Beaver hunt enjoyable adventure

WILDERNESS JOURNAL
Mark Walters • OUTDOOR COLUMNIST

On Christmas Eve my stepson, Joey Dushek, calls me up and says he just found some very active beaver sign and wants to know if I would show him how to make some beaver sets (trap sets) as he had a strong desire to catch his first beaver.

I tell Joey, lets wait, come up with a bunch of 330 body-grip traps and do this in a couple of weeks, and besides, it’s Christmas!

Enter our good buddy, Jody Bigalke. Jody is a very active trapper, has lots of gear and likes teaching kids how to hunt, shoot carp, fish and trap (major Kids and Mentors Outdoors one-onone mentor). Jody basically takes charge of the entire operation and here is the story.

Saturday, Jan. 10
High 14, Low Minus-16

Joey Dushek is 21, took his Trapper Education class last year, works on a cranberry marsh in western Juneau County and since he caught his first fox two weeks ago is totally addicted to trapping.

Today, Jody, Joey and myself spent a full day exploring a couple thousand acres of forest, marsh and waterways, and basically worked very hard.

The first place that we made our sets was one of five that Joey had been doing some very serious scouting at. The layout was a maybe 200-acre reservoir with the vast majority of the shoreline made up of mature pine and oak forest.

Beavers, like most wildlife, love recent logging jobs and the reasons are always the same and that is because deer, grouse and beaver find abundant food to consume in the aspen that appears the following spring and for many years to come (grouse eat the buds).

In our case there were not many beavers as there was not much food but all Jody or myself cared about was getting Joey his first beaver and teaching him how to trap beaver.

Our first set was on what you could literally call an underwater beaver trail. Beavers, like muskrats, swim on trails, generally at the bottom of the waterway they are swimming, once ice has formed. Depending on the age of the water system, these trails could be decades old and always create a shallow path (hard bottom) where the beaver swim and their bodies push silt and sand to the side.

The ice was only 2 inches thick over the beaver highways and so we had to be careful.

Jody taught Joey at our first set that in a deep run it is best to set two body-grip traps, with one positioned over the other in case the beaver are swimming a bit above the bottom.

Long story short, at day’s end we had seven sets for beaver and the following day Jody taught Joey how to make two sets for muskrat and that first day of checking traps yielded no fur.

Space is always an issue in telling this story but hard work, cold hands, incredible wildlife signs (bobcat, wolf, coyote and deer) are a large part of the adventure called beaver trapping.

Wednesday, Jan. 14
High 21, Low Minus-12

Jody could not make trapchecking today and most of our work was done in the dark as Joey worked until 4:30 p.m. Our experience was none short of incredible. Joey’s first set was a baited set under the ice and no beaver.

The next set was a trail on the bottom of the reservoir and that is where Joey caught his first beaver after some ice chopping and trap pulling. Joey’s third set held his second beaver. His fourth held his first muskrat and his fifth another rat.

All of our work is being done with a spotlight and our adventure is becoming a classic.

Set No. 6 was a trail leading to a hut. Above the ice was ample bobcat and coyote sign. When we pulled this body-grip it held what looked like a small bear and now Joey had a beaver to make a blanket out of. I do not know what this trophy weighed but I believe 60 pounds is a good guess.

During this entire experience we were talking about biology and how many animals to safely harvest without over harvesting.

As I said, our sets were scattered and our second to last was made for a beaver but held Joey’s third rat, and set No. 9 held another beaver which meant seven out of nine held fur.

Joey is pulling the traps the next time he checks them and I think it is safe to say a couple of old-timers taught him a trick or two on how to trap beaver under the ice.

Enjoy the adventure!
Sunset


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