I still remember seeing that old beaver cutting in Hogan's Marsh down the road from the American Legion Hall when I was a school boy. It would be more than a decade until I actually harvested a beaver in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula. Today I look forward every winter to a good pot of Beaver Stew and gathering beaver castor for my animal lure making activities. It is just a bonus for me if the price is up on the beaver pelt. Hopefully this article will help you a little if you are a beaver trapper or perhaps show you how to save a few trees if you are a land owner blessed with too many beaver.
Beaver are very common in Michigan today. The season is also very liberal running from late fall into the spring. Make sure to check the Michigan Trapping and Hunting Regulations for the exact season dates. Of all the furbearing animals we can trap, no other critter leaves as much sign as a beaver. The sign includes trees cut down, very large lodges, dams and large tracks at the water’s edge in the mud. Most times when you see beaver sign for the first time you think there are far more beaver than there actually are. The beaver’s trails in and out of the water are not only indication of an active beaver population but also a prime set location.
When targeting beaver I prefer to use #5 Bridger Coilspring Traps, Size #330 Body Grip Traps and snares for under the ice beaver trapping. A good beaver Lure like Lenon's Beaver Super All Call is a must during open water beaver trapping. A trapper can also easily make his own beaver lure by removing the two castors from a beaver or beavers, grinding them up and adding some glycerin oil or mineral oil. Beaver are not hard to trap but extra care should be made to assure you are going to hold them and humanely drown them when using foothold traps. I prefer foothold traps as it is my experience that beaver get shy once they start seeing other beaver caught in body grip traps. Also we are allowed to catch otter during beaver season; however, it is my experience that when setting body grip traps in trails and narrow underwater passages I can catch more otter than allowed. Therefore, when trapping beaver in Michigan I am trapping beaver with otter avoidance techniques. The main avoidance technique is to not set narrow passages with # 330 body grip traps in streams.
It is important to note that I do not trap southern Michigan, which probably has fewer otter than northern Michigan. When I do demos at trappers conventions on beaver, folks are always asking me how to catch otter. It has always been my experience that if otter are around they will be caught quickly in Body Grip Traps in narrow passages and beaver dam crossovers.
So, you found your active beaver colony and sign is everywhere. Note some beaver create large lodges for homes and others create bank dens with entrances under the water. If the water is open I would make a beaver mound castor set. I would make the set just to the right of an active slide in and out of the water. Grab mud from under the water and pile it with old vegetation a foot or two high on the bank a few handfuls is plenty. Cut a stick about 1/2 inch in diameter and 6 inches long peeling the young bark off for eye appeal and dip it into your Lenon Beaver Super All Call Lure or homemade beaver lure. Place the lured stick on the castor mound that you made. Place a stake several feet up the bank and another hardwood long stake out in water waist deep or more. The two stakes will be connected with 10 or 11 gauge wire and the drowner lock on the trap chain placed so the beaver can go toward the deep water but not back toward shore. You place the bank stake way high so if water raises from rains or melt you can easily keep your set in working order.
I always set large traps like a Bridger #5 Coilspring trap while I'm on the dry high bank for safety and then place at set location under two or three inches of water in front of the Beaver Castor Mound. If a lot of raccoon sign is present I will also set some Dog Proof Raccoon Traps on the high banks. This keeps the raccoon out of my beaver sets and it is always nicer to carry out a dry raccoon then one that is soaking wet.
When the water freezes I have very good luck with beaver snares set near the beavers feed piles. Once you have seen a beaver feed pile you will not have any trouble identifying them. Basically they can be quite large consisting of many poplar poles dragged into the water near a beaver lodge or beaver dens in the banks. Once ice covers the habitat, the beaver survive by eating what they have stored under the water prior to freeze up. One can make their own beaver snares or purchase them already made from a trappers supply house. I usually place 4 beaver snares on a hardwood pole and tie a long green fresh poplar to the hardwood pole. You can search the web for pictures and video of using snares for under the ice beaver trapping. #330 Body Grips Traps can also be placed on poles with a bait stick. I do not do quite as good under water trapping but it is always rewarding when you do collect a prime beaver after chopping through a foot of ice.
While trapping beaver into the late winter do not overlook throwing in a few sets for fox and coyote on the high banks. By December and January the thickets found around beaver activity are prime areas for fox and coyote to look for their next meal. All canines will respond much better to baits and lures during the cold and freezing weather. The fall abundance of food is gone and the canines are not going to pass up a free meal. You will have to use some dry dirt or peat moss to bed your sets at this time of the year with freezing temperatures. I also tend to use grapples or drags during the winter as it can be difficult or impossible to drive in trap stakes. The fox and coyote are the most prime during the month of December and every canine caught will be a trophy. And with snow on the ground showing you where they travel it will be an educational experience for you on their nature.
Beaver Stew is really good and very similar to beef stew to me. Like all wild game you must process it right to maximize its goodness. I start by only using beaver from one day trap checks, as it is possible to have a legally caught beaver on a two day trap check. The fresher the better. After removing the beaver pelt "fur" and beaver castor glands I quarter the beaver. Probably the most important part is removing all the fat and grizzle leaving only lean meat. Once I have 4 legs and the back straps removed and all the fat removed I soak in kosher salt water over night in the refrigerator.
The next day I cut into cubes 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch all the beaver meat. I then add 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of Black Pepper. In a stew pot add olive oil and heat, when oil is hot brown the flour coated beaver cubes. Once the beaver cubes are brown add several cups of water and simmer about an hour. Then add 1 or 2 medium onions diced up, 2 cups of 3/4" cubed peeled potatoes or rutabagas, several large carrots sliced and a cup of fresh or canned mushrooms. If necessary cover all with additional water and bring to a boil and simmer until all vegetables are tender. Thicken as desired with flour or cornstarch mixed in cold water.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and that every Michigan school boy or girl trapper receives a muskrat trap in his or hers Christmas stocking. Watch for my January and February articles when I cover the trapping topics of under ice muskrat and mink trapping, coyote and fox snaring and one my favorite winter activities catching a white Michigan weasel. I welcome you to visit my websites at PcsOutdoors.com and LenonLures.com I always welcome calls from fellow trappers at (989) 569-3480 ext. 225