Canoe Scouting and Lessons Learned
I recently floated a river scouting for fur. My cousin Larry was with me and we learned a lot together about nature, animals, camping and fishing. Nothing better in the world then being out with someone who appreciates the great outdoors and is always trying to learn. We try different things to make the trip more comfortable and enjoyable for both of us.
The first lesson I observed was on muskrat sign. I was looking for fresh muskrat droppings on a log half in the water. I wanted one with lots of sign in the sun so I could get a clear picture of it. The first thing I noticed was, the current effect on the muskrat sign. The muskrats avoid the faster current, even if there is good food there. I deduced that fighting the current was not worth the energy to obtain the food. The next thing I noticed was the logs the muskrat chose to leave droppings on. Some were observed in the open, but only a few droppings. The muskrats preferred open logs that had been washed down in the middle of the river with a part dipped under the water. The muskrats seems to like to be able to float in-between this dip and feed and rest on either side of the log. Where do you think the best sign was?
After 2 days of floating, I learned the fact of overhead cover for the muskrat. This is where the best sign was. Slow moving current, with grass and roots overhanging in the water. The best log was a small 3-inch diameter log paralleling the shoreline with a pine tree directly above it. The muskrats on this little log had several piles of droppings, as many as 15, from old to many fresh ones. I reasoned then that the area had a high owl population and the muskrat soon learned to feed under cover before the silent death from above swooped down and ruin the night. Once you get in the habit of thinking like a muskrat and knowing where to look for sign then you will quickly discover more sign.
Next lesson on fur that was really observed was the river beaver. They preferred to set up bank dens and they range up to 1/2 mile up and down from the den. Rarely were many dens close together. But this was more, I think, due to available food supply then anything else. The beaver also prefer the slower current. Sometimes their den would be in the slow current just before rapids. I would swing the canoe down beside any log that was parallel the river and was stuck out from the shore by a 1 to 2 feet. By looking carefully I could make out the trail of the beaver swimming beside the log and his back feet would scrape the bottom. This is a good set for a #330 conibear. Several trails climbing out of the bank of the river in search of food.
Every side drainage, creek or run off with water had fur sign. These are a fur magnet. Every one with water in it had beaver, muskrat, coon, and sometime mink sign. I would walk up the drainage area and sometimes there was a beaver dam. Over that first dam was always a coon trail. Sometimes a bobcat trail could be made out. I think the animals that hunt the area soon learn where the beaver dams are and especially, the coon and mink learn to hunt the dams for fish, crawfish, and frogs.
Another fur sign area was logs going across the river. Some logs had a clear trail going to the log. By looking closely on the log you can make out faint claw marks from different animals using this as a bridge.
The river is a source of fur and there are always lessons to be learned if you will take the time to look and see. The fur is there, it is your job to no only find the sign, but to figure out where to trap. Always set the small water ways flowing into the main river. Look for cover that will protect the muskrat. Look for crossings over the river to take advantage of easy sets. The signs are easy to see if you just look. Think like the animal you want to trap, think of predators, think of the easy way for them to hunt and cross, then the picture becomes clear in your mind.
The next lesson was from a new water filter I purchased. The water filter fits into a canteen and you fill the canteen up with river water. Screw the filter and cap on and squeeze out. This is incredible, at how good this works. I have bought two, the first one was junk. I bought it the year before from a popular surplus place. It took two hands squeezing like your Arnold for 5 minutes to get one cup of water. This new one is awesome, it squeezed easy and the water is filtered. It is good up to 200 gallons of water. What is great about this is it frees you up from carrying the added weight of water. Plus, when the canteen became warm from the summer heat, I would just dump the water out, find a cool clean spot in the river and refill. Nothing like having fresh, clean, cool water during the heat of the day.
The next lesson was on bears. Something I do by habit but you may not. First, when you are in bear country, you should keep a clean camp. After eating your meal, clean up, wash the dishes, burn the cans down so there is no smell from them. If you have fish, clean them in the river and make sure you throw everything in the water. Then mark your territory. I know this sound funny, but it has always worked for me. When the call of nature comes, have everyone go around different sides of the camp and mark the area. Do all four sides and if you are going to be there any length of tome make sure you do this the whole time you are there. Bears are still afraid of humans and by doing this even if the bear approaches the camp from the downwind side before he gets into camp, he will get wind of one of ,the spots and leave. Of course this is a general rule and there is nothing like having a 12 gauge with slugs to help you sleep better at night.
The next was making bannock. My cousin had it made by someone else before the trip who tried to brown the bread with lifting the pan and tilting it, trying to bake it off the coals. This was a chewy, half cooked dough, that was not very good. I don't like carrying bread when I'm in the bush because it is always getting smashed to pieces. So, I read up on how the old trappers used to scout for weeks at a time and made their own bread. The recipe is quite simple. All you need is flour, baking soda, salt, and butter or some type of oil for the pan.
You build your fire and as it is burning down to coals you mix 3/4 cup of flour, one tablespoon of baking powder, a little salt and mix dry. Slowly add water and mix into a dough that is stiff. Don't add to much water. You want it like bread dough not like a thin pancake mix . I have an enamel 7 inch frying pan that is perfect for this. Place the pan on the coals of the fire to heat up. Add butter until it is melted and the pan is lightly coated. Add your dough and spread it out into the size of a pita loaf. Cook one side until you can flip it over without it breaking in half. This is a medium heat away from flame. Once flipped, add some more butter and cook. The bread will rise about 1/2 to 3/4 of its wet size. Check with a sliver of wood until no dough sticks to it.
This is really awesome bread. Like having fresh bread baked every time. We made peanut butter and jam sandwiches by cutting the loaf in half. Try it with summer sausage, eat it with baked beans, cook it for breakfast to go with the eggs. We made 4 pieces of bacon, 3 eggs, and one loaf each for breakfast. This kept us in energy for 5 hours on the river of paddling, hauling the canoe over logs, and walking up small streams. I was even surprised at how long I was full and had energy.
The fishing was fair. I did find that the trout preferred the Panther Martian spinner, about 8 to 1 over Mepps spinners. The river had brown trout and they were fussy, about two strikes per hole then that hole was done. If the fish could see you they would not strike.
Next trip I will re-float the same river and will take a notebook. This will be to figure out how many traps and what kind I will need for this stretch of river. I will also set up little sticks and logs in the trails so the animals will get used to walking or swimming through certain narrowed down spots. Until next time have fun and remember you are always learning.
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