Getting Started

It can be very overwhelming when you first take an interest in beaver trapping.  There are different types of traps, different brands of traps, hundreds of different kinds of lures, what do you do with a beaver once you catch it… the list goes on and on.  Don’t get caught up in all that excitement.  It can be pretty simple to get yourself started trapping beavers.

You really don’t need a lot of equipment to get started beaver trapping.  Many a frustrated landowner has bought a couple conibear traps and started setting them for beavers.  However, as with most things, the better prepared you are, the more successful you will be.  Contrary to popular belief, beavers are very intelligent and adaptable.  A couple of sloppily set conibears can actually make beavers trap shy, as they will notice the distinct square outline and avoid the trap.  This is why a well rounded and prepared approach is best.

There are several options for beaver traps, probably the most common being the conibear, but snares and foothold traps are extremely effective as well.  There are also some “live catch” beaver traps, such as the hancock trap.  I won’t address these “live catch” traps simply because they aren’t practical for the majority of beaver trappers.  These traps are very expensive, large, and unwieldy, and not the best fit for the typical beaver trapper.

Conibears

So far as trap size goes, beavers require a large trap.  For conibears, a 220 size(7”x7”) is the minimum, and the 330 (10”x10”) is most peoples’ go to beaver trap.  I prefer a 280 (8”x8”), simply because in many circumstances there is a good opportunity for an incidental otter.  The 280 is slightly smaller than the 330, it is plenty large enough for an otter or beaver, but not so large that there is room for a fast moving otter to slide by between the trigger and jaws.  With otters bringing 3-5 times as much as beavers, I sure don’t want to miss an opportunity to put one of them on a board.

My conibear brand of choice is Belisle.  I like how the jaws completely close.  I’ve caught beavers by the tail and foot in Belisle traps and have held them just as good as a head catch.  Belisles also have a superior safety that stays in place until you move it. Unlike most other conibears that have a hook that simply flops around once the springs are fully compressed.

This is an important feature, especially with Belisles, simply because of how strong they are and the fact that they close completely, you don’t want to be caught in one.  All other brands of conibears are effective, they will catch and kill beavers.  There are some other brands, and modifications, that have “kill bars” which is an extra bar added to the jaw to make the trap close completely.  There is also a 660 Superbear, which is wider than a 330 to help fill a larger hole, and modification kits that you can add to your existing 330s.

But for starters a 280 or 330 is all you need.

Snares

For beginning beaver trappers, the best bang for your buck would be snares.  You can get a dozen snares for less than $20, most traps will run almost that for a single trap.  Snares are very easy to set, and catch beavers just as good as any other device.  There are many different options with snares, different locks, different cable, different lengths, its really not that complicated though.  I prefer a 5’ snare, 3/32” cable, with a relaxing lock, and a snare swivel on the end.

When snaring beavers I target a body catch, just behind the front legs.  That may sound odd, because when snaring most animals you want a neck catch, but beavers don’t have much of a neck, so there is more of a chance for the beaver to back out before the snare tightens down enough to hold him.  That does mean you get a live beaver in your snare, rather than a neck caught animal that is dispatched shortly after being snared.

If you did want to neck snare beavers you would want a non-relaxing lock, such as a cam lock.  A relaxing lock is usually simply a bent washer, and while there is tension put on it tightens, but when  the tension stops the washer relaxes, so it is not continually tightening.  A cam lock, or non-relaxing lock, never releases tension.

One of the theories behind the washer lock is that you do not get as much fur damage since the lock is not continually tightening.  You may not notice any damage on the animal when you catch it, but when you start to skin it, no matter what kind of lock you use, there will be a snare mark on the flesh side of the hide.  There is debate about whether this actually hurts the pelt’s value, but regardless, the fewer marks and nicks on your hide, the better you will get paid for it.

It is important for your snare to have a swivel on the end.  Some snares only have a cable loop on the anchor end, if you go with one of these snares you will need to make sure you use additional swivels in however you anchor the snare.  Swivels are crucial because a beaver that is caught and held overnight is going to really test your equipment.  And without swivels there is a much higher likelihood of that snare being twisted over and over until it breaks or gets a weak point and is snapped.  Swivels are too cheap to risk losing a beaver over.

