Beach Bumming Furbearers

Beach Bumming Furbearers

I’ll be the first to admit that I never really was one for the beach. I’ve been at home in the in-land valleys, hemlocks, and hillsides all my life; and while I do enjoy the tranquility and peacefulness of an uninhabited beach with the soothing sounds of the crashing waves and calls of gulls, I can honestly say it isn’t a priority to meander about the over-crowded beaches New Hampshire has to offer. I’ve often thought about life on the shoreline, but my daydreaming was always quickly cut short by my assumption about the lack of furbearers that would call the beaches and salt marshes home. If I can’t trap fur, it really isn’t a place for me. This past weekend, those assumptions, and my clear lack of “worldly experience” would be laid to rest on a trip down the Connecticut coastline.

My fiancé has been on a quest for driftwood for some of her personal projects, so during a weekend jaunt to visit in-laws, we made a pit stop at Hammonasset Beach. If you’ve never been to the beach in February, I strongly suggest you give it a try; minimal people, no crowds or price for admission, and with the mild winter the northeast has been experiencing - beautiful temperatures. You can really appreciate the vast openness of an ocean shoreline when you don’t have to fight through the multi-colored umbrellas, screaming children, and fat guys in Speedos. While we combed and foraged the coastline for treasures, I came upon a patch of dunes with tracks that seemed to stick out amongst the domestic dog and human prints dotting the dry sand.

The various tracks told quite the tale in the untouched soft sands.

Wherever I go, it isn’t long before the trapper in me comes out, and to my naive surprise, the beach wouldn’t be any different. I was quite intrigued to discover the travels of a lone Gray Fox darting in and out of the grassy dunes, emerging every now and then to investigate a large drift log or abandoned campfire. Instead of enjoying the picturesque desolate and seemingly endless coastline, I was fully enthralled in the story-telling roadmap that lay in the sand before me. Much like a detective on a crime scene, I immediately stated following the tracks and clues, to paint a picture of this fox’s life on the beach. Like a bloodhound on a hot scent, once the trapper picks up a set of tracks, there really isn’t any use pulling them off of the trail until they get the satisfaction they’re looking for.

I picked up the tracks where the fox emerged using a human walking trail through the dunes onto the main beach. He trotted along the threshold between grass dunes and beach before darting back into the dunes several hundred feet away. He would then emerge at the first focal point along the abandoned beach – a large downed drift log. At this point, it’s clear the fox managed to flush out a small mouse from the log, and pursued its quarry back into grass. After a brief disturbance in the sand, only the fox’s tracks remained to continue several yards down the beach before stopping to urinate on a lone tuft of grass at the dune’s edge. I followed these tracks for several hundred yards down the beach, and was able to catch a quick glimpse at a furbearer’s life on the shore. My fiancé had mentioned that the entrance to the state park was typically loaded with baby bunnies in the spring when she was younger. Between the rabbits, and the nesting shore birds, it’s no surprise a predator like the fox would feel at home at the ocean.

Mouse tracks flushed from alongside drift log.

Once I finished reading the fox’s tale of travel, to much of my surprise, I came upon some beaver chew sticks washed up along the otherwise deserted beach. My initial assumption is that they washed ashore of fresh water elsewhere, but the discovery reminded me of a phone call I had received a few years prior from a beach-house owner in Hampton, NH who was dealing with beavers messing about along the shoreline of her property, before returning via an inlet upstream to brackish waters. I didn’t take the job as it was too long a drive from my in-land home, but I always thought of the call as peculiar, as I wouldn’t expect to find beavers in an ocean setting. My understanding is that while beavers can’t survive constantly subjected to salt water, they have been found in and around oceanic waterways.

Muskrats and mink are also staple furbearers for shoreline trappers along Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maryland; so much so that the Frost Trap Company began producing stainless steel body-grip traps in the 1960’s, equipped with brass hinges and dogs to stand up to the corrosive salt-water marshes these trappers inhabited. Reproduction models of these vintage traps are still available today through online trapping vendors.

The "salt-safe" Jack Frost Trap

I never imagined the shoreline being a primary source for trapping furbearers, however after this past weekend’s adventure, it’s clear that much like humans, our wildlife is highly adaptable to all of mother nature’s ever-changing environments.

Are you a shoreline trapper? If so I’d love to hear some of your experiences. Email me via the contact page, or comment via one of LFAT’s social media pages like Facebook.