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 with Rob Miskosky

The Beaver

I’ve always been fascinated by North America’s largest rodent; in fact, the beaver’s ingenuity, strength, stamina and protective instincts astonish me. Amazingly, the beaver’s ability to change the landscape to suit its needs is second only to humans.

When I first started trapping many years ago, I wanted to trap beaver. I’m not sure why; there are plenty of other furbearing animals much more glamorous than this bucktoothed rodent, but something about these guys appealed to me. Maybe it was because I was young and dumb because an argument could be made that the hardest animal to trap is the beaver. Not because they are difficult to catch, rather, because once caught, the work involved in prepping their skin for sale is no small task. In addition, the monetary return for that work hardly makes trapping beaver worth the effort.

“On her way to put the dam back together.”
However, several years ago that wasn’t the case. At that time, large beaver were highly sought after. I remember returns of well over $100 for what was termed “shearing” or “blanket” beaver. Those beaver that stretched the tape to the XXXL size and bigger. And because eastern beaver are much more valuable than western beaver, because of the eastern beavers’ much darker fur, those prices made trapping western beaver lucrative.

Today, it takes a dedicated trapper to focus on beaver that are bringing $28 to the table. Albeit, the carcass can bring in an extra $10 to $15 from bear hunters and beaver castor has seen good prices recently, but the work is still the work.

Beaver also reach incredible sizes. Most literature suggests the average size of an adult beaver to be in the 40-pound range, which in itself astonishes most city folk who have little knowledge of the wildlife that lives out their backdoors.

But I’m here to tell you that those 40-pound estimates are grossly under reported. My personal best is a beaver that weighed double that and most adults I seem to catch have at least 10-pounds on those 40-pounders, quite often considerably more.

The beaver is also territorial and very protective of the family unit.   A recent report out of Belarus where a fisherman was killed by a beaver brought back memories of my own.

I had been trapping beaver for some landowners and cattle ranchers in the Genesee area. On one particular pond, the beaver were giving the landowner fits. A large portion of his acreage was a mess of fallen trees and dammed up water. I informed the landowner that because he was on a creek system, I would only be able to slow the beaver down, not stop them. Once a family unit of beaver is removed from a given water body, another is soon to take its place, especially on a creek.

At any rate, I had removed the big male, two kits and two two-year-olds. All that remained was the big 80-pound female. This beaver worried me immensely and my guard was always up when I was on her pond. She would appear beside me whenever I was there, watching me it seemed—it was uncanny. In the end, I caught (shot) her, but not before she viciously attacked me as I was setting a trap. I had to fend her off with my hoe, a hoe I was lucky enough to fall back on as I scrambled to get away from her dangerous teeth, which I barely did. Furious, (no beaver is going to attack me!), I made a quick 100-metre run to my truck and returned with .22 in hand—that was the end of the behemoth beaver. Since that day, I have nothing but respect for these amazing and somewhat dangerous animals.

The beaver pictured on the previous page is also a big female, probably pushing 60-pounds if her former mate’s weight can be used as a comparable. She has been hounding my son Dakota and I since last summer when she set up shop in the floodplain beside our trapline cabin. She’s dammed up a small creek that leads from that floodplain to another creek and the water keeps getting deeper... and closer to the cabin. We’ve been playing “break the dam” games with her since last summer when she moved in, but that’s a losing battle. We removed her mate and one of her kits last fall but she’s a smart old girl and she knows that traps mean danger; in fact, she knows how to plug them up and set them off without being caught and it appears her remaining kit has us figured out too.

Much like the old girl that attacked me, I’ve got my eye on this one; a distrustful eye that is, as she appears to be getting braver and braver, even coming within a few feet of us. As much as I admire her, methinks she’s overstayed her welcome. ■

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