Something you want to keep in mind, along these same lines, is that snares are a one time use device.  A better way to put it may be a one catch use device.  Once you make a catch with a snare that cable is compromised and shouldn’t be trusted.  Snares are too cheap to risk losing an animal because you reused a snare that was compromised.

Foothold Traps

Foothold traps are one of my favorite traps for catching beavers.  I really can’t tell you why, they aren’t any more effective than conibears or snares, I just like using them.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that its what the mountain men used, and helps me feel connected to the past, who knows.

Anyway, my foothold trap of choice is the Bridger #5.  It’s a very sturdy, well built trap, but not as expensive as some of the other beaver foothold traps.  One feature that sets it apart from the MB 750, which I would say is one of the most popular beaver foothold traps, is that when you set it the Bridger the dog doesn’t lock down both jaws.  I like this feature simply because this is a large, powerful trap, and having a loose jaw makes it easy to adjust your pan as needed when setting the trap.

Don’t get me wrong, the MB 750, or any of the other traps are good traps, it just boils down to personal preference and what you feel comfortable using.

Foothold traps for beavers are large traps.  This is because a beaver’s hind foot is quite large, and you want a trap that the entire foot will go into.  That being said, it is possible to catch beavers in smaller sized traps, you will just have to target a front foot catch.

Most beaver traps have a night latch system.  This simply means that there is a notch or nipple on the dog of the trap that clicks when the trap is set just shy of firing.  It takes the guess work out of deciding if you should adjust your pan just a touch more.  Typically you want your pan sitting level, when the trap is set, and without a night latch you just have to eyeball it, and sometimes that will cause you to fire the trap before you are ready.

Because of this you always want to make sure you are working from underneath the jaws, whether your traps are night latched or not.  The simplest way to do this is to flip the loose jaw up, which gives you plenty of room to work. If you work from underneath the jaws it is almost impossible to get caught should the trap fire unexpectedly.  You should however be prepared to get caught.  If you mess with traps long enough you will catch yourself, its just part of it.  Luckily all of the myths about traps breaking bones are just that, myths.  I’ve been caught more times than I care to remember, but have yet to break anything.

You want to make sure you’ve got multiple working swivels on your trap chains as well.  A trapped animal of any kind is going to spin and test your equipment.  Having swivels will ensure that the animal doesn’t get harmed and also that you don’t lose any equipment.

Anchoring

Just as important as trap selection is anchoring.  You’ve got to be sure that when you make a catch, your catch doesn’t escape.  There are a variety of options when it comes to this, and I’ll address them according to the trap they anchor.

Conibears

Many people think that since these traps are designed to kill almost instantly, they don’t need to be anchored.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  An animal caught in a conibear is still going to kick and spin, which could dislodge the trap, or you could get a rain event that sweeps your trap and catch downstream, or you could get a not ideal catch (such as a foot or tail) and the animal leaves with your trap.  Traps are too expensive and wire is too cheap to take that risk.

Conibears usually come with a short section of chain already attached.  The easiest thing to do is take a roll of trapping wire and tie the trap off to a tree or something sturdy.  If you wanted to get a little more sophisticated you could use cable extensions.  I use about 6 feet of cable, and attach it directly to the trap.  Even with conibears, throwing in a swivel isn’t going to hurt anything.  Then I’ll use quick links on the far end of the cable and wrap it around a tree and use the quick link to secure the cable back on itself.  This is a pretty sturdy anchoring method.  I always keep a few spare extensions with me, that way if I make a set and a good anchor point is more than 6 feet away, I can always just tie in an extra cable and now I’ve got 12 feet to play with.

