Trapping Beavers 101: Catching Every Single One

Nature furnishes us with no shortage of wonders, not the least of which are all the amazing animals out there. Out of all the animals in creation, the beaver has to be one of the most incredible.

a beaver in the wild

Calling them nature’s engineers is an understatement; a beaver that successfully dams up even a small stream can change an entire local ecosystem! That’s really something, and I don’t care how jaded you might be.

But, as smart and industrious as beavers are they also unbelievably destructive. They obliterate all sorts of trees and other plants and their quest for food and building materials, and the flooding they can cause can displace entire towns.

No joke, if beavers are on or around your property you might have serious problems! The only thing to do is to trap them, hopefully, so you can relocate them because they are important animals, but if not to take them out before they can do any damage.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you what you need to know to trap a beaver yourself.

Why Would You Need to Trap a Beaver?

Like I mentioned above, beavers, despite being incredible animals and amazingly industrious, are phenomenally destructive.

Adult beavers can very literally chop down mature trees that took decades to grow using their teeth alone. Smaller plants disappear by the hundreds as food.

You don’t need me to tell you how destructive their damming can be, either if it cuts off the supply of much-needed water in an area or causes water to back up and rise!

And, not for nothing, though they usually avoid trouble, beavers can be dangerous. They can easily hurt or kill smaller animals with those giant teeth, and they’ve even killed a few people before!

If beavers are on or around your property, they are justifiably considered a nuisance and should be dealt with. But you’ve got to know the law and you’ve got to know how.

Double Check the Legality of Trapping in Your Location

So you’ve got beaver trouble. Before you do anything else, you’ve got to check your local and state laws on dealing with them, and trapping them in particular.

All laws vary from state to state, and though most states are generally permissive when it comes to citizens dealing with nuisance animals that are either on their property unwanted or directly causing damage to their property, you might need a permit to dispatch a beaver, to relocate one, or just to use traps on wildlife in general.

Ignorance is no excuse, and if you are found out and you went about things the wrong way, you could be facing serious fines or even criminal charges.

Things You’ll Need to Trap a Beaver

On paper, you don’t need much to trap a beaver. You’ll need:

  • Traps, lethal or non-lethal. Bodyhold or cage traps recommended.
  • Anchors, depending on trap type. Can use sharpened sticks in situ.
  • Bait or attractant. Beaver castor is ideal.
  • Permit or license, depending on state. Check with the authorities and be sure!
  • Time and patience. This might take a while.

Depending on your objectives and your state’s laws you might need something to dispatch a caught beaver if you aren’t using a lethal trap.

Trap Types: What Works Best and Why

There are two basic trap types used to catch beavers, and among these types there are various models and styles. The two main types are lethal and non-lethal, and hopefully you don’t need me to explain the difference to you.

A lethal trap will kill the beaver, typically by crushing or asphyxiating it, but some trap types kill by impalement or other means.

Non-lethal traps are typically cage traps designed to hold the beaver in place until you can come along and relocate it somewhere else.

Popular lethal traps include conibear or bodyhold traps which snap shut around the beaver’s body, neck or head and typically kill by positional asphyxiation or crushing.

These look like the classic “bear traps” with or without the toothed jaws. Other popular lethal traps are spike traps, which fire a spring-loaded impaling spike into the body of the beaver when activated.

Non-lethal traps include the aforementioned cage traps as well as foothold traps and snares, though snares may be lethal or non-lethal depending on how they take hold of the beaver.

It is worth pointing out that non-lethal traps might maim or kill if they don’t function correctly or if they don’t catch the beaver by the leg.

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My recommendations? Use a 330 body-hold trap or conibear if you want to go lethal, and use a full-size cage trap with one or two entrances if you want to catch the beaver alive.

Locating a Trap Site

Beavers are North America’s largest rodents, and like most rodents, they are creatures of strict habit unless disrupted.

Beavers build dams and lodges in bodies of water, and are constantly moving around them, to and from, and also over.

