Last Wednesday I was supposed to go out with someone on their boat. I have been hoping to get out boating after beavers for a while now. This past year both fall and spring and the spring of last year I did a great deal of hiking up the creeks and ponds to the north. Why to the north? Because the creek is closer in that direction. Unfortunately, lots of people go that way too so the chances of seeing a beaver are slim.
Many people have indicated that the majority of the beavers that are taken are taken with the use of a boat. A boat allows you to cover more ground faster and grants access to a wide number of locations. You can also get further away from where everyone else is and have a better chance of finding an area that has not been over hunted.
We were going to go about 9pm and be out for a few hours at least. Beavers are nocturnal and most of the people I have talked to have said they got theirs between midnight and 4am (remember it is light all night now). However we did not end up going out because it was raining. I was all set and ready to go. Since the rain didn’t bother me, I figured I might as well go for a hike if not on a boat. My pack had some extra things in it which would not have mattered in a boat but would not be needed while hiking and took up too much space and weighed too much. After striping down my pack a little, I headed out.
I was going to go up the creek again, the way I always do. It is only about a mile and there is a beaver dam and lodge up there. There was one time I was pretty sure I saw a beaver, but I did not get a shot off and I have not seen anything before or since. Mostly it is good for ducks and muskrats. At the last minute I changed my mind. An elder had been telling me that I should go check out a creek to the east. To this point I had not. Partly because I was hoping for someone to go with me my first time going in that direction, and partly because, from looking at the map, it was about two or three times as far if I was even looking at the right place.
Since I had driven that way several times in the winter I figured I could stick to the trails I had been on and I shouldn’t have a problem and I had no reason to get up in the morning so a long walk would be fine. I started out.
After 2 miles of uneventful, though stunning, walking I came to the ‘bluffs’. Bluffs is a general name for any cliffs. These are only about 15-20 feet high and gently sloping enough to be hikable in many places. After going down and crossing a very soggy patch it was only a few hundred yards to the creek. As soon as I got to the edge of the water I saw a duck paddling towards me. I had been thinking about the fact that I only had a couple of granola bars and if I made this an all night camping trip, looking for beavers until 4am, I might want some more to snack on. Since the duck was kind enough to come so close I shot it and put it in my pack. Later if I got hungry I could make a fire and cook it.
No sooner had I gotten the duck squared away in my pack then what should I see but a ripple up near the far turn in the creek. Through my monocular I could see that it was a beaver and he was coming towards me. He was going back and forth between one side and the other. I moved up towards him through the thick trees along the bank and tried to time it so he would be close to where I when he came to my side, but no such luck. He started sticking to the other side about 60 yards away. Probably too far to shoot and possibly impossible to retrieve without swimming. The main picture at the top is from my phone of him swimming by.
By now I have learned that more often than not taking a marginal shot usually only guarantees that you will not get a second. Waiting on the other hand, does not spook the animal and may provide a better shot later. As I was waiting to see where he would go, I hear a HONK HONK HONK and look up to see a flock of geese cruising lazily down the creek at me VERY low and slow and closely grouped. I ducked down expecting them to turn and follow the creek and resolving not to shoot because that would scare the beaver. But when they turned and were heading for me like to have flown over I couldn’t help it. A 20 yard (if that) gimme shot or a beaver that I may never get. Bird in hand and all.
It has been my experience that geese and ducks up here are not as big as other places. Ducks may only have a 12-18 inch wingspan and this goose had maybe 30 inches. I got the idea to put my shotgun next to it for reference, I don’t know why I haven’t been doing that all along!
Looking up the creek I thought I saw another ripple in the direction the beaver had come from. The decision now was if I should go the way he came from counting on that he was doing something and may return, stay where I was and hope he might circle back from which ever direction he came from, or go in the direction he was going when I last saw him. At the time I shot the goose, the beaver was probably 100 yards away. I decided to go that way. If he continued that way I might run into him and if he was circling I might still see him on the way back. He probably had some important beaver things to do that way and that was why he was going that direction to begin with.
