When most people think of going to the grocery store, they envision endless rows of shelves stacked with every kind of food imaginable. When I think of getting food, I imagine all the options available to me when I step into the woods. Alaska is full of edible mushrooms, berries, plants, big and small game species waiting to be harvested and enjoyed in a hearty meal.
Some of the less sought after sources of protein for the dinner table are furbearers, but some adventurous eaters believe they’re delectable treats. Of all the furbearers Alaska offers, beavers provide a bountiful meal and are relatively easy to trap once you’ve learned a few tricks. I particularly enjoy the challenge of trapping beavers through the ice in the winter, it’s not only challenging, but it gets me out of the house when its well below freezing and dark! I never ate beaver while trapping in my home state of Minnesota, so I decided to give it a shot in Alaska.
Beaver are not a popular species to trap in Interior Alaska for several reasons. The work necessary to trap beavers, preparing the pelt, low pelt value, and a myriad of other reasons persuade many trappers to avoid the hassle. Due in part to these detractors, beavers are plentiful! Rivers such as the Chena or Tanana are loaded with lodges if you know where to look. Sloughs in particular are good locations for lodges because beavers prefer slower moving water. After you spot a lodge, making sure its active is key to success. Classic signs of active beaver lodges in winter include: thin ice near the entrance to the lodge, heavy bubble trails around the lodge (if the ice is not covered in snow), and a “chimney” or snow free hole at the top of the lodge with hoarfrost or steam rising from the opening. Once you’ve located an active lodge and the beavers feed pile (twigs, branches, and larger sections of trees which beavers feed on throughout the winter) it’s a good bet that there are multiple residents, and this is an excellent location to make a set.
One type of set for a newly discovered beaver lodge is the “feeder-pole” set (there’s a better name out there). This set introduces food to beaver when they’ve likely chomped through a good portion of their winter food supply. Depending on the depth of the water near the lodge, you’ll need to chop down a live birch tree with an approximate diameter no greater than 2 1/2 inches, and long enough to be stuck into the bottom of the pond with at least 1 ft. above the top of the ice. Any species of tree that you notice the beaver eating will work fine. I’ve noticed that birch work well. Trim all small limbs off the pole so you can slide traps on. I use a combination of 330 body-gripping traps and 3/32 inch cable snares on the same pole (Figure 1). Use an axe or a hatchet to remove a long thin piece of bark about 8 inches long where you plan on placing a trap. This small stripped section on the pole entice beavers to investigate. Make multiple blazes to the pole for your snares and/or body-gripping traps. Once the pole is ready, set your body-gripping traps. With safeties on, slide the pole through the springs as shown in figure 2. Wire the top and bottom spring in place so they do not move. Another bait option is wiring a small bundle of blazed sticks to the trigger (figure 2).
For snares, I use a 1 ½ inch nail driven in right above the blaze mark on the pole, driven in at a slight upward angle. Use a small piece of wire to hold the snare on the nail, and also create a small wire hanger to hold the snare out straight to create a circle that doesn’t sag (figure 3). Once the traps are placed, use wire to connect the snares and body-gripping trap to a log above the ice. This step is crucial because if you only attach the trap to the pole, beavers will chew up the pole and you’ll lose your traps! Once the setup is ready, take the safeties off your body gripping traps, and sink the pole through the ice slowly so the snares do not fall off the nail. Sink the pole into the bottom of the pond to secure its position. Use a cross log to secure the wires from your traps (figure 4). Finally, cover the opening in the ice with snow. I learned that covering the hole reduces the “unnatural” look of the set so even timid beavers will investigate.
Once you catch a beaver (figure 5), it’s time to skin the animal. I use a long filet knife and a smaller paring knife for skinning. Start by placing the beaver flat on its back. In contrast to many other furbearers that are case skinned, beavers are split from the tail near the anus, up the belly through the lower lip. First, use the filet knife to cut under the skin at the base of the tail, and continue cutting straight up the middle of the beaver until you reach the anus. Cut a circle around the entire anus, then continue to cut all the way up the middle of the animal through the middle of the lower lip. While making these cuts, be sure to only cut through the skin to avoid exposing or cutting internal organs. Cut around the base of all feet and cut the feet off the animal (Figure 6). This allows you to skin out the rest of the animal and expose the meat. Here’s a video for a visual aid on skinning
For the chili, I chose to use the hind and front quarters, but any meat on the animal will work since we’re grinding the meat and slow cooking it (that is, it won’t be tough). Start by removing the hind quarters with cuts parallel to where the limbs meet the body (Figure 7). Once you’ve removed the limbs, remove the bones and cut the meat in long pieces. Grind the meat in a meat grinder twice to ensure all tough meat and tendons are indistinguishable from the muscle. Once the meat is ground, you’re ready to start cooking!
14. 1 (14.5 oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
15. 1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
16. ½ cup white wine
17. 2 tablespoons chili powder
18. 2 tablespoons ground cumin
19. 1 tablespoon chipotle pepper sauce
20. 2 ½ teaspoons dried basil
21. 1 ½ teaspoons paprika
22. 1 teaspoon salt
23. ½ teaspoon dried oregano
24. ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
25. 2 (16 oz.) cans dark red kidney beans
26. 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Beaver chili recipe:
1. 4 tablespoons olive oil
2. 1 yellow onion
3. 1 green pepper
4. 1 Anaheim chili pepper
5. 2 red jalapeno peppers
6. 2 cans roasted green chilies
7. 4 cloves of garlic minced
8. 2 ½ pounds ground beaver
9. ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
10. Pinch of garlic powder
11. 2 beef bouillon cubes
12. 1 (12 oz.) can of light beer
13. 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
- Heat oil in large pan over medium heat and cook (chopping the following ingredients) onions, green peppers, Anaheim chili pepper, red jalapeno peppers, and garlic until soft.
- While vegetables are cooking, brown beaver meat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. While cooking, add Worcestershire sauce and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until meat is brown and crumbly. (Figure 8)
- Add all ingredients (except cilantro) to a large crockpot, cooking on the low setting for 6-8 hours.
- Sprinkle cilantro on top of chili and serve! (Figure 9)
The taste is mild, which is not surprising with all the spices. The meat is finer after grinding compared to coarser game meats. Beaver also does not stick together as well as beef, which makes for smaller pieces of meat, but this could be changed by adding beef fat when grinding. This delectable meal will make me think twice about using beaver carcasses for bait! Chili is an excellent meal to share with friends and loved ones. Next time you whip-up this recipe, make sure to tell your guests it’s beef chili, and once they’re nearly finished with the first bowl, in awe of your cooking abilities, inform them they’re eating beaver. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with their reaction. Enjoy!