Tag Archives: snapping turtle
We have a great pond. It wasn’t here when we bought our little house in an overgrown three acre field. The seller announced at the closing that we couldn’t move in because he hadn’t cleaned out the house after his tenant moved. I had no plans on staying in the old house in any longer than necessary. I desperately wanted to be out in the woods with my family, dog, cat, horses and chickens. He said he’d get it cleaned out in a week or so. That was unacceptable. I thought about it for a minute. The seller was a contractor with heavy equipment. “I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll clean out the house if you’ll dig a small pond for me.”
I expected a small pond. I imagined a 10’ x 10’ pond where I’d grow a few lilies and have a couple of bait fish and some frogs. We picked a wet spot at the edge of the woods, went through the permit process and two months after closing, Mike showed up with a Case 720 backhoe. He designed and dug many ponds before ours and each one has been successful. A day and a half after the digging started, we had a huge hole in the ground with a little water. The 10′ x 10′ square was replaced by a 20’ x 35′ (ish, we’ve never measured it for accuracy) kidney-shaped pond. The sides are very steep so that cattails can’t grow. I’ve seen countless wet spots full of cattails that were once a pond. It’s ugly and I didn’t want that here. The shallow end of the pond is 15’ deep; the deep end is 22’. There’s a huge boulder at the bottom of the deep end, too big to be picked up by the backhoe. I like to think that provides habitat for something but really, it’s unlikely.
The pond was dug in August, a very dry month in Maine. It has no inlet or outlet. We depend on natural springs, of which there are many in this area, and rain to fill the pond. There’s a bit of runoff water going into the pond from the elevated sides. All of the dirt, clay and rocks that filled this gigantic hole were piled around the pond and smoothed out with a bulldozer. We checked the pond daily to watch the water level rise. It was no where near full when winter set in. The kids were able to slide down the steep side and across the ice. Snow melt and rain fill the pond each spring and it finished filling the first spring.
Between June and August the water level drops drastically and looks like a complete failure. It took a few years but we got used to the half-empty pond and no longer give it much thought. The shallow end drops to approximately seven feet. By December it’s at least three-quarters full. It’s a great place to skate from early January when the ice is thick enough until some time in March when the ice becomes porous and thins.
The water isn’t crystal clear but it’s full of life. We caught hornpout (also called brown bullhead), a bullhead species of catfish, while fishing a summer or two after the pond was dug. They’re tough as nails, and some were still alive when we got home. I stupidly, and I sincerely mean stupidly, put three of them in the pond. It’s the most irresponsible, impulsive thing I’ve done since moving to the homestead. Learn from my mistake. I thought “no harm done, they can’t get out and hurt anything.” True, they can’t get out, but they did take over the pond. We are still trying to get them out a decade later. We’re almost there. I saw one when I fed the fish last night.
Steve added a few bait fish to eat the mosquito larvae. They’ve reproduced well without taking over the pond and have become a food source for other fish and critters. Leopard frogs, spring peepers, tree and wood frogs, and bull frogs live in or come to the pond. Salamanders are in the pond from time to time. There are Mayflies, damsel and dragonflies, water striders, giant water bugs, water scorpions, back swimmers and diving beetles. Until recently, a snapping turtle called the pond home. I’m hoping a painted turtle will move in and stay.
Birds come to the pond to eat and drink. Belted kingfishers dive in after the fish. Great blue herons and American bitterns wade along the edge of the water while hunting for frogs and fish. Sandpipers visit, which is interesting because the only place I hear and see them is at the pond. I don’t know where they go when they’re not here. Song birds come to the pond to drink. Ducks, usually woodies and mallards, visit for a day or two each spring. It’s too busy here for the pond to be considered a nesting spot for wild ducks. I thought about putting a wood duck box up for them but the dogs would run around the bank, barking and trying to herd them. It wouldn’t be fair to the ducks and the dogs would drive me nuts.
Raccoons, rabbits and other small animals drink at the pond during the night. They show up on the game camera but never come out when we could see them.
And once again, we have rainbow trout, but that’s a story for another day.