The other reason to go this direction was that it was the way the snowgo trail went. Of course when we went by snowgo the creek was frozen and we were driving down the middle on the ice. That having long since melted I was stuck along the shore line. The willows and tall grass over grows right up to the edge of the water so it was not easy going but doable. In places it seemed like there may have been enough animal traffic along the edge to create a partial trail. I was just hoping that whatever beaver business he had was pressing enough that he would keep going that way.
Perhaps a half mile and two muskrats later I came to a fork in the creek. I was now extra glad that I had not shot when he was on the far side. In the winter I had believed that this was a place that the creek narrowed and that I could have walked around to the other side. Now I saw that there was no way that could happen. I could however have crossed one side of the fork to the island in between in order to follow the main channel, but it would have become very difficult as the willows that way were not only growing up to the edge but falling over and into the water and much thicker. Still I believed that that was probably my best bet. A scared beaver, I reasoned, would stick to deeper water rather than the shallow narrow fork.
A muskrat went by up the shallow fork and I decided to go after it as I could then come back. This would also allow me to see what the terrain and water looked like around the corner. If it opened up it might be worth following but if it continued to be the 1-5 foot wide dribble then I could turn back. As I came around the corner what should I see? A beaver lodge! Bigger even than the one closer to home. This must have been the important beaver things he had to do.
If I was going to camp out for the night this would be the place. Even if I had scared him, it was very likely he would head back home at some point in the night. I started out for the lodge and I almost made it there when what should I see? A beaver! Again. He was coming to the lodge from the other direction. I later learned from the map that the fork reconnected so he probably did take the main channel around.
He was acting very odd. He would slap the water with his tail and go under for 15-30 seconds then be back up for a minute or two before doing it again. As before he was moving back and forth between the close and far sides of the creek. I moved around a little trying to position myself and finally got a reasonable shot. I was a little further away than I would have liked but not far. He was very close to my side so I would have no trouble retrieving him and so I decided to take the shot.
BOOM! SPLASH! I shot and he was gone. With muskrats sometimes they have just enough to dive a little and they may get caught up in something on the bottom or come up in a hole in the grass that is concealed, never to be found. Worse yet as I cycled the shell I realized that I had not shot the 3 inch BBs I had meant to but the much smaller 2 1/2 inch 6s that I had loaded for muskrats. If the shot is bad muskrats may have time to get up on land or a floating piece of something, presumably to nurse their wounds. Even if they die shortly after, these places can be tricky to get to. Below me was the trickiest of all. If I had only wounded the beaver he may have gone into his lodge to nurse his wounds or worse yet to die out of reach.
I was very frustrated with myself. There was nothing for it now though. Either I would never see him again (in my experience the most likely), or he would float up somewhere dead or come on shore to nurse his wounds (less likely with every minute), or come swimming by at some later time after he thought I was gone.
Beavers can live in large colonies of extended families. There was an enormous amount of downed trees, slide marks and general signs of activity in the area. I found it doubtful that it was all from one beaver. So even if I missed my chance at this one, maybe if I was very lucky, I might still get a chance at another if I waited.
So rather than sit there kicking myself, because I am not good at sitting still, I got to work collecting wood for a fire. It was sunset (1am). Not that I need the light but it would give me something to do and it had been raining on and off so it would be better to be ready in case it started getting colder. Most of the wood was wet through just like the bottoms of my pants after walking through all the wet grass. Still there were enough fire ladders on the evergreens to make for tinder and the TP I carry in my survival kit does have more than the one use.
I didn’t light it figuring that with limited wood I would keep it ready until needed. I shot another muskrat bringing the total to three. They seemed to come out as soon as the beaver was gone so maybe he was slapping to keep them away. Or maybe he was practicing (the beaver who cried wolf anyone?). Or maybe he was just playing around, I guess animals do that too.
There were some ducks further up and I decided to walk up a little way and then come back to the lodge. As I walked up what do I hear? SPLASH. Hmmmm. That sounds familiar. Looking around the corner, beaver. He was coming back to the lodge so I decided to hide behind it since it stuck out forming a natural bottle neck.
After checking to make sure I had the right ammo in and waiting forever for him to come to the other side of the lodge, he was kind enough to give me yet another chance and this one I did not let go. I hit him and he went belly up pretty much immediately. He splashed for a few seconds and then was still baring a few spasmodic leg twitches.
