Beaver Trapping

Beaver, the animal that built America. This is the most historically important animal in the world. Empires were built on this animal and many trappers died in the pursuit of this animal. The beaver, due to the popularity, was put on the Endangered Species List in the early 1900's then made a come back to a healthy to a nuisance level population in most of the United States.

Beaver Trapping Equipment

Selecting beaver traps to use on the line should always have this consideration before you buy them, "is this the most effective trap that I can legally use and afford?". Beaver are large, powerful animals and the use of small traps requires a few things to come together just perfectly to ensure that the beaver is still there in the morning. For bodygrippers, anything that is smaller than a #280 should be disregarded for use in beaver trapping. There may be a few extra tight runs where you cannot get a bigger trap there and a #220 may be useful. There is a lot of debate on foothold trap sizes. Beaver have a rather large back foot, the larger beavers over 60 pounds have feet that can measure over 7 inches in length. Luckily for those that are restricted to using traps smaller than 6.5 or 7.5 inches in jawspread beaver don't walk flat footed into sets and they have a regular sized front foot. For me, I like the biggest traps that I can use as they are more forgiving trap to use especially around the rivers I trap. Smaller traps like the #3 sized traps will work if you take care to set your traps to catch beaver by the front foot, though I would not go smaller on the off chance that a beaver disregards your careful trap placement.

Snares are another option for catching beaver for the states that allow them to be used. The biggest advantage to use snares on the beaver line is they are lightweight and you can carry a bunch of them on the line with you. The advantage is they are very cheap, a few bucks for a snare if you buy them from a dealer compared to upwards of thirty dollars for the better footholds and bodygrippers. For starting out, a 3/32" 7x7 snare can cover most of the snaring scenarios for beaver.

There are two general ways to figure out how you need to gear up for trapping. The first is what I call "spot trapping". This is simply, you scout your properties where you are going to be trapping beaver and then bring in the equipment you need to get the beaver out of that property. Spot trapping is mostly for those that are only trapping a few colonies or those that are professional wildlife control trappers or fur trappers that have been asked to get rid of get all the beaver in the colony. The other way is the "method trapping" principle. This is selecting one or two plan sets that you can make in your sleep, make them very fast, and the sets can be made at any beaver colony you plan to trap. Method trapping is for people that are looking to catch the largest beavers in the colony quickly and hitting as many colonies as they can.

How you are going to secure your traps is another major concern with beaver trapping. For bodygripping traps, this is usually just a matter of running a cable off the trap, I attach eight feet of 7x7 3/32 cable to my #330s, to a tree or some sort of stake. You could use wire to anchor your bodygrippers off but it turns into a pain in the butt after pulling the trap and trying to store unspooled wire.

There are a lot of ways to secure foothold traps for beaver these days and choosing which one to use will depend on weight factor(how far you have to walk from your vehicle to set location), how deep the water is and what the bottom is composed of. Last year I started using slide rods, my rods happened to be scavenged fence gate parts, and they are a great way to run drowning sets for beaver where you have muddy bottoms and you do not have to carry them a long ways. If you have to travel a long ways to get back to your sets, the old slide wires can save you a lot of energy...until you have to carry those beaver back to the truck. You can run these a couple of ways. If you can wade out safely enough, you can string your cable or wire, cable preferably, between to stakes and make sure that the cable is tight and your stakes are solid or you'll have a live beaver to deal with or a lost trap. If the water is too deep to wade, using a weight at the deep end is the way to go. You can either use feed sacks or sand bags filled with dirt and sand if you have soil banks or if you have rocky banks, chicken wire cages filled with rocks works. The other option of anchoring your traps is the long chain method. You just stake your traps with several feet of chain,or cable though cable does not last for more than a few beaver,either at the bank, make sure there is nothing for the beaver to tangle up on and use plenty of swivels.

If you are using snares, you can use any of the anchoring methods described above for footholds and bodygrippers. I prefer to drown any beaver caught in snares to minimize pelt damage. If you cannot drown the beaver, give them access to the water and they do not fight the snare quite as hard and you will not see as much damage than if you keep them on dry land.

