In the spring of 1989, I sat down to talk with Donald “Buzz” Chamberlain and his wife Betty at their downtown Boscobel antique store. It was one of my first interviews and I was a little nervous about whether people would talk to me.
I didn’t need to worry though. People were more than happy to talk to me about the river and their escapades.
Buzz told me about his record breaking beaver that he trapped on March 28, 1951 at the mouth of the Blue River in Grant County with his buddy Karl Kroll.
Weighing in a 82 pounds, the beaver was big enough to warrant a mention in the Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin (the precursor of Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine) of June 1951. Buzz is pictured to the right in the photo along with Karl Kroll, who helped him trap the monster animal.
The two used a set trap to capture the beaver. They received $35 for the pelt which was pretty good money for the day.
Chamberlain told me that 1951 with the first year that beaver were trapped in Grant County after a trapping ban. I wondered if the large size of the beaver was related to the trapping ban. I wanted to verify the ban so I went to the State Historical Society (SHS) and checked the hunting regulations for that era. I sat in between the tightly-packed stacks at the SHS library going through the old paper regulations and found one line in the 1949-50 pamphelt regarding Beaver.
Beaver – Season, if any to be established by the Conservation Commission at its December meeting.
Since the pamphelt was inconclusive about a trapping ban, I contacted Jessica Rees Lohr, Wildlife Research Scientist at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to see if she could solve this mystery.
She put me in touch with Shawn Rossler, DNR furbearer specialist and he stated:
“My recollection is that we (WI) closed the beaver season on and off from 1903-1947. Starting in 1947 or 48, we had some form of beaver season…but I don’t know what years they were regulated or considered unprotected. I believe we had season dates that lasted anywhere from 9 – 200 days…some counties were open and others closed. That said, I don’t have any additional documents to reference that would give us specifics for the opening of Grant County to modern, regulated beaver trapping, unfortunately.”
So what do I believe?
My instinct it is to believe Buzz and that trapping was banned in Grant County in at least one year prior to 1951. That’s not the sort of thing that people just make up.
To absolutely know for sure, I’d have to dig through the Conservation Commission’s notes about trapping in that era. I tried to do this, but found no one at the DNR who would help me. Through an open records request, the DNR sent me the Wisconsin Wildlife Harvest Summary: 1930-2018. In this report, it states beaver harvest information in 1951 for just the top counties in northern Wisconsin: Vilas, Bayfield, Iron, Washburn and Sawyer. The average pelt price was $11.81 so Buzz got a good price for his beaver. Prior to 1951, there is no listing of Grant County as a place where beaver were harvested.
Does this report validate that there was no trapping of beaver in Grant County prior to 1951? Not exactly, but it’s the best that I could come up with.
For now, I choose to believe Buzz and that the large size of the beaver could have resulted from a ban on trapping in the years prior to 1951.
Buzz Chamberlain passed away July 12, 2003. He is buried in the Boscobel Cemetery in Boscobel, Wisconsin.