Snares

I like cable extensions with snares as well.  I will make these extensions anywhere from 6-10 feet long, and if available I use 1/8th inch cable instead of 3/32, simply because it will stand  up to multiple catches better.  For these extensions I make one end loop larger than the other.  This way I can wrap the cable around a tree and run the small loop through the larger one.  Then I will attach the snare to the smaller loop and it is ready to go.  A lot of times instead of using a loop on the small end I will use an old snare swivel.  If not I’ll use an inline swivel to attach the snare to the extension cable, just to make sure I’ve got plenty of swivel action.

You can also stake your snares using rebar or earth anchors.  Either method works well, I’ve just found its easier to pack a few extra extensions.  All of this is personal preference, find what works best for you and stick with it.

Footholds

With footholds your best bet is to drown your catch.  There are drowning cables that you can use for this and also drowning rods.  With cables you use a heavy weight to anchor one end in deep water; with a rod you shove the deep end into the mud.  In either case you can anchor the top of the cable/rod with a T bar stake.  These cables and rods have a one way sliding lock, so once an animal gets trapped and dives down, the lock catches and dispatches the animal.

Cables are easy to carry, but you’ve got to have some kind of weight  to anchor them with.  The rods (mine are 10 feet long)  are a little bit more cumbersome, but its less weight than dragging a cinder block around the beaver swamp.  Another benefit to the rods is they won’t kink or get damaged like cable, so you should get a long term use out of the rods.  With cables occasionally a beaver will pull the anchor up on shore and in doing so twist and kink the cable beyond repair, so if you go with cable be sure to have a few extras along.

Some people like to use long chains on their beaver traps.  They anchor the chain with rebar and have 8-10 feet of chain between the anchor and the trap.  The idea being that the beaver can get out in the water, and with the trap and heavy chain potentially drown.  I’ve tried this several times, and haven’t so far been impressed with the result.  Invariably, I always leave enough room for the beaver to get hung up in some roots or vines and have lost several beavers like that.  So now I stick to what I know will work and work well, and that is the drowning rods.  If you try the long chain method be sure there is nothing close by that the beaver can get tangled in and potentially use to free himself.

Trap Preparation

Your traps are an investment and will last for many years if you take care of them.  Beaver traps are especially susceptible because they are in water most of the time.  If not properly prepared they will rust and become useless.  With that said, as strange as it may sound you want to get a light coat of rust on new traps.  This will help your dye stick to the trap better.  Brand new traps come with a layer of oil on them, so you need to do something to remove this oil so they can start to rust.  A simple washing in some soapy water can remove the oil.

You may hear a lot about boiling traps.  It’s a little different than it sounds, you don’t want to actually boil your traps, as intense heat can weaken your springs.  But bringing the water to a simmer, with some Dawn or other grease cutting soap will do the trick.  Then if you’ve got the time you can leave the traps out in the weather for a few weeks to get a slight rust on them.

Once your traps are ready to treat you’ve got several options.  The main treating method is dying your traps, this serves two purposes, first to protect the trap, and second to take the shine off and make the trap blend better.  You don’t want a bright, shiny trap set in the swamp, a black or brown trap will look much more natural.

The traditional method would be to use logwood dye, which can be purchased, or black walnut hulls or sumac bark, if you want a free solution.  With this method you will use the simmer technique, of heating a large enough pot of water to submerge your traps and the dye.  Then you just leave your traps in the simmering solution for a while, at least 15 minutes, then remove and hang to dry.  This is a good method, but a little time consuming.

My preference is to use Speed Dip.  It’s a fast, easy way to dye your traps, there’s no boiling water or anything like that.  Speed Dip is mixed with either gasoline or coleman fuel, then you simply dip your traps in and remove, hang to dry and air out.  A lot of people are concerned about the gasoline smell on their traps, but the gas evaporates quickly and if you let your traps air out for several days, you find there isn’t much  of any smell left.

There are other dips on the market, some that you mix with water, but I think Speed Dip gives you a better quality dye job and lasts longer on the traps.  While I’m dying my traps I also try to dye as much of my equipment as I can, because all of my equipment is in and around water as well and needs protection or it will rust too.

