I trapped my first beaver a quarter of a century ago but I can still remember every detail. It was at a place called the Slabs, along Cedar Creek in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest. I had a mink set tucked beneath an undercut bank and the beaver was a welcome bit of by-catch. Today, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t make full use of that animal by eating the meat. Back then, I’d sometimes sell muskrat and beaver carcasses to a musher who liked to feed the meat to his sled dogs during races. I used the rest for bait.
While I wasn’t getting nourishment from beavers back in high school, I was getting up and close with my favorite period of American history: the mountain man era. It spanned the first half of the Nineteenth Century, while the market for beaver pelts was booming and the western U.S. was relatively untouched by white men. While my dad always told me that I was born 150 years too late, I still did my best to experience as much of that lifestyle as possible. I explored new patches of ground, hunted, trapped, learned to live off the land, and did more than my share of trespassing. (Going where you weren’t supposed to be was a hallmark of mountain man behavior, as was consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol when it was available.)
I still like to check in on my mountain man roots by doing a little beaver trapping now and then. While I’ve given up on trespassing, and mostly given up on alcohol, I’ve managed to up my mountain man game by consuming beaver meat whenever I get the chance. It’s the unsung hero of wild meats, and deserves a hell of a lot more attention from hunters and trappers than it gets. Tune in to this week’s MeatEater premiere and you’ll get treated to plenty of mountain man history and legend, a bit of mountain man know-how, and a heaping helping of mountain man grub. It’ll be 150 years ago, all over again.