In the spring last year I had to swim for a duck that fell out of reach. It was very cold. When my parents came to visit this last fall my mom pointed out that I could easily use a fishing pole to snag them and bring them in. Since then this method has saved me swimming after many ducks and muskrat not to mention the goose earlier.
I got the pole out and started casting. It was just a little further than I could aim and so I was really looking for a lucky shot. After 50 or so casts I was getting frustrated and a little worried that I might have to swim in the tea colored, albeit warm, water after all. Plus the mosquitos came out in force just after I shot him. I had bug spray on but it was drizzling off and on and I guess it kept washing off. I emptied my pockets and took off my jacket.
My concern was that it might sink. I have heard that they do, although I don’t know if that is a fact or how quickly it happens if it is, but I was not about to take chances. The only thing holding me back apart from the hue of the water was that the twitches had continued for quite a while and I was not keen on swimming up and grabbing a beaver if there was even the slightest chance he had enough left for one good bite. So I figured, he hasn’t sunk yet, give it a few more casts and if he does you can swim that far well before he is lost. And a few casts later I hooked a beaver. The hook slipped but it brought him much closer and in a few minutes I had him up out of the water.
In the water he did not look very big. I had only expected him to be the size of a cat or so. Out of the water he was much bigger. And very jiggly. My phone died just after taking a picture next to my gun, which incidentally, is why there aren’t pictures of the surrounding area. I will try to hike up there again before I leave and get some to add though.
New trouble was that my GPS estimated a straight shot of 2 miles to home (through unknown and possibly impassibly swampy terrain) or 3 miles back the way I had come (through willows along the shore). Not to mention that my pack was already full with the duck, the goose, the 3 muskrateers, and my gear. I decided to take a few minutes and relax. I lit the fire, which helped a little with the mosquitoes, had a granola bar and drank some water.
Next I dumped everything out of my pack. First I skinned out the muskrats. I considered doing the duck and goose too but decided to wait and see if it was necessary. Next I put the beaver in a trash bag (I always carry a couple) and with great effort convinced him to fit in the pack. I was not sure he would, or what I would do if he didn’t, but he did. His tail hung out in a funny way but it worked. Then I put as much of my gear as possible on my belt and in my pockets. Then I put the duck, goose and muskrat skins in the other trash bag. I was glad I didn’t butcher the birds, I was not real keen on having meat I was going to eat hanging out in the same bag as rat skins.
The last of the gear I wrapped in my sweat shit and put on top of the beaver pulling the lid of the pack over the top and strapping it in. That done I finished off the water bottle and used the off putting creek water to put out the fire. With the plastic water bottle crumpled up and in my pocket, I set off with a beaver biting into my back and just hoping that the plastic bag tied to the outside wouldn’t catch on a branch and rip. It was now 2:30am
The whole trip I had been making noise and talking to myself as a form of bear/moose repellant. I don’t like walking through thick willows or anything where you can’t see a reasonable distance. I had my gun but was not eager to use it, not that way anyways. Luckily bears for the most part will wanter off if they hear you coming and, while moose can be stubborn and don’t always want to move no matter what is coming, most of the time a loud approach is still better than a gun.
The pack was now very heavy. Fortunately I like to complain. Now I had someone to complain to, the beaver. This gave me an excuse to keep talking and making noise on my return trip. I told him just heavy he felt. How he was going to give me a heart attack. How my arms were likely to fall off. How he was biting my back side and how much I would like him to stop that. At some point I even named him, Justin of course.
The trip out was as uneventful as the trip in aside from a few rest stops, increasingly sore shoulders and a few blisters. It turns out mud boots are not really made for hiking miles of uneven tundra. Shock.
Recently I have read the classic book The Old Man and the Sea and the tribute it inspired The Young Man and the Sea. Both were well written stories about a main character struggling over protracted periods, against pain, to bring in a monstrous fish (marlin and tuna respectively). At first I laughed thinking of this and then I tried not to think of it anymore because in one (I’ll try not to spoil by not telling which) the fisherman cannot get his prize in just as he comes within sight of shore. I was just hoping nothing was going to happen.
