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                                    Beaver, Buzzards, and Bears


                                                                        Mel Liston


          What could these three critters have in common?  Last spring toward the end of my trapping season, there were just a few problem beaver yet to catch, skin, and stretch.  I came home one morning with the last three culprit beaver, which were causing problems for a local town road agent and his crew. (A long rap sheet for plugging up culverts and bridges, flooding the roads, and undermining the road base, all at considerable expense to the town brought about their demise.  These three problem beaver were finished in their careers of roadway sabotage.) As I usually do when we have warm sunny weather, I laid the beaver on the picnic table beside my barn.  I proceeded to brush the fur to remove mud and burs, first in the direction that the fur would normally lay, and then in the opposite direction which made it fluff up nicely for drying. Typically I would leave the beaver in the sun for a few hours to dry before starting the skinning process.  I got in my truck and left the farm for a few hours. Upon my return, I made the curve in the driveway going around the house bringing the barn and picnic table into view. I was presented with the interesting site of five buzzards standing on the big table contemplating the beaver carcasses, while others circled above.  Noise from the worn out suspension of my old truck was enough to scatter the buzzards and luckily they had not yet done significant damage to the hides.  This whole scene was quite interesting and I wish that I had a camera in the truck at the time. One of the beaver was pecked a little, but nothing as bad as some of the typical cuts and gashes normally found in spring beaver when they are fighting among themselves for territory.

       Surmising that perhaps it would be better if I didn’t leave whole beaver unattended in the future, I got on about my business. I rough skinned all three beaver, and then removed the excess fat on a hardwood beam utilizing a knife designed specifically for this purpose in a process called fleshing. Next, I tacked each fleshed hide on a plywood stretching board. Concentric oval patterns based on size and form, are marked on each board to guide the fur handler when tacking the hides. These boards are referred to as stretcher boards. In reality their purpose is not so much to stretch as to secure the hide in the shape desired by the fur industry while the remaining fat and oil is air-dried from the tissue. Up until the event I am about to elaborate, it was my practice to hang my stretched and drying beaver pelts in the open machine shed on the backside of my barn. The machine shed provided a good and airy location protected from possible rain. Those three hides went up on the wall along with about fifteen others, which were not yet dry. The next day I went to the machine shed intending to put the rototiller on the back of the tractor and begin working the fields.  One of the stretching boards was lying halfway up the back pasture and another was about twenty yards outside the machine shed with the pelt ripped off and nowhere in sight. Several ragged or tattered hides were lying on the ground around the various pieces of equipment and a few of the hides were partially ripped off the boards hanging down off the wall.  It was quite a site of destruction but it didn't take long to realize what happened.  Some of the remaining pelts had claw marks as sure evidence indicting the large predator, which had been dining on my beaver hides.  Additionally the backside of my barn was covered with muddy paw prints, which identified the marauder as a fairly decent size bear.  There were tracks on the lawn tractor seat where the bear had climbed up onto the tractor to reach some of the additional hides.  Seven hides were consumed or otherwise damaged.  Three hides were totally missing, most likely consumed. Two hides were ripped to shreds and partially consumed along with the nails I used to tack them to the boards. I guess the bad bear got a little fiber in that meal. Two other hides were somewhat damaged and although significantly devalued still saleable, or at least I shipped them to auction.

There are a lot of lessons for a trapper to learn; when is the ice safe enough for me to go get those beaver out in the middle of the big marsh? Boy! Those big coni-bear traps can hurt. I guess we should have balanced the load in the canoe? How many critters do I have to skin before I stop poking them full of holes? Maybe I shouldn’t leave beaver on the picnic table when the buzzards return in the spring, or hang hides on the backside of the barn when the bears are fresh out of hibernation?

Bear Paw Prints on  the Machine Shed wall