Of course, there are exceptions. I’m not too big on interacting with hornets, although I have encountered an angry nest of them along the Tuolumne River and it took a long underwater swim to escape them. Mosquitoes don’t seem to like the taste of me and pretty much ignore me, even when they are feasting on everyone else. That’s O.K. by me. Although I’ve had numerous encounters with rattlers, thus far I’ve avoided getting snakebit.
For the most part, however, encounters with wild critters are as delightful as they are educational. I love to watch bald eagles cruise the wind currents above me as I fish, and delight at flushing a flock of wild turkey on the way to the stream.
My encounters with large predators like bears, mountain lion, bobcats and coyotes are fairly rare, but thrilling when they do occur. One evening I was out in my float tube fishing a Delta bayou for bass when a muskrat cruised nonchalantly by me as if I wasn’t even there.
But for some reason, I seem to have a large number of encounters with beavers. My first brush with a beaver must have been when I was about 10 years old. My brother Chris and I were wading along the East Carson River watching our dad fish. As we approached a beaver hut made of sticks and mud, its occupant must have felt threatened and blasted out of his den right between my brother and I, almost scaring us to death.
Every summer we camped along the North Fork of the Mokelumne at Hermit Valley, and one of our favorite pastimes was to go down to the beaver dam in the meadow at dusk and watch the beavers. It’s tough on a small kid to actually sit quietly for any length of time, but if we were able to sit still long enough, sure enough the beavers would regularly come out every evening and put on a great show.
They would swim up and down the river and make a great splash with their tails when we startled them. They would waddle up out of the water to the bushes and you could hear their gnawing, crunching, sounds as they gathered more sticks for their dams and for food. Sometimes, you could even hear the low grunts and squeaks as a mama beaver communicated with her pups. It was pretty cool.
Probably my most incredible beaver encounter of all occurred when I was walking along the creek with my dog early one morning. I had been shooting cans with my single-shot shotgun and was completely out of shells. Suddenly, I glanced at the stream beside me and a beaver was swimming along in the creek me at almost exactly my pace.
Before I realized what was happening, Old Skippy Dog had leapt into the creek and was locked into a fight to the death with that beaver! There was thrashing, growling, and blood everywhere, and I was convinced that beaver was going to kill my dog. Without even thinking, I jumped in the creek and beat that beaver off the dog using my empty gun as a club.
I guess I got lucky and managed to dispatch the beaver without getting bit. Old Skippy wasn’t so lucky, though — the beaver had bitten him clear to the bone in several places. Fortunately, we were able to get Skippy sewed up all right. And that evening we had beaver stew. But I’m probably the only guy I know who ever experienced a tooth-and-claw fight with a beaver.
Trust me, if you ever get a chance to get up close and personal with a beaver, don’t do it!
Until next week, tight lines.
• Don Moyer is president and CEO of a consulting firm and has more than 20 years’ experience working with the outdoor recreation community, including anglers, hunters, backpackers, environmental groups and the public. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.