Then I started imagining ways it might. The pack could rip forcing me to leave it there and come back to find it eaten. Or I might come on a bear and have to use it as a distraction. The scenarios got more ridiculous from there. Remember it was 4:00am. But I got back fine. I set my pack down and laid down in the entry way and for just a second thought I might fall asleep right there. It was now 4:30am.
But I didn’t fall asleep. Instead I weighed the beaver (34lbs) and my pack (54lbs). Then I changed out of my wet cloths. All my outer layers were pretty wet at this point. I got to sleep at 5am. 7 hours and 6 miles from where I had started.
I slept until 1pm the next afternoon. After making some food (I was starving) I got to work. A few days earlier I had printed off a template to make a stretching board and had even found an old piece of plywood on a walk. So I took a marker and went to work and in a short time had my very own beaver board. The link to make your own if you are so inclined is here along with templates for many other critters.
Next up I needed something to put on the board. Just before school let out someone brought in a few beavers and the kids (and I) got to see how to skin them. There were a couple things they cut off as a traditional sign of respect. Both are on the back feet. One is the double claw on one of the toes and the other is a bone part up on the back foot. I did this because… When in Rome.
Both the front and back legs are very short and do not need to be removed. The feet are removed so that the pelt can slip over them. The front feet are small, two inches at most and surprisingly not webbed. The back feet are webbed and stretch to maybe 5-6 inches and are much longer than the front. The head is small and round (maybe why I thought he was so small in the water) and the tail was 10-12 inches, rubbery and flat… Duh.
The skinning was fairly straight forward but I was still worried about putting a hole in the pelt since I have not done one before. As a result I probably left more fat on the skin than is best, but I got through with no holes! I guess muskrats were good practice. Interesting side note; while I was cleaning him I did find a few BBs but no 6s from the first shot. So either this was a different beaver or the 6s just didn’t have enough to do anything.
Next step, boarding. This site has a good walk through of how to properly choose a ring size and nail the skin down. It is important to get the correct size because too small and you end up with less material then you could have had. Too big and you loose fur density, the fur is not as thick. The top was fairly tight but the bottom was looser. I stuck with the ring it was on though. I don’t want to second guess and mess it up. Once on the board I measured it. The sizes are given by the vertical length added to the horizontal length. He was 35″ tall and 27″ wide for a total of 62″ which means, according to this site (which has sizes for other critters too along with other useful info) mine is an XL on a scale of XSmall-2XL. Some of my reading indicates that it could shrink up to a size during tanning but that is still a decent sized beaver.
After boarding him I did a little wet scraping. I got the majority of the meat but some of the fat just would not come off. It seemed that there was no skin just fat and it was not going anywhere. After a while I gave up. I salted it and put it up to dry. If I it is dry before I leave I will bring it home I will try more there or maybe just send it to someone professional.
The meat I gutted. I accidentally threw away the casters and oil gland which are apparently worth as much as $10 a pound for… something. Actually the castors are used in vanilla flavoring and some perfumes and I think the oil glands are used for hunting as an attractant.
The next day I took the meat over to the elder who had suggested going that way. I stuck around and watched her butcher it. She did it pretty quickly but I think I saw most of the cuts. Next time maybe I will try that. I also gave her the tail which is a delicacy here. She was disappointed that I didn’t bring the feet too. I didn’t know but I guess they eat those also. She said she would make it up for dinner. I asked if I could try a small piece when she did and she said that would be ok.
So later that evening I stopped by and tried beaver meat and tail. The meat was ok but there was a good deal of fat. Here most people like fat of any kind. I do not. The tail is filled, not with muscle as I would have thought, but hard fat. Once boiled it turns to a gooey consistency that can be scraped easily from the leathery skin. It tasted kind of bland. Like eskimo ice cream I would not say it was bad, but it was not that good either.
I still have the skull that I will try to clean up. I have been working on another skull that I got a while ago from someone and hopefully this one will turn out also.
I can’t wait to go out again now that I have beaver fever! Not literally because that really is a thing. It is another name for Giardiasis which can be contracted if one drinks water contaminated by beaver feces. It is one of the reasons people here don’t like beavers. But I am still very excited and looking forward to my next trip out. Well maybe after my shoulders stop aching.
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