Fencing

A good trick to use when trapping beavers is to use fencing.  All this means is you use something (sticks, logs, rocks, whatever) to block off all areas the beaver could travel except where you want him to travel.  Some animals get cautious, or even avoid, locations where an area seems to be out of place, fortunately beavers aren’t those animals.  You can use fencing to narrow down a travel way so that the beaver only has one option on where to go, and that is right over or through your trap.

Like I said, you can use whatever is at hand, poking sticks in a stream bed, or stacking rocks, anything that blocks travel anywhere but where you want him to go.

Lure

A lot of people think that there is a special or secret lure, that will catch any beaver any where.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Most trappers have a favorite lure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it works any better than any other lure.  It all boils down to personal preference.  Most any commercial lure you order out of a trapping catalog will catch beavers.

Most of the time when you are talking about beaver lure, you are talking about something with castor in it.  All that means is it has beaver scent glands (castor glands) ground up in the lure.  This is a very effective lure, because beavers tend to be very territorial.  So when a beaver thinks another beaver has invaded his territory he is going to check it out.

There are also food lures.  These are designed to mimic scents of things that beavers like to eat.  These can be effective too, but if I had only one choice, I would go with a castor based lure.  It will attract beavers, regardless of time of year or abundance of food.

Sets

Sets are simply the location where you set your trap.  There are a blue million different types of sets, so I’m not going to discuss those here, but you can see examples of different sets with different traps used at the following tabs, conibearsfootholds, and snares.

After the Catch

Congratulations, now that you’ve caught a beaver what the heck are you going to do with it?  Well much to your surprise beaver pelts are worth some money.  Depending on what area of the country you are in maybe a good bit of money.  The last bunch of beavers I sold, I averaged just under $20 per hide on 40 hides.  That wasn’t terrible, but the quality of my hides wasn’t top notch either.  Almost every pelt I fleshed had at least one bite mark on it.

Skinning

Beavers are skinned differently than any other furbearer.  Most furbearers are case skinned, but beavers are open skinned.  This simply means that you cut the hide from the tail straight up the belly to the bottom lip.  Then peel the hide off and you get a big oval piece of fur that is stretch just like that, in one flat layer.

Be warned that beavers aren’t super easy to skin, you have to cut almost every inch of hide off.  Its not like a raccoon where you can get it started and pull most of the hide off.

My preferred method is to start out with the beaver laying on a table on its back.  I use a big set of limb loppers, or pruners, to cut off all four feet.  Then I take a sharp knife and make a cut from the base of the tail straight up towards the bottom lip, cutting carefully around the anus so that you don’t puncture something you don’t want too, or cut the castors apart.  I stop about midway up the belly.  Then I cut around the tail and start peeling the skin back.

I like to cut halfway up the belly, not all the way to the bottom lip, because I flesh my beavers on a beam and it makes it easier to handle them.  They slide on the beam just like other furbearers and are held in place by the head being pulled tight against the tip of the beam.

As a side note, its good practice to wear latex gloves whenever you are skinning wild game.  There are a myriad of parasites and blood borne pathogens that wildlife carry and latex gloves are cheap insurance to keep from contracting any of that.  It also makes cleanup a breeze.

I try to peel the skin about two inches away from the base of the tail, and start skinning the belly back enough to get the hind legs skinned out.

Then I hang the beaver.  This not only helps you work your way around the beaver easier, but it also allows the heavy hide to help you once get it about half skinned out.  I just put a loop around the base of the tail to hang the beaver, then start skinning down the back.  This is a particularly tough area because there is a lot of gristle and cartilage around the tail and its easy to get a lot of meat on the hide.

I don’t worry about this.  There is a clean skinning technique, where you skin very close to the hide so that you don’t have to flesh the hide.  I’ve never had much luck with this and it takes extra time so I just count on fleshing the hide, and I’d rather leave some extra meat on the hide than put holes in it.

One important trick is to always keep your knife at a 90 degree angle to the carcass.  This should help to ensure that you are cutting into the carcass and not the hide.  When you start cutting at angles you are more likely to start putting holes in your hide.  Its also a good practice to take your free hand and reach up underneath the hide to feel where the hide is and where you are skinning at.  Most times you should see a crease where the hide is separating from the carcass but it never hurts to double check.