Accordingly, once you generally know where the beaver is, you shouldn’t have to look too hard to find the paths that the beaver is taking regularly.

For instance, look around the edges of the water near the dam or the lodge for muddy troughs that have matted down vegetation or even worn completely clear of vegetation. These are beaver slides and are great places for a trap.

The other good places to locate a trap or immediately in front of the entrances to the lodge if they are above the water line, or on the path or runway that crosses from one side to the other on a large or dam.

These are places that you know the beaver is entering and exiting, and also paths that you know the beaver takes regularly. Setting up the trap properly in these places will almost guarantee your success.

Be Sure to Use Bait

Beavers are a lot smarter than you give them credit for, and even a properly placed and camouflaged trap is unlikely to catch them unless you can turn their instincts against them.

Beavers are highly motivated by two things: food, and other beavers. Accordingly, you should use food that beavers like, including all kinds of twigs, branches and roots and most especially poplar, or beaver castor; castor is highly odorific stuff that beavers secrete to mark their territory.

Placing either of these inside the trap and immediately behind the trigger so that the beaver must fully enter the activation or kill zone to get it will greatly increase your chances of success.

Be Quiet and Clever: Beavers are Smart!

When you are moving into the beaver’s territory looking for it, scouting for trap locations or doing anything else, act like a hunter.

Be quiet, be clever, and don’t disturb anything more than you have to. Beavers are notoriously difficult to catch because they are so intelligent, and they will quickly grow wary of intrusion, making them even harder to bag.

Move as quietly as you can and use the lightest possible touch at all phases of the operation if you want to maximize your chances of catching the critter.

"How And Where To Set Beaver Traps" Beaver Trapping Basics Part 2

Trapping a Beaver Step by Step

Trapping a beaver isn’t as easy as you think, but if you follow the instructions below you stand a good chance….

Step 1: Pre-Test Traps

Before you do anything else, test your traps for functionality. More animals have been lost or maimed because of improperly functioning traps than anything else.

Whatever kind of traps you have chosen, trigger them safely using a stick or some other device. Never, ever use your hand or foot!

Bodyhold traps suitable for beaver can easily break your foot or your ankle, to say nothing of your hand. These things aren’t toys!

Assuming your traps are functional and you know how to set them up, move on to the next step.

Step 2: Locate Beaver Activity

Find out where the beavers are active and living according to the guidelines above. Look for beaver slides near the water’s edge, and locate their ramps and entrances on dens and lodges if they are visible.

Note that some lodges, especially those built on a bank, might only have a single entrance. Most have two, but not always.

Step 3: Place One or More Traps

With the beaver routes located, it is time to place your traps. The best place to situate your beaver traps is at transition points:

  • immediately as beaver slides enter or exit the water,
  • immediately ahead of entrance and exits out of lodges,
  • at the bottom of the ramp on a dam and at the apex on top.

Note: if you’re placing a cage trap in the water, make sure enough of the cage is above the water surface so the beaver doesn’t drown- beavers are semi-aquatic, but they cannot breathe underwater!

Ideally, you’ll bring enough traps to cover all of these approaches and entrances. If you have to prioritize, place your traps at the lodge entrances if you can reach them.

Remember! Be as quiet as possible and disturb only what is absolutely necessary if you want to maximize your chances.

Step 4: Secure Traps in Place

With your traps placed, it’s time to anchor them down. The last thing you want is for a caught beaver to drag away your trap only to die painfully where you can’t find it.

If you brought steaks or other man-made anchors, now is the time to bust them out and use them. Otherwise, you can find appropriately sized sticks to drive into the ground to help anchor your traps in place.

Keep in mind that solid and secure placement is also important to ensure functionality of the trap and correct triggering, not just to keep the beaver in place.

Step 5: Camouflage Trap Floor

I mentioned several times throughout this guide that beavers are extremely cautious and smart. You’ll want to camouflage your trap so they don’t recognize it visually or by feel underfoot, or rather underpaw.

