Beaver trapping: A smelly science

Beaver trapping is all about gettin’ all up in their toothy territory.

In the minuscule amount of time in my life I had devoted to thinking about trapping, I deemed it a practise that I just didn’t understand. But then a chance to understand it presented itself, which is how I found myself in the Super Dam Hopper – a home-built, dam-hopping, ice-breaking, flat-bottomed, fishing masterpiece of a boat – one cold grey morning with Ingi as he held a stick in one hand and a beaver castor – a scent gland that Ingi said, “looks like, uh, something else, but both males and females have them,” – in the other.

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Mmm…beaver castor.

“Smell that,” he said, holding it out to my face.

I scrunched my nose and gave him a look that said “You’re effing nuts,” but relented, and found the castor didn’t smell unpleasant – in fact, it’s been used as the base of perfumes.

Ingi placed three conibear traps outside three beaver houses along the main river. Behind them he placed a stick rubbed with the scent of beaver castor. The scent attracts beavers around the house who come to check out the ‘new animal’ around their home.

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Two long poles are used to hold the conibear (a body-kill trap) in place. One is pounded into the bottom of the lake and the trap is slid onto it. The other is placed on an angle to keep the trap from swinging around the pole it’s mounted on.

For decades, Ingi rotated beaver trapping locations each year between the main river, the south river and the east creek. Generally, he’d set five traps at several houses for a few days – beavers are quick to become trap-wise.  If Ingi trapped two beavers from a small house or five from a large house, he’d pull the traps, and he always leave some houses trap-free. He said it’s a way of attempting to manage the population.

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The beaver’s feet are removed in the skinning process. Sage thought these were the best things ever! She would wait for them, and when they were tossed to her, she’d bury them around camp.

Muskrat trapping is somewhat simpler, and it’s all about habit.

Floats made of small, split logs joined in a grid pattern are laced onto poles hammered into the bottom of the lake and river, then 1 1/2 leg hold traps are placed on the floats. Muskrats stopping for a break from swimming climb onto the floats and get caught in the traps, and drown.

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We loaded the Super Dam Hopper up with everything we’d need to set beaver and muskrat traps: poles, conibears, leg hold traps, some of Ingi’s experimental homemade float traps, beaver castor, insulated rubber gloves and the axe.

When we returned the next day, several traps had snapped. We came away with three beavers and three muskrats, and Ingi tossed their bodies to the front of the boat, directly in front of my seat after removing them from the grips of the traps.

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Some tools of the trade for beaver skinning.

I didn’t have any kind of epiphany, looking at the bodies. I didn’t feel any sense of sorrow or any sense of excitement, but rather a mild discomfort and an ambivalent curiosity. This was the first step in beginning to understand the practise, but I was far from forming any kind of lasting opinion.

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Ingi skinned beavers on the table, rather than hanging them like we did for the rest of our catches.

The window for trapping beavers and muskrats was short this year. By the time we arrived at camp, the east bay, where the majority of the muskrat houses are, was frozen. In the end we came away with five beavers and 18 muskrats – enough to learn how to skin them (which I did), flesh the beavers, dry them, and in the case of the beavers, brush them, which is something I genuinely enjoyed.

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Fleshing is done on fatty animals including beavers, otters and coyotes. The pelt is held on a fleshing tube, sawdust is applied to help soak up moisture, and a metal scraper is used to remove any remaining pieces of flesh that could rot the pelt. You can work up quite a sweat during this part of the process!

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After the pelts were stretched and dried, we removed the nails from them.

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When the pelts were dried and brushed, they went into cold, dry storage until they could be shipped out to the fur buyers.

One thought on “Beaver trapping: A smelly science

  1. Pingback: How to skin a squirrel – a newbie’s guide |

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