Oh, for the Exuberance of Youth Again

Exploring Kansas Outdoors

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A couple winters ago, I was given the opportunity to do some nuisance beaver trapping at Turkey Creek Golf Course in McPherson. I’d been helping a local lad, Jared Austin learn the do’s and don’ts, and the in’s and out’s of trapping as I knew them, and he became a constant companion as the very first morning we caught what I hoped was the only beaver left there on the golf course. But, as is usually the case, more damage appeared in the form of chewed trees and shrubs, so our quest was not over.

For starters, it’s difficult enough to catch every single beaver on any given property, and when the water source is a stream or a river that obviously runs for miles, it’s nearly impossible. Turkey Creek Golf Course is named for Turkey Creek which runs completely through the course and for miles in each direction, plus the grounds also sports several acres of pond water to boot, so there can theoretically be a constant supply of predators and beavers.

The new chewing was on the opposite end of the creek from where our first beaver was caught, so we began by scouting there. Most beaver dwellings in our part of the country are dens in the bank of a pond, river or stream, and are often hard to spot because beavers attempt to conceal openings to their dens by placing them where they’ll be under water except during very dry times. We walked the creek bank for a time but spotted no den openings, so a couple traps were placed at points where the creek narrowed down, theorizing the beavers would encounter the traps as they cruised up and down through their neighborhood. Jared lived just a hop, skip and a jump from the golf course, so he checked the traps each morning, saving me lots of time and miles. After a week of checking empty traps, he was on the phone with me one afternoon as he had donned waders and was in the creek checking under every tree stump and looking under every single wad of overhanging grass, searching for a beaver den entrance (I vaguely remember when I still had that kind of exuberance.)

Catching your quarry the first day like we had that first beaver is great, especially for building enthusiasm in a youthful apprentice like it had in Jared. But it also offers a teaching moment for the mentor to impress upon their apprentice how success in hunting, fishing and trapping is often not immediate. He found a couple likely looking locations, and although I silently thought them “iffy” at best, I encouraged him to move traps there and see what happened (yet another learning opportunity.) The next couple days he caught raccoons but no beavers, then a rain and ice storm raised the water level in the creek too high to find the traps for a day or so. The following Thursday morning I set several traps around the biggest pond on the golf course and the two of us made plans to meet early Friday to check them all.

I remember Friday morning was foggy with a light mist falling as we commandeered a golf cart to make our rounds. Our first stop was where he had moved traps a few days prior, and we parked the cart beside a chewed-up tree the beaver had cut completely down. I think the cart was still moving when Jared dove out and all-but-sprinted down the bank. I was still stumbling around trying to wipe the mist and fog from my glasses when I heard him splashing across the creek, followed by hoots of “Got one, alright, finally!” The traps we use kill a beaver very quickly, so with my glasses still foggy and propped onto my nose, I blundered across the creek to find a kid with a smile on his face the size of a crescent moon holding up a gigantic old beaver. I estimated the old monster to weigh 45 – 50 pounds with immense front incisor teeth an inch long and as wide as my thumb nails. No wonder it had caused so much damage and was capable of completely toppling trees. Who knows how long that old rascal had lived there and how many of the problem beavers we were after it had apprenticed itself. We continued on, checking traps I had set around the pond and were rewarded with one more average sized beaver. I explained to Jared why I’d put each trap where I had, and he helped me set a couple more. He also got to sense my frustration with not catching as many as I’d hoped in the traps I had set.

Beavers are amazing critters that get themselves in trouble just doin’ what God created them to do. Beaver colonies cutting down trees to dam up streams in mountain meadows somewhere create ponds that actually do Nature a favor by providing homes for trout, ducks and other wildlife. But here in Midwestern farm country, beavers damming up streams and rivers that flood productive farm land, or chewing and cutting down trees on the local pristine golf course are not going to be tolerated. It’s kind of ironic that my apprentice’s first beaver was so big, as the first beaver I ever caught was just as large and required my wife and I hauling it up a steep river bank, through a briar patch and a couple hundred yards to the waiting pickup. I don’t know the average life span of a Kansas beaver, but thanks to the exuberance of my young friend, that one won’t be cluttering the golf course any more. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!

Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]

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