Areas to pay particular attention to are the belly and around the front legs.  The belly can be tricky because the layer of meat between the hide and the inner organs isn’t very thick and you can easily put a hole in this meat and thus spill intestines out.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can get in the way while you are skinning.  The front legs, especially the arm pits can be an area where it is easy to slice your hide.  I do a fair bit of pulling and pushing here, trying to get my fingers in between the leg and the hide, so I know where I can cut and where I shouldn’t cut.

Once you get the front legs skinned out, they provide a good hand hole for applying pressure to the hide and aid in finishing the skinning process.

As you peel the skin down around the head you want to watch out for the ears.  They are located on the side of the head, and appear as soft cartilage.  You want to cut these as close to the skull as possible, just to give your pelt a nice appearance.  Be mindful of the eyes too, as it can be easy to cut give your pelt the “big eye” look, cutting the eye holes larger than they need to be.  Neither of these things should affect your sale price, but most people feel they do.

Your hide should be graded on fur quality, and the quality of pelt preparation in areas that will be used by the end user, but the overall look of your pelt will affect the final price you are paid.

Its pretty straight forward to continue peeling the hide down to the nose and cutting through the cartilage to completely remove the hide from the carcass.

Fleshing

Many people flesh with a traditional fleshing knife, like a Necker.  I started out fleshing with a fleshing knife, but never could get my hides completely clean and looking like I thought they should.  When I started trapping alligators I was introduced to fleshing with a pressure washer.

I really took a liking to this method, it gives a very nice clean look to the flesh side of the hide, as well as being able to wash out mud, blood, etc. that is in the fur.  If you are fleshing beavers with a pressure washer, the more power the better.  I’d recommend 2500 psi or higher.  I personally use a 3000 psi pressure washer.

Most importantly, you need to get a turbo or rotary nozzle.  This nozzle shoots a continuously rotating stream of water.  This is crucial to getting the cutting action to remove the flesh and fat without damaging the hide.  Care still needs to be taken when using a pressure washer, if you leave it in one place too long or get careless around a delicate area it will put a hole in the hide very quickly.

You should also be warned that this is a very messy job.  I wear rubber boots, rain pants, a heavy duty vinyl rain coat, and face shield.  The face shield is something you wouldn’t think about until you start fleshing and get a backsplash of beaver fat right in the eye.

To do this type of fleshing though, you simply place the hide on a fleshing beam, just as if you were going to flesh it with a knife.  I like to use a large C clamp style vice grip pliers to hold the hide in place if I need to rotate it or get close to the tail.  Then I start at the head with the wand and work my way towards the tail.  I work the wand back and forth as I push it down towards the tail of the hide.  I’ll work a four inch section at a time from head to tail, once I get that clean I’ll rotate the hide and get another section cleaned.

I hold the tip of the wand about six inches away from the hide, on smaller or more delicate hides you may want to hold it farther away.  I hold the wand at a fairly steep angle, say 25-30 degrees to the hide.  This way I can focus the water stream more on the flesh and fat, and less on the hide.

Pay particular attention to the chest area, and around the nipples if any are present.  Those are very prone to ripping.

Once I get the flesh side clean I turn the hide fur side out and give it a good once over with the pressure washer to wash out any mud or blood.  When doing this I hold the tip of the nozzle at least a foot or more away from the hide.

Then I will try to hang the hide up and squeegee any excess water I can out of the hide.

Stretching

The next and final step in pelt preparation is to stretch the hide.  This is how you will send the pelt to the auction house, if that is your intent.  The hide will not be tanned, but it will keep for quite a while in this dried state, provided you keep moisture and bugs away.

To stretch the hide you either need a sheet of plywood or some beaver stretching hoops.  The hoops are just wire stretchers in a circle, that can be adjusted to the size that you need them.  With the hoops you will use hog rings to attach the hide to the hoop.

