The Big Chew

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

a rudder while swimming and a prop while the beaver chips at a tree. Beaver tail was considered a delicacy in the pioneer stewpot, but the edibility of beaver meat depends on which chef you talk to.

Most wild game cookbooks don't list beaver recipes. Cy Littlebee's Guide to Cooking Fish and Game, available from the Conservation Department's Nature Shop, has two.

"Cy," the alter ego of author Werner Nagel, did not say he had eaten beaver meat, and both recipes are cautious about the taste, as if the authors were hesitant to commit themselves. Charley and Libby Schwartz, authors of the definitive Wild Mammals of Missouri, say only that "the flesh is tasty."

Former Conservation Department furbearer biologist Dave Erickson has eaten beaver meat. He describes it as "red, delicate, kind of sweet-tasting." The closest he could come to a domestic comparison was corned beef. A Conservation Department publication on beavers by a wildlife damage control agent contains a wealth of information on the animals and ways to cook the meat.

People exterminated beavers in Missouri by 1915. Think of it! A furbearer as common today as any was absolutely gone from the state. In 1928-29, the old Game and Fish Department stocked six pairs of northern beavers in Dent County, and by the mid-1930s those had increased to an estimated 75 to 100. Some northern beavers moved into northwest Missouri while others may have moved into the southwest part of the state.

But Rudolf Bennitt and Werner Nagel seemed pessimistic in a historic survey of wildlife in 1934. Bennitt was a University of Missouri professor; Nagel was his student.

Bennitt and Nagel reported fewer than 200 beavers in Missouri in the mid-1930s and, though they didn't say so, you get the feeling they believed beavers would never again be more than a curiosity, a museum creature.

Beaver restoration began with painful slowness. It was 20 years before my father cussed out that Chariton County family of beavers. Beavers were protected then, though a beleaguered landowner could get permission to trap nuisance beavers after 1945.

My father never bothered. He ripped out the dam; the beavers built it back. They carried on a running battle for some months, and I think my father finally discouraged the beavers and they moved elsewhere.

Beavers thrived under the same trap-and-transplant program that restored deer and wild turkeys in Missouri. The Conservation Department trapped surplus animals from 1939 to 1955 and relocated

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