the rabbit gun and I love to go with him toseewhat would be in it .I have a friend that I would lie to get a gum for if you know where I can get one please give me a call at 336-423-3404 Thank- you

  6. Candy Stout Kee Says:

    I actually have one of these that My grandmother, Myrtle Stout used. she lived on Erect road near Shiloh Baptist Church, Coleridge, NC

    • macwhatley Says:

      Can you send me pictures and measurements of it? I’d like to document a true Randolph County example.

  7. elwood williams Says:

    i build rabbit gums since i used to bait them as a boy and still do if you are interested in buying one send me a email at leota-501@att.net i love building them just one of my many hobbies when i have time thanks elwood

  8. Eddie Perrou Says:

    Thanks for this article. It answered my main question about why we always called these devices “gums”. I grew up in Valdese NC (Burke County) and back in the 1950’s I observed many of these traps even inside the city limits. When my wife asked me why they were called gums I needed to get her an answer and now I have it.

  9. Polly Miller Says:

    I recently found an old story that my mom had written in 1968 i think, she was born in 1932 in oklahoma, she had typed up the story in 68 and i just recently came into possession of it, the story had been with my mothers sister, my aunt who passed away last year. My mother mentions rabbit gums in her story and i thought it was a typo from the old typewriter,later i realized it was not a typo. interesting story and learned some interesting history facts about my old family…

  10. mike bogle Says:

    I grew up in Buncombe County and we made these rabbit gums in the mid-1950s. Always called them “rabbit gums” and always used apples on the trigger stick, but not good apples! Also crushed apples underfoot and rubbed a bit of the mash on the inside. And don’t forget to soap the slides for the trap door.

  11. Charlie Jackson Says:

    Cool reading the replies. I grew up in Central Arkansas, Hot Springs, and made the same type rabbit gums when I was a boy. Now 62 and retired I have built them recently. I wonder if they maybe showed up in a national catolog that was sold around the country so everyone who wanted one could build one.

  12. morris henson springer Says:

    In 1941 as a 9 year old I built a rabbit gum in the fall. I lived in Rose City, NLR. Arkansas. I baited it and forgot about it. In the spring I went back, opened it up and there was a frozen rabbit. I never baited one again and wonder if there is a metaphor in this tale about the human condition. I did not know about the origin of the word. Thanks for sharing.

  13. LC White Says:

    I really enjoyed this article and brought back memories of my grandpa Carl Chriscoe… Thank you

    • macwhatley Says:

      I’m sure that’s my mother’s Uncle Carl, brother to Clyde and my grandfather Walter, and a passel of brothers and sisters.
      Some day I hope to write here about Henry Chriscoe’s pottery shop, now in storage at the Smithsonian…

  14. David West Says:

    My uncle from Oconee, SC taught me how to build rabbit gums 45 years ago. Here’s a coon I recently caught and let go. Thanks!

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