By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
Landowners Craig Poppe and Gary Lee, who together own a small farm north of Wauneta, had a problem.
There were several beaver dams on the Spring Creek running through their property.
That was nice, but the beavers had been cutting down trees near the creek, resulting in the flooding of a nearby meadow used for grazing and haying.
In addition, that flooding brought out a slew of muskrats, who built mounds of burrows in the meadow.
Lee and Poppe wanted to decrease but not eliminate the beavers. They also planned to keep the dams and lodges in place on Spring Creek.
They contacted Royce Penner, a trapper who lives north of Ogallala, to help them with their problem.
In one week Penner had trapped 13 beavers and about 10 muskrats on the private property.
Problem solved. For now.
Penner, 52, is a ranch hand for Haythorn Ranch in Arthur County. When his haying, cooking and windmill repair jobs are done in October, he readies his traps for the job he really enjoys.
Penner has been trapping since he was 10 or 11 years old.
“When I got a coon I went to town and bought more traps. That’s how I built it (business) up,” he said.
Trapping fits Penner’s personality. “I’m not a really big people person,” he explained.
In addition, when he was young he stuttered badly, so trapping “was my stress relief.”
“I grew up in a farming community (Hillsboro, Kan.) where all the farm boys trapped. We didn’t have technology. We went outdoors. Our way of communicating with each other was our weekend hunting and trapping,” he said.
In high school, trapping provided for his gas money.
That love has translated into Penner’s work with youths, teaching them to trap. He also helps coach Ogallala’s junior and senior high trap shooting teams.
Penner has a fur harvester permit and a habitat stamp. People born after a certain year must also have a trapper safety certificate.
He urges anyone interested in trapping to contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) for information.
When Lee and Poppe contacted him, Penner agreed to help them, in return for a place to stay for a week.
“No one hires me. No one pays me to trap. If someone has a problem they want to eliminate, I come trap,” he explained.
Landowners from Bridgeport to Kansas have contacted him to trap beaver, mink, muskrat, badger, raccoon, bobcat and coyote.
The most unusual request was to rid an area around Ogallala of porcupines, he said. “The worst is skunk!”
His favorite animal to trap is beaver, Penner said. “They’re just like humans. If you look at the human race, we dam up rivers, build houses around them. They do the same thing.”
He also noted that beavers “supply a lot of habitat for other animals.”
Penner keeps the pelts of the animals he traps, skins the hides, removes the flesh, ties the hides to a stretcher and dries them.
He then sells them to North American Fur Auction in Canada. Prices vary, but an average beaver pelt can bring about $30.
Penner said price varies according to size, quality of the pelt, quality of the drying job and demand.
Many furs are purchased by Russia, but Penner said embargoes against that country have hurt the demand.
“You don’t get rich off it (trapping,)” he stated.
To trap the beavers at the Spring Creek farm, Penner used conibear spring traps, set under the water near a lodge, that kill the beaver instantly, he said.
In other situations, he’s used foot traps on land or just below the water level to catch beavers.
The muskrats in the meadows sometimes enjoy their new home so well that they “throw up small dikes to keep the water from going back in the channel,” Penner observed.
To catch them he uses either small conibear traps or a colony trap, which is a cage that they swim into and then can’t find a way out of.
The beavers didn’t always go quietly last week, however.
Penner laughed when he told of finding one of his underwater traps jammed with a log.
Beavers had taken a three- inch diameter log and rammed all four feet of it into his trap.
“Beavers are smart animals,” he smiled.
Penner has even heard them “talking” when he’s been around a lodge.
Trapping isn’t for everyone, and people might object to what he’s doing, Penner observed.
However, it’s his full-time job in the winter, and his family helps. Sons Ethan, 21, and Daniel, 16, also trap, while wife Beth Ann helps with the hides.
It gets him out on the land, helps people and allows him to enjoy the solitude.
Beaver and muskrat season runs from Nov. 1 through March 31, using traps only. According to the NGPC, trapping may only be done with snares, metal-spring traps with smooth jaws or box traps.
Body-gripping traps with a jaw-spread larger than five inches may not be used unless they are placed under water or at least six feet above the ground.
This helps protect other wildlife from becoming accidently caught in the traps.
There are also certain areas in which animals may be trapped. Again, the NGPC should be consulted.