This is a common problem with cage traps because beavers don’t feel comfortable stepping on the mesh or grid bottom of these traps and so will avoid them.

All you need to do is place a little bit of local detritus and debris on the floor of the trap to help conceal it and make it blend it. Be doubly sure that this will not interfere with the trigger when the trap is set.

Step 6: Set Guides

To further improve your chances of a successful catch, set guides on either side of the entrance to the trap, and block any other paths where the beaver might squeeze by on either side.

Grab some convenient nearby thick branches and lay them on either side of the entrance to the trap like guard rails to help prompt the beaver to enter.

Step 7: Place Bait

You aren’t going to have much luck if you don’t use bait. Beavers are motivated by food, so you might have good luck using sticks, young shoots, roots and other similar plant matter they prefer, especially anything from a poplar plant. Beavers love that stuff.

However, the very best thing you can use is dedicated beaver bait in the form of castor excretion. It smells horrible, and it’s kind of expensive, but it’s worth the trouble if you really want to nail these beavers.

Place your bait beyond the trigger so that the beaver must either fully enter the trap to reach the bait or else trip the trap while in the kill zone to reach it.

Step 8: Arm Trap

The trap is set, it’s camouflaged and the bait is in place. Time to arm the trap. Do this as carefully and quietly as you can but pay attention!

Especially if you are using a lethal trap now is when things can go badly for you if you make a mistake. If you are out in the wilderness and get a self-inflicted injury from your trap, you might find yourself in a legitimate survival situation.

Arm the trap and then move away and observe for a short while to make sure it holds.

Step 9: Check for Capture/Kill Frequently

Now we wait, and now is also the most tedious and potentially the most delicate part of the process. It is up to you to check on your traps frequently, particularly if you are using a live capture trap.

Beavers will not last very long without access to water, so if you’re going to relocate it you must get to it in a timely fashion so the animal does not suffer.

The same goes for lethal traps, because a beaver might be caught and maimed, and then left to die horribly and slowly. You should dispatch it if this is so, but the only way you’ll know is by checking on your traps frequently.

But on the other hand, constantly entering and exiting the beaver’s territory is definitely going to make it edgy and more cautious unless you are, in the timeless words of preeminent hunter Elmer Fudd, vewwy, vewwy quiet! So think like a hunter and move as stealthily as you can.

Step 10: If Live Caught, Relocate Beaver

If you set a non-lethal trap and discover that you have a beaver inside, congratulations, you caught a beaver.

Now is the time to carefully move the animal inside the trap to a new destination where it can live out its life in peace and you live yours with less headaches and flooding.

Ideally, you’ll want to take the beaver at least 10 miles away from your property to ensure that it does not return. Make sure you put it down in an area with water sources, because beavers don’t live on dry land.

Step 11: Reset Traps as Needed and Repeat

If you used a lethal trap, make sure the beaver is dead and then dispose of the carcass. If the trap is triggered but empty, reset it, make sure it’s still anchored and camouflaged and then repeat the process if there are still other beavers to be caught.

How Often Should You Check Your Traps?

You should be checking your traps often, preferably at least once a day but no less often than once every two days. Any longer than that, and a beaver caught in a foothold or cage trap could die of dehydration or exposure.

How Can You Get Rid of a Beaver in a Pond?

If you have a beaver that has taken up residence in or near a pond, the process is exactly the same. The difference is there isn’t going to be a dam in all likelihood that you can walk out on to place the traps.

My recommendation is to look for a beaver slide on the banks of the pond and place your traps there. Think twice before swimming out or waiting out to the lodge because beavers can be very aggressive on defense – especially if they have young inside.

And don’t be fooled by that cute appearance and those chubby cheeks: a beaver’s frontal incisors are basically iron chisels and several inches long, and they have immensely strong jaws. A bite from a beaver can cause life-threatening injury!

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