I stopped in at the annual fur sale at the Tioga County Sportsman’s Club in Owego and looked over the variety of furs brought in for sale. The beaver pelts got my attention and they reminded me of my own efforts to trap the critters more than 50 years ago.
My buddy and I were in high school and decided to form a beaver trapping partnership. It was a simple agreement. We would share the work and the profits equally. After studying a copy of S. Stanley Hawbaker’s Trapping North American Furbearers, we felt we were ready. We felt we knew all we needed to know about trapping beaver and couldn’t wait for the season to open. Our trapline was in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and followed a small steam we knew as Meadow Run.
The idea was simple. Every Saturday morning my partner Bob’s mother would drive us to the mountains and drop us off. After doing so she would leave for the 20-mile drive back home and would pick us up on another road about five miles from where she left us. She never worried about us being at the designated pickup point and we always got there, but how I don’t know. We had no topographic map, no compass and certainly no GPS to guide us and we were too dumb to realize we could have easily gotten lost, but somehow we never did.
After being dropped off, we trekked about three miles over a gas pipeline and eventually got to our starting point on Meadow Run. We followed the creek downstream until we found a smaller feeder creek. We would follow the feeder creek upstream for a distance to see if there were any telltale signs of a beaver further ahead. If we found any chewed or bark-stripped branches, we would hike until we found the dam. Not rocket science, but it worked.
Setting a trap wasn’t easy. We often had to chop through a foot of ice and sometimes more, with no ice spud. All we had was our enthusiasm, our lean bodies and a hatchet. The task often took hours, and on most trips, we managed to set at least two traps and, if we were really lucky, three. After one particularly brutal cold spell, I remember spending hours trying to chop a hole in the ice only to eventually hit the bottom of the beaver pond. Needless to say we caught nothing that week.
Sunday mornings after church we would repeat the process, only this time we were doubly excited because of the possibility of a beaver payday. We were running the line and I remember the first beaver we ever caught. He weighed about 20 pounds and we were giddy with delight at our trapping prowess. We caught several more that first season and the biggest weighed over 40 pounds, a real monster that required us to chop a hole in the ice big enough to pull him out. It was a labor of love.