Beaver For Breakfast


This grinning rascal became an integral part of our school room décor.

All three of my kids were homeschooled. Our last three years in the Army were in Alaska, and a lot of our buddies homeschooled up there. I always thought homeschoolers were freaks and weirdos. In retrospect, that honestly might not be an inaccurate categorization. However, it worked out really well for us.

I was a hard sell. I figured if we made the wrong call, and our kids grew up to become serial killers or politicians or something similarly vile, we’d never live that down. We decided to try it for a year just as a trial. That way there was just so much damage we could do.

Now I’m a homeschool apostle. The typical student/teacher ratio in a traditional classroom is maybe 2-to-25. Mine was 2-to-3. You never hear old people look back on their lives wistfully wishing they had spent less time with their children. Those hours I spent with my kids were some of the most precious of my life.

One of the downsides to homeschooling, at least from the perspective of the kids involved, is that everything, and I do mean everything, is an educational opportunity. We’d be driving someplace and spot some pretty clouds, and that became an excuse to expound on the nature of weather. Every time somebody in the family got hurt it was an opportunity to practice first aid. Each power outage became a survival exercise. I loved every second of it. My longsuffering offspring, not so much.

We live way out in the sticks. There is a modest lake that serves as our backyard. My wife really hates beavers. Believe it or not, those three concepts are intimately interrelated. She’s an exceptionally longsuffering soul. That should be fairly self-evident. I’m her husband. However, there are limits.

My wife likes dogwood trees because they are pretty when they blossom out in the Spring. One year, the beavers in our backyard lake ringed 27 of her favorite dogwood trees. The little monsters didn’t cut them down to build something or eat the bark. They just nibbled around the bases enough to kill the trees and leave their unsightly corpses standing dead and lifeless. My bride, therefore, unleashed the dogs of war.

The big redtail hawk was roadkill we discovered near our rural home.
Harvesting his feet seemed a great way to honor and preserve such a majestic animal.

The boys and I gradually attritted the creatures over time. One Monday morning, I was off from work, and we were all enjoying breakfast. One of the kids pointed out a beaver cruising around the lake. I retrieved my sound suppressed Remington 700 bolt-action rifle and dispatched the beast from the back porch. Once I took the canoe out and retrieved the corpse, we made a command decision to radically alter the morning’s academic curriculum. We would now disassemble a beaver.

I retrieved a scalpel with a 10-blade and a pair of hemostats along with some gloves, and we went to town. Skinning the beast was a bit more arduous than I had anticipated, but we got there soon enough. Once we got into the meat of the thing, metaphorically speaking, the real fun began.

A beaver is arguably the perfect dissection subject. They eat wood, so the digestive tracts is basically filled with wet sawdust. Nothing really smells bad as a result. We explored the heart, lungs, abdomen, and viscera, identifying each piece along with its unique function. It turns out that a beaver has both a spleen and a gallbladder. Who knew?

A grown beaver is also quite large, on the order of fifty pounds or so. That means everything is scaled well enough to identify readily. By contrast, field stripping a crawfish, earthworm, or perch can be fairly tedious.

Once we were done, we placed the head in an anthill and left it for a month. After we retrieved it, we soaked the skull in bleach for a few days and then tidied up what was left. That toothy rascal grinned back at me in the school room ever afterwards.

We scraped the fat off the hide and preserved it using salt and battery acid. Once it was stretched out on a frame it looked cool and felt awesome. We meant to make something out of it but never got around to it.

At the end of the day the kids learned some anatomy and I basked in their company. We ended up with a nicely tanned beaver pelt and a cool toothy skull. A grand time was had by all, except, perhaps, for the beaver. His day kind of sucked, but the dogwood trees flourished as a result.

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