When stretching a beaver, it can be tempting to stretch is as much as possible.  After all, the larger the pelt typically the more money it brings.  This is not the best plan for beavers though, or any animal for that matter.  When you over stretch a hide you spread out the fur, so it is not as dense as it should be.  Density or thickness is one of the things fur buyers look at when grading fur, so you are better off to get a moderate stretch while still maintaining the actual fur density of the hide.

The best thing to do is lay the hide flesh side up on a table or on your plywood.  Put a nail at the nose and one in the center of the tail, stretching the hide as much as you think is reasonable.  Now put two nails, one halfway up each side of the hide.  You ultimately want a nice oval shape to your dried hide.  You may need to adjust your first two nails depending on how much the hide will stretch to the sides.

Then simply start putting nails halfway between the existing nails until there is about two inches or less between each nail.  If you space the nails too far apart you will get a scalloped look, which is not going to grade good. 

Once your hide is stretch its best to keep it in a relatively moisture free room with good circulation.  I like to keep a fan blowing in my fur room whenever I’m drying furs.  You don’t want it blowing directly on any of your hides, just keeping the air moving.  Depending on humidity, it may take a couple days to a week for your fur to be completely dry.

It will get quite stiff and hard with no visible moisture left in the hide.  You can then take the hide off the board or hoop and stretch the next one.  When I take a hide off the stretcher I like to run over it with a fur comb just to keep it looking nice.  Appearance is everything at the buyer.

Selling your fur

There are several options for selling your fur.

Option 1 is selling to a “country fur buyer.”  This is usually someone local, maybe a trapping supply dealer who also buys fur.  There are some benefits to selling to these local buyers.  The biggest benefit is that they pay you right then for your fur.  There’s no waiting, if they want your fur they cut you a check.  Oftentimes they will buy fur “green” or not fleshed, and sometimes “in the round” or on the carcass.  This can be another benefit in that you don’t have to put up the fur.

The con in selling to a local buyer is that you probably will see the lowest prices, especially if you sell green or in the round.

Option 2 is selling to what I call a mid level buyer.  There are several larger fur buyers that advertise in trapping magazines.  They will have routes they run in certain areas, and deal in fairly high volumes of fur.  Undoubtedly these buyers deal with end users of the fur, and are seeking to fill orders.  This can result in higher prices than selling to a local buyer.

Option 3- some state trapping associations host their own fur auctions.  These can be beneficial in that if there are enough buyers present it can create competition and drive up prices, especially for high quality, high demand items like bobcat and otter.  These auctions also help support the state associations, which is a good thing.

The last, and best (in my opinion), option is to ship to an auction house.  There are really two main auction houses, North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) and Fur Harvesters Auction (FHA).  Of the two NAFA is significantly larger than FHA.  This is where you are going to see top dollar paid.  These auction houses gather millions of pieces of fur, both wild and ranch fur, and thus draw the top buyers from all over the world.  All of the fur is graded and separated into lots, and these lots are auctioned off.

The down side to shipping to an auction house is you are totally out of control.  Once you ship that fur it is in the auction house’s hands.  You won’t get paid until the fur sells.  Typically they have 3-4 auctions per year, 2-3 in the winter and 1-2 in the summer.  And there have been instances, in bad fur markets, when the auction house will “buy back” fur if it does not reach a price they think is high enough.  This is good in a sense that they aren’t just taking whatever they can to get rid of the fur, but it can be tough in that it may delay a trapper getting paid 6 months or more after trapping season.

The benefits are again that you will usually get the highest possible price from these auctions.  NAFA, in particular, has a whole marketing division, and they spend lots of time and money each year marketing fur.  They are definitely a trapper’s ally.  They want fur to succeed and they put their money where their mouth is to encourage that.

 

So there’s your basic, not so short, rundown of everything you need to know to get started trapping beavers.  If you made it all the way through this and still are unclear or have questions, shoot us an email at questions@howtotrapbeavers.com and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.  That is our goal, to help beginning beaver trappers access all of the information they need to get them started beaver trapping, and make them a proficient beaver trapper.  Thanks for reading and happy trapping!