One Woman's Alaska Bear Hunt
The Friday workload, after extending past 5 PM, is finally done. I hesitate to embark on a trip upriver at such a late hour, especially considering my level of exhaustion and sleep deprivation, but my family is out of town and this my chance. My plan is to travel 20 miles in my river boat, hunt for a black bear tonight, explore the gorge tomorrow, and then return on Sunday.
By Kathleen Kalina
Having purchased my very own piece of hunting ground in January, I set about exploring it, looking for deer sign and potential stand sights. My little piece of ground is bordered on one side by the end of a watershed lake put in by the government for flood control back in the 80’s. It is one of a series of five built throughout the county. In addition to the flood control function, these lakes have also served as giant magnets for beaver! As a kid growing up in this area, a beaver sighting was a rare thing indeed. However, with the building of these lakes, the beaver sightings started becoming more and more frequent, and for the most part the population has grown unchecked. As I walked through my own piece of land, I discovered a large portion of low-lying ground flooded at least one and one half feet deep. It actually looked like a second lake. On the far side of the water, near the original creek channel I spotted the cause. A very large beaver hut sat there. I knew there were resident beaver, but I did not realize the magnitude! A little more exploration revealed the dam and what a feat of engineering it was! It was hidden in large part by a huge stand of shallow water willows on the lake side. I would estimate that this dam spanned about 150-yards. Well, I thought, this certainly is not going to do. Not only were the beavers cutting off my access to the property on the far side of the lake, they were also flooding out a good chunk of “big buck” brush and thickets. And so it began, the Clark County Beaver War!
I sat there on the hillside for a good while; looking at the dam and contemplating the problem. How in the world was I going to get rid of these beaver? I tossed around the idea of trapping them and I still had a few months of legal beaver trapping left. In our state the beaver trapping season runs from mid November until the end of March with no limit. I had trapped in the past, but not for beaver. My trapping had consisted of raccoon, muskrat, fox and an occasional mink or weasel. I did not even own any traps big enough for beaver and was not familiar with the sets used to catch them. That approach would take a little research and practice, besides, my home was an hour away from the property and it would be very time consuming to check and/or reset the traps every day. So, maybe trapping wasn’t an option right now. I thought about the problem a little longer and came up with the idea to break the dam in several places and see what happened. Maybe if I could get the backed up water drained out, then the pesky little critters would move on.
With shovels in hand my hunting partner and I started across the dam to look for likely spots to make the breaks. Who would have imagined it would have been such a job to accomplish! If you have never tried to dismantle a beaver dam then you truly don’t realize what industrious builders and engineers these animals are! From all appearances, the dam looked as if it were just a tall, thick wall of mud, about three feet wide at the base and rising up to a rounded top. I had illusions of just shoveling the mud out of the way in a few places. Well, I found a good spot to make the first break, pushed the shovel into the top of the dam and it just stopped two or three inches into the mud. What! I tried another spot nearby, same results. Under the covering of mud was a very intricate maze of sapling size trees. What I had initially envisioned as a simple task turned into hours of hard, sweating, manual labor! Finally, tired and covered with mud, we had two good sized breaks in the dam and the water was gushing through. We sat and watched it for awhile and the water was draining out so rapidly that you could actually see the water level dropping. I had hoped to catch sight of a beaver or two as they swam out to investigate the problem but they apparently stayed safe and secure in their huts.
I spent most of the following week in great anticipation. Had the beavers rebuilt the dam? Had I gotten really lucky and they moved out? I was soon to find out. The weekend rolled around and Saturday morning found me looking at a freshly rebuilt dam. Luckily the repairs they made were not done near as solidly as the original dam. Shovels in hand, the breaks were reopened. This process continued each weekend for several weeks, they would rebuild, and I would tear out what they rebuilt. Finally, they stopped rebuilding. Wow! I had won! As persistent as they were, I never imagined they would just quit. Several weeks went by with no signs of any rebuilding efforts. Hooray, hooray! Then one day I noticed what appeared to be water glistening through the dense jungle of willow trees. No, surely not. There should not be any water in that area, I must be seeing things. But sure enough, those beavers hadn’t given up; they just relocated a couple of hundred yards up the creek that feeds the lake. Oh no, here we go again!