Let’s get back to the turtle story. After eight years of avoiding my guns and Steve’s traps, the snapping turtle was waiting on the back porch…in a cooler…with a battery on the top to make sure it couldn’t get out. I worked at my desk for several hours, listening to its long claws digging at the plastic as it tried to escape. It did a lot of banging around in there. I stewed about years of dead ducks and trout and looked up how to clean a turtle. I started to watch a video but stopped before they killed it.
I’m becoming a…
…I’m becoming a bunny hugger. I’m getting soft.
I reminded myself of all the things I’ve known for years. “It only did what snapping turtles are supposed to do.”
Note the long claws. Males have longer claws than females. Seems backward, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t she need them for digging her nests?
Steve came home from work, gave me a funny look about the battery on the cooler (“Did you really think it could get out of the cooler?”), and took the turtle out. It didn’t look very mean when he was holding it. The conversation went like this:
“So are you shooting it or do you want me to,” he asked.
“That’s ok. I don’t mind doing it.” He’s very kind about this. He knows I don’t like to kill anything even when it’s going to be used for food. I do it, and when I do, I do it swiftly and humanely I made a rabbit suffer once. I never want to do that again.
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to kill it,” I said quietly.
“What?” Pure disbelief.
“I don’t think I’m going to kill it. I don’t need his shell. I want his shell, but I don’t need it.”
He laughed a little at me. He was amused. “You’ve ranted about this turtle,” he said, holding the turtle out as though I didn’t know which turtle he was talking about, “for years. You were going to make a bowl out of him. What are you going to do?” He wondered if I planned to let Turtle go back to the pond.
“We’re gonna let him go some where. I was thinking we’d go to Baskehegan (baskuh-hee-gan) Stream because he wouldn’t be someone else’s problem out there.”
“It’s raining and it’s late and I’m hungry. I don’t want to go all the way out there.” He suggested some place closer to home. It was a good idea even though I really wanted to go to Baskehegan. “We’ll stop to show the kids (Tammy’s) on the way.” Turtle hissed once when Steve picked him up to show the kids but was otherwise docile. Snapping turtles aren’t vicious. Unless threatened, they don’t attack. He didn’t attack the fish or ducks, he hunted them. Even snapping turtles would rather leave than be hassled.
We let him go. Steve measured his shell (10.5″ long) before setting him on a rock at the edge of the water. He looked around for a few minutes before stepping into the water. He was in no rush to get away from us. I think we could have picked him up again.
He swam to the stream and disappeared. I’ve been told by several people that he’ll find his way back but I don’t think I believe it will happen. As the crow flies and the turtle crawls, he’s at least five miles away. There are other bodies of water between our pond and where we let him go. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.
Taylor caught a small snapping turtle in the pond while fishing one early summer day. She reeled him in but half way up the steep bank, he got away. He was small, maybe 5″ from one end of his shell to the other. I’ve tried to catch that turtle before he became a problem. We threw lines out for him the entire summer but didn’t see him again.This went on for years. We didn’t see him often so it was easy to forget about him the first four or five years.
Mrs. Mallard hatched a dozen ducklings three years ago. She took them to the pond each day and returned to the safety of the duck house at night. A duckling disappeared but I didn’t think much of it; survival of the fittest. A few days later I found the duckling at the edge of the water but something wasn’t right. It looked too “fresh.” I counted the ducklings–another one gone. And then a half grown runner duck was dead in the pond, soaking wet as though it drowned. It drowned…that’s it. It was drowned. The turtle. A turtle doesn’t have to be big to grab a two pound duck by the foot and hold it under water until it drowns. It doesn’t take long.
The larger Turtle grew the more often I saw him. He was easier to spot, and needed more food to support himself. Turns out hungry snapping turtles are easily food habituated. I feed the fish every morning and evening. Turtle bobbed on the surface to eat floating fish food along with the trout, hornpout and bait fish if I were alone.
I started to get frustrated with him. He took bites out of trout and hornpouts, causing them to die from their wounds within a few days. We don’t stock the pond with rainbow trout to feed Turtle. He had to go.
Frustration turned to being pissed off when the size and number of trout he was killing increased. He ate well. I sat at the pond with a .22 pistol many times. It was like he knew I wanted him dead. I didn’t see him. I put away the pistol and got out the .20 gauge shotgun. loaded it with turkey shot and waited in the bushes. He taunted me, floating in the middle of the pond with his nostrils and tip of his head barely showing. I took a couple of shots but didn’t get him.
