Beaver Trapping

The Beaver of North America has a world-wide reputation for its wonderful instinct and shrewdness. The general appearance of this animal is that of a very large muskrat with a broad flattened tail, and the habits of both these animals are in many respects alike. The beaver is an amphibious creature and social in its habits of living, large numbers congregating together and forming little villages. The muskrat has this same propensity, but the habitation of the beaver is on a much more extensive scale. These huts or "Beaver lodges," are generally made in rivers and brooks; although sometimes in lakes or large ponds. They are chiefly composed of branches, moss, grass and mud, and are large enough to accommodate a family of five or six. The form of the "lodges" is dome-like, and it varies considerably in size. The foundation is made on the bottom of the river, and the hut is built up like a mound, often twenty feet in diameter and projecting several feet above the surface of the water. The walls of this structure are often five or six feet thick, and the roofs are all finished off with a thick layer of mud laid on with amazing smoothness. These huts form the winter habitations of the beavers, and as this compost of mud, grass and branches becomes congealed into a solid mass by the severe frosts of winter, it can easily be seen that they afford a safe shelter against any intruder and particularly the wolverine, which is a most deadly enemy to the beaver. So hard does this frozen mass become as to defy even the edges of iron tools, and the breaking open of the "Beaver houses" is at no time an easy task. Causing many duck hunters to employ the use of dynamite!  Beavers work almost entirely in the dark; and a pond which is calm and placid in the day time will be found in the night to be full of life and motion, and the squealing and splashing in the water will bear evidence of their industry. Lest the beavers should not have a sufficient depth of water at all seasons, they are in the habit of constructing veritable dams to ensure that result. These dams display a wonderful amount of reason and skill, and, together with the huts, have won for the beaver a reputation for engineering skill which the creature truly deserves. In constructing these ingenious dams the beavers, by the aid of their powerful teeth, gnaw down trees sometimes of large size, and after cutting them into smaller pieces float them on the water to the spot selected for the embankment. In swift streams this embankment is built so as to arch against the current, thus securing additional strength, and evincing an instinct on the part of the animal which amounts almost to reason. In cutting down the trees the beaver gnaws a circular cut around the trunk, cutting deepest on the side toward the water, thus causing the trunk to fall into the stream. The first step in constructing the embankment is to lay the logs down cautiously in the required line of the dam, afterwards weighting them with heavy stones, which the beavers by their united efforts roll upon them. The foundation of the embankment is often ten feet in width, and is built up by continued heaping of branches, stones and mud, until it forms a barrier of immense strength and resisting power. In many cases, through a lapse of years, and through a consequent accumulation of floating leaves, twigs, and seeds of plants, these embankments become thickly covered with vegetation, and, in many cases in the Hudson Bay country, have even been known to nurture trees of considerable dimensions. The broad flat tail of the animal serves a most excellent purpose, in carrying the mud to the dams or huts, and in matting and smoothing it into a solidity.



The entrances to the various huts are all beneath the water, and they all open into one common ditch, which is purposely dug in the bed of the river, and is too deep to be entirely frozen. In the summer time the huts are vacated, and the beavers make their abode in burrows on the banks of the stream, which serve as a secure retreat at all times, and particularly in winter when their houses are battered. The Indians of the Northwest were aware of this fact, and turned it to good account when trapping beaver.

When the beaver's village is in a small creek, or brook, it is first necessary to stake the water across both above and below the huts. The next thing is to determine the exact spots of the burrows in the banks, and when we consider the river is covered with ice, this seems a rather difficult problem. But this is where the Indian showed his skill in trapping beaver. He starts upon the ice, provided with an ice chisel secured to a long, stout handle. With this he strikes upon the ice, following the edge of the stream. The sound of the blow determines to his practiced ear the direct spot opposite the opening of the burrows, and at this point a hole, a foot in diameter, is made through the ice. Following the edge of the bank he continues his search, and in like manner cuts the holes through the ice until all the retreats are discovered. The beavers, alarmed at the invasion of their sanctums, make for the banks, and the ready huntsmen stationed at the various holes, watch for their victims beneath the openings, until a violent motion or discoloration of the water betrays their passage beneath. The entrance to the holes in the bank is then instantly closed with stakes and the beaver is made prisoner in his burrow. When the depth of the burrow will admit, the arm of the hunter is introduced, and the animal pulled out, but otherwise a long hook lashed to a pole is employed for this purpose. Scores of beavers are sometimes taken in this way in a few hours. Spearing is also often successfully resorted to, and when the ice is thin and transparent the beavers may be clearly observed as they come to the surface, beneath the ice, for air.



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