By Trapline Editor Hal Sullivan
I had just finished up my Ohio fur line when Don called about some problem beavers. I was not in the mood for problem beavers, not at the end of December when the water would start freezing. Besides, I was packing up my gear to head south in another week or two.
“Where are the beavers?” I asked.
“Do you know where the A-plant is located?” Don replied.
The A-plant is local slang for the federal uranium enrichment facility at Piketon, Ohio, a 40-mile drive from my home. Straight up, I told Don I do not do that kind of work for free. He said he fully understood. Then he told me about beavers here, beavers there, beavers, beavers everywhere.
I did a little mental calculation. If he was right, he might have 25 or so problem beavers on his hands. I did some quick calculation and told him I charged $100 a beaver, with no volume discount. If I took out 25, the bill would be $2,500.
He said he would call back.
I didn’t really expect to hear from him. I figured that $2,500 would be a deal breaker. But he called a few days later and said it was within the budget.
I told him I’d gladly do the job in the spring, when I got back from my southern trapline. If he needed it done faster, he’d have to get somebody else.
He said he couldn’t wait that long and thanked me for my time.
I didn’t think anymore about it, until Don called back that spring. He said the other trapper had been there one day, had caught nothing and not come back.
Did I still want the job?
We laid out the arrangements over the phone. Security at a uranium enrichment facility is tight, as you might imagine. Fortunately, I didn’t have to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum. Otherwise, I and my truck of trapping gear would have been subject to daily search and inspection.
The beaver were in a buffer zone around the facility, private property with a public access road. However, I wouldn’t be allowed to roam free. At all times, I would be accompanied by, and within sight of, a facility employee. I explained that I would be checking traps early in the morning and on Saturday and Sunday, too.
Don said it would be their responsibility to accommodate me.
I wasn’t wild about the escort, but I wasn’t worried about trapping around a nuclear facility. To the contrary. I figured the air and water were more heavily monitored than anywhere else in the state.
Not knowing what I might need, I loaded a hodge-podge of beaver equipment in the truck and hit the road.
A tire blew on the way there; I should have taken that as an omen. The tire cost $175, so I started in the hole. I also had to call Don and tell him I’d be late.
Finally, I met Don and another fellow, Jim, in the parking lot of the shipping and receiving building. Jim was to be my tag-along partner. I filled out some paperwork and was required to read a safety pamphlet before we continued. Then I followed Don and Jim to where the first colony of beavers was supposed to be.
It was a gravelly little creek a few yards off the access road. There was a new dam, loosely woven, made entirely of drift brush and old beaver cuttings. It wasn’t hip-high. Older cuttings were on the upper banks, weathered and faded. I had to look hard to find a few small sticks that looked freshly chewed.
I speculated that sometime in the past, the beavers must have had a bigger dam. But a dam just won’t hold forever on a gravel-bottom creek, and it probably washed out. Then some new beavers had moved in and built the new dam. Judging from the small size of the chewed twigs, these were young beavers.
The water was too shallow for a drowning set with a foothold. I found a small drift pile about 30 yards above the dam, cleared a path through it, and set a 330 bodygrip in this trail. The trap was just barely submerged, but the brush camouflaged it well. I used a cable extension to tie the trap off to a tree adjacent to a deeper pool of water. I was hoping a caught beaver would struggle into the pool and sink out of sight. It was hard to stabilize the trap, but I finally got one wiggled into the gravel bottom.
I set another 330 below the spillway on the dam. I had to set the trap in the wash-out to get it completely submerged, to comply with Ohio law. But even with the stabilizer, I could not keep this trap in place in the rushing water. So, I found two big, flat rocks, pivoted the 330 springs down at an angle, and placed the rocks on the springs to pin down the trap. All of my 330s are equipped with tension-adjustable triggers that can be tightened to keep them set in flowing water.
While I was setting up the creek with Don, Jim was looking for beavers elsewhere. He reported seeing sign of beavers two other places. I followed him to the next stop.
This pond was adjacent to a railroad embankment. The beavers had dammed a ditch to a height of about 10 feet. But the dam was old, and I didn’t see any fresh mud to indicate beavers were keeping it repaired. The banks were littered with old cuttings of the same vintage I had seen down the road.
I set a 330 below the dam, simply on speculation. Above the dam the water was deep enough for a foothold, so I made a castor mound set on the bank.
As I loaded up to go to the third and apparently final stop, I wondered where the beavers might have gone. It was almost as if someone had trapped them. But Jim assured me no one had been trapping there, and it would have been pretty hard for someone to have sneaked onto the place. The road was patrolled regularly.
The third place, on the other side of the railroad tracks, was just a foot-high dam on a little trickle. I had to convince Jim it was the work of the same beavers we had found faint sign of on the other side of the tracks.
And that was the end of the beavers.
I asked Jim why the other guy who was supposed to have trapped left after one day. “I don’t think he liked me following him around,” Jim said.
I had to admit I wasn’t fond of trapping with somebody looking over my shoulder, either. But that was built into the high price. Which, with the scarcity of beaver sign, wasn’t looking so high. In fact, I was a little disgusted, contemplating the 80-mile round trip I would have to make to check four traps.
I met Jim at 7 the next morning, and we collected a beaver from each trap at the creek. They were little two-year-olds. I reset the traps. At the railroad tracks, the castor mound was scattered about, but the trap was still set. On a hunch, I moved the trap a little closer to the bank.
We were almost done when Jim announced, “I’m going to have signs posted to let people know we’re trapping.”
“Do what?!” I squawked.
I explained there was no legal imperative to do this. I also told him if he put up signs, he would be liable for every trap I had stolen, and every stolen trap would be assumed to have held a $100 beaver. He agreed, but in the end he didn’t put up any signs, thank goodness.
The next morning, the trap at the drift pile on the creek was still set, and the trap at the spillway held a snapping turtle.
Snapping turtles are the bugaboo of summertime beaver trapping, and I have learned a little trick to safely release them. When the turtle opens its mouth to bite you, slide in a stick, instead. While the turtle is spitting out the stick, it cannot bite.
I released the turtle in the beaver pond, figuring it was probably headed upstream to lay eggs.
At the railroad tracks, I found a little beaver in the foothold. It could have been a litter mate to the ones I’d caught yesterday in the creek. That’s why the trap had missed the day before. I had set it for a back-foot catch on an adult beaver. Good thing I moved it closer.
The 330 below this dam saw no action either day. I had a feeling I had caught all the beavers, but I still chopped a pretty good hole in the dam and reset the foothold trap there.
The next day, all traps were empty, except for the one below the dam in the creek, which held the snapping turtle again. The pond at the railroad tracks had drained to the bottom of my cut. I was at a loss to explain where the rest of the beavers had gone. There was a lot more old sign than three little beaver could have made.
“Well,” Jim said, “there are a lot of other ponds around here; maybe that’s where they went.”
Come to find out, I was only dealing with one subcontractor who was in charge of only one part of the facility. The beavers were evidently moving about as whim dictated, and driving 80 miles a day, I couldn’t wait for them to come back.
I made a rookie mistake on this job, relying on observations by someone who knew nothing about trapping (or beavers, for that matter) to try to determine the magnitude of the problem, then basing my fee accordingly.
Sure, $100 a beaver sounds like a lot of money, but I spent three days and drove 240 miles to make $300, not discounting the $175 tire.
I told Jim I had caught all of the beavers in his section, and he seemed truly appreciative. I told him if he had more beaver problems, I would return. But the next time, it would be $100 a day service fee plus $100 for each beaver.
He seemed agreeable to that, too.