Other Equipment

Other than the traps, cable and wire that do the catching on your line, your going to need a few tools to make your sets. My constant companion on my water trapline is a tile spade. You have to do a lot of digging on the water trapline to make sets and in some places its often necessary to dig steps down to your sets. Another important item is a pair of bodygripper setters, preferably a setter that is one-handed in case you ever get a hand or foot caught in your own bodygripper. If your using any wire or cable on your line you'll need cutters for both. Eight inch linesman's pliers with [b]hardened[/b] jaws will take care of both cable and wire cutting duties. If you are doing any snaring, a pair of cable cutters are best to use for cutting snares off animals as you usually cannot get close enough to the cable to cut it with linesman pliers. Another great tool to have when walking a line is a good sled. Do not get the kind you take for snow sledding, you want a heavy duty sled like a Jet Sled or Otter sled and similar sleds built for hauling gear across rough ground. A hatchet or folding hunting saw is another good tool to have for cutting stakes, bait poles and stabilizer sticks for beaver if you cannot find any nearby of the size you need.

Beaver Scouting

Beaver are not exactly a hard animal to locate due to their habit of habitat modification. The construction of a dam across a stream or in front of a spillway is often the first sign of beaver activity in an area that makes dam building possible. If there isn't enough dam building material readily available, the cutting of trees and corn fields are often the first thing that a landowner notices. If your trapping bigger bodies of water where dam construction is not possible beaver are usually given away by tree cuttings or corn field cuttings in the late summer through winter. Sometimes you will see peeled sticks floating downstream, from there its just a matter of trekking upriver until you can locate where the beaver have been feeding.

Beaver lodges are a prominent feature in more well established colonies of beaver. These are usually fairly large structures, with the smallest ones being about six foot high and usually in the middle of the pond, in some northern states and into Canada, these can be massive structures. For the beaver that live in streams and rivers where the banks are steep, they usually choose to live in bank dens. Some of these will just be tunnels deep into the bank and are hard to find except during low water periods. More ambitious beaver with some familial help will build bank dens that sometimes resemble debris piles. More than once have I stepped on such "debris piles" only to learn they were actual beaver dens as I watched a trail of bubbles shoot off into the water as a beaver takes off into the water.

Trapping Beaver-Sets

Blind Sets

My favourite way to catch most animals, beaver included, is with blind sets. They are easy to make and you do not have to do much in the way of digging or fencing to get the beaver to what you want them to do. When I am trapping beaver ponds, the first thing I am looking for are channels that the beaver have cut into feeding areas or feeder streams coming into the ponds. Beavers use these features constantly as they provide easy travelling to their food source and a convenient way to float larger logs back to food cache or dam. Setting these up is easy, look for a place or two along the channel where there is just enough room for a bodygripper or snare to fit in the channel so you do not have to use any additional fencing.(I want very little visual sign for potentially educated beaver to see that something is wrong and it helps to cut down on trap theft by using minimal, if any, fencing). Ideally these places should be as far away from the lodge as you can as the presence of dead beaver or hearing the commotion of a colony member in a trap can spook the beaver off the run. Bodygripping traps should be set at the bottom of the channel, snares should be set at the top of the water so that the top of the snare is far enough above the water that a beaver will not hit the lock with its face. For deep runs where the trap is several inches or more below the water, a dive stick( at least 3 inches in diameter) will be needed to make the beaver go down to the bottom of the channel to hit the trap instead of swimming above it.

Another great spot for blind sets for beaver is at the dam. Most beaver dams will have a trail that is formed by beaver that goes from one section of water to the next. These usually appear as a place where water is always going over the top of the dam and the spot at the bottom of the dam is kept clear of sticks and other debris. This trail offers two different sets for you to make. At the bottom of the crossover is a good spot for for a #330 bodygripper or snare depending on how deep the water is and your laws. The top of the crossover is usually a good spot for a foothold set. A foothold here set about your forearms length out into the water, or close to the dam for a front foot catch, will take many beaver. I recommend having this trap attached to a drowning rig so you do not spook the remaining beaver here. Note: crossover sets are great otter sets so keep this in mind when staking your sets or if you cannot take otter in your area and they are present.

A bit off topic but a great set location for canines, raccoon, bobcat at a beaver dam is on the top of the dam or on land where the dam meets the bank as these animals use the dams to go from one side of the creek to the other.

Staying on the dam, another spot that offers a great location for a blind set is where a tree, post, or rock creates a natural funnel between itself and the dam. Beaver inspect the length of their dam(s) every day under normal conditions so this is a natural spot for make a set. A bodygripper or snare set as described in the channel set section will produce a few beaver for you. Spike this set with a smear of castor or curiosity lure on the tree well above the waterline for extra effectiveness.

Slides where beaver crawl up on the creek and river banks to munch on trees and cornfields are decent, but not great, set locations. I typically do not set slides unless sign shows that a particular slide is being used to harvest trees or corn, or the offer convenient access points for me to make castor mound sets. When slides are active, I set these in two ways. First, I set a snare at the top of the slide using a 8 inch loop 3 inches off the ground. Second, I will set up a foothold at the base of the slide. If the bank is fairly steep, instead of trying to set trap forearms length off the bank I shave the end of the slide so that its vertical and make sure the trap is 6-8 inches deep and tight to the now vertical slide. This practically guarantees a back foot catch and keeps me on land.

The last blind set set to be mentioned here is den set. This set is typically for me to much trouble to make most of the time as it does not ice up where I trap and its easier and less effort to take beaver other sets. For me and most non-ice trappers its last resort set. When there is no ice, you should be able to see or with a pole feel channels leading out of the den entrance(or entrances as some lodges have multiple exits). Most times I have had to make this set requires using a #330 attached to a pole, you can use two if its easy enough to do safely, placed on the bottom of the entrance. If you have clear ice, the bubble trails leading from the exits makes your job much easier in locating the beaver...though the chopping through the ice part is not much fun. The reason this set is a last resort set is that you can spook the beavers pretty quickly with this set as the trapped beaver is sitting there blocking the exit and can also get chewed up pretty badly if there is any more beaver left to do so.

When blind set possibilities are nowhere to be seen or too cumbersome to set, making the beaver come to your traps will require lured and/or baited sets. There is not of fancy set construction involved in making lured sets for beaver, most of the time they are practically slap 'n go sets. Some will take a bit of construction work to get them to work and as such do not get a lot of use from me unless situations call for them.

My main beaver set in this category is a castor mound set. Construction of this set largely depends on the terrain I am dealing with varies from one property to the next. When I am trapping small rivers and large creeks, for my castor mound sets I am usually looking for beaver slides to make my castor mound sets on since they already provide an established entry/exit point on the steep banks that is usually found on these waterways. If there is not a landing present on the base of the slide, I make one with my trowel deep enough to submerge a foothold at least 4 inches deep. Here in Ohio where I trap, beaver season almost always comes in with high water already present or about to be present so I will adjust the depth of the bed of the trap higher for if the water is going to be rising or drop the bed if the water has been falling. The amount is a guessing game at times since the water may come up a few inches or several feet and drop in the same way. If your state allows, you can substitute a #330 for the foothold but due to Ohio law I can rarely make this set and satisfy the legal requirements so its not an option for me.

Now for the mound itself, I do not build mounds since I have yet to see a big mound built here, they are usually just a handful or two scoops of bottom debris tossed up on the shore and that is how I make my mounds. The mounds are placed a foot above the base of the slide, or higher if the water is expected to rise, with whatever castor lure I happen to be carrying at the time. No fencing is needed on the steep banks for this set as there is only one way for the beaver to approach this set from the water.

How I make a front foot specific castor mound set on beaver dams

Another lured set that I like to use is a castor smear set. Its not a fancy set but it has beauty in its simplicity. Simply smear a castor lure or other beaver food or call lure on a tree, boulder or other object that is out of the water about a foot or so up and place a #330 or a snare tight to the tree. This set works best if you can find a spot for your lure that forces the beaver in between two trees, a tree and the dam or other narrow spot. It is a very fast set to get in and doesnt require a lot of energy, and we need all the energy we can get when it comes time to haul them sixty pound beavers back out of the pond.

There is another lured set option that is borrowed from land trapping, the scent station. Trappers for ages have used bait stations using either animal carcasses, corn, or other food or scents to draw them into an area where they could be ambushed with snares or footholds set on trails coming into the bait station. In some beaver ponds where there are trails that criss-cross, there is an opportunity to make a similar station. If you can find a spot where several trails come together, you can make a regular castor mound or a smear type set but instead of placing a trap right at the smear, you still can, you can ambush the beaver with #330s or snares leading to your scent station. The benefit of this set is that you can trap several beaver at a time in a relatively close proximity so you do not spend a lot of extra time traveling to other sets and energy constructing other scent sets. Another benefit is setting this way your less likely to spook beaver off the scented set as your not catching them up next to the attractor so the beaver does not associate that spot with danger.

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