Hang in there. I’m getting to the “how to catch a snapping turtle” part.
Dayle, a neighbor, heard we were having a turtle problem and asked if she could catch him. Absolutely! Please do! She showed up a few days later with two Hi C jugs attached with fishing line to huge hooks. She used rotting moose meat for bait, sure that snapping turtles, being the scavengers that they are, would love rotting moose meat. She tossed the jugs in and left. I watched the Hi C bobbers off and on all day. Nothing. When I went to the pond the next morning, they were gone. The sides of the pond are steep to keep cattails from growing, and she was concerned about falling into the pond when nobody was home. Darn. I really hoped she’d get him.
Steve built traps Turtle would go into but that weren’t strong enough to hold him. Being outsmarted by a turtle is not a good feeling.
The foolishness involved in catching Turtle went on until yesterday. All of the trout died two winters ago. We missed their aggressive behavior during feeding time and the occasional jumps throughout the day. Steve ordered 40 five to six inch long rainbows. I put them in the pond yesterday, threw in some fish food and watched the feeding frenzy.
A big hornpout bobbed up a foot from shore, partially hidden by the tall grass. I’ve netted them before so I went to the boat and came back with the long-handled net. I waited. Mosquitoes buzzed around my head so I pulled the hood of my sweater up. I waited. A small hornpout, maybe 6″ long, came to the edge so I scooped it out and set it aside. Back to waiting. Mosquitoes landed on my face. I could see the big hornpout moving slowly toward shore.
“pfffffffffff” I blew mosquitoes off my face, trying to stay still and not scare the fish. Grass in the water moved a few feet away. “Gawd, what happened to that fish,” I wondered. Its face was muddy and disfigured. “Ugliest fish I’ve ever seen.” It settled on the bottom, well hidden by the grass and mud it stirred up. I could barely see it. I wanted it out of the pond because it was big enough to breed (too many hornpout in the pond) and because I wanted to see it up close and figure out what happened to it.
Except, it wasn’t a fish. “Turtle…holy shit, you’re Turtle.” I.did.not.budge. I was standing sideways on the bank, left foot lower than right, right foot perched on a rock, knee bent, end of the net’s handle resting on my leg, the net out over the water, ready to snag fish. Turtle was watching me.
The food floating just above his head was tempting. He started to stretch to get it but stopped. We stared at each other. He wanted the food. I wanted him. I needed him to move 6″ closer to me to be sure I’d get him. If I lunged forward to make sure I could reach him I’d surely fall face first from the steep bank into the cold, cloudy water. A mosquito landed on my eyelash, and when I moved to brush it away, Turtle turn his head to the right and took a step. He was leaving.
Eight years of frustration kicked in. I slammed the net into the water, forcing it down until the rim hit Turtle’s shell, pinning him to the bottom. Mud swirled. I couldn’t see him but I could feel him struggling to be free of the rim. Without thinking, I reached out the extra six inches. The rim fell over the shell and landed on solid ground allowing me to brace myself. I thought I had him. I regained my balance and pulled the net across the mud toward me. It came too easily. I’d missed. I knew it was a long shot.
Suddenly, the net was heavy. I didn’t miss. After a ten minute stare off with Turtle while mosquitoes buzzed in my face, I had him. Three seconds after the net slammed into the water, it was over. I caught Turtle. He didn’t fight much as I climbed the bank. I reached the top and kept going. I was half way to the house when he started hissing and fighting to escape. Reality set in. I had him! I caught the snapping turtle. “I got you, you son of a bitch,” I yelled.
I needed something to hold him in until I got the .22. One quick bullet to the brain would end it without suffering. I’d figure out how to clean him and find a recipe for turtle soup. I spotted a cooler sitting on the back porch, pried the top open with one hand, and put Turtle, still in the net, inside. He tried to escape, long claws digging at the slippery plastic. Snapping turtles can’t reach the back of their shell to bite so I grabbed the net behind him and dumped him out, slamming the cover down to keep him in there.
I had a big