This time the dam was not easily accessible as it were previously. With all the work taking place to get the land ready for fall food plot planting, I decided to let the beaver go for the time being. Trapping during the winter might just be the best bet after all. But I still had to make preparations for the task. First on the list was to order a couple of conibear 330 traps. I had used the 110 size before and had set them by hand. When the traps arrived, I opened the box and, WOW, these things were absolutely huge! I could tell by looking that there was no way, even if I were an Amazon Woman, that I was going to set these by hand. So back to the catalog to order some trap setters. In the meantime I put the 330’s in a large plastic tub filled with hot salt water. I let them set in there for about a week to get the factory oil off and put a light rust coat on them. The next step is to put a protective dye coating on the trap and the light rust will help the coating adhere.
Next, I scoured the internet for information on beaver sets. I found some very useful sites with good descriptions and diagrams and a lot of information on beaver in general. Did you know that the beaver is the largest member of the rodent family in Illinois and is present in every county in the state? At one time they were thought to be extinct in the state and were reintroduced such as our whitetail deer were. I think they have both thrived here! An average beaver colony can be 12 to 15 beavers; they mate for life and the young stay with the parents until they are about two years old. While browsing for information, I also found several accounts of other people’s beaver battles, and some of the accounts were very humorous to say the least! As I am finishing this writing, the traps have been speed dipped and are hanging to dry. The beaver have also continued to work, building several additional smaller dams and increasing the depth of the flooded area. As I am very short, I am beginning to wonder if my hip waders are going to be enough to get me through the water! But it is just a few weeks now until the season opens and the only thing left to do is to purchase my trapping license and wait! Look out beaver…..here I come!!
© November 2006
The sport of trapping can be very fun and exciting, and all it takes to get hooked on it is a determined mind and a willingness to endure sometimes cold, wet, and uncomfortable conditions.
I started trapping myself, only five years ago, but I have been tagging along with someone who traps for approximately eight years.
It all started when my brother caught his first animal in a leg trap, a sow coon. I watched for two solid hours after it was brought home, as my Dad and brother John attempted to skin it. The fur was rough, tough, and full of holes by the time the process was done, but it was an experience that has stuck with me and planted a seed.
After that, my brother was hooked on trapping and I, always being his little shadow, would tag along when he ran his trapping lines.
As the years passed, we caught several more coons, an otter, a flying a squirrel, and countless snakes, but the majority of our hides that we collected in the shed, were mere possums.
Both my brother and I learned in time, how to properly skin and tan hides.
John did try to sell some of the pelts, but never made more then a few dollars from them. But money wasn’t important to either of us. We simply enjoyed having fun, being together and learning as we went.
One instant that comes to mind is the time we out smarted "Ol’ Bushel Britches" the coon. Down the hill from our house, was a little creek that we trapped on constantly, when fur-bearing season came in.
One day, John and I ran the lines and found that one trap had the bait of sardines stolen from it and it was also sprung. So we reset it along with adding new bait to the set.
When we returned the next day, we found that the exact same thing had happened again. After the same scenario continued to take place on a frequent basis, we started calling the coon "Ol’ Bushel Britches", after the wily Sheriff off of "Robin Hood". This went on for a week or so, and growing irritated, we came up with a plan to catch him.
The bank of the creek, by which we trapped, grew thick with bamboo cane, so John cut a piece of the hollow cane, about 4 inches in length and instructed me to fill it with Jack Mackerel.
Let me insert here, something about Jack Mackerel. First off, it reeks of dead fish, and secondly, once you touch or handle it, the smell stays on your skin and is very difficult to remove. After the trapping experience with this stuff, it is hard for me to even gulp down tuna. So knowing that, you can guess why I got the task of handling it and stuffing it in the cane.
Anyway- I did as I had been told and then we placed the cane filled bait in a small opening in the rocky ledge, and put the set in front of it. I then piled rocks around sides of the trap, to keep the animal from reaching around the trap to steal the bait. We then went home, and anxiously waited to see what our set would produce.
Early the next morning, John and I set out with our dog, Abe, to check the special trap. Abe ran ahead of us to the creek and we then heard him barking furiously at something. We hurried down the steep hill to see what he had found.
Then we saw him at the general area that our "lucky" set was at, and we knew instantly that we had succeeded in catching the sly coon. That big boar was really mad and angry with Abe, and bared his teeth and hissed at him until he saw us, then we became his latest enemies. John had his .22 rifle with him and while I held Abe back, shot the coon and made sure that it was completely dead, before he removed and inspected our trophy.
We rejoiced as we ran the rest of the line, and then went home to have our picture taken with the coon, before we skinned him. As we skinned the animal, we promised ourselves that we would someday mount him and respectfully display his proper name on a gold plate, ‘" Ol’ Bushel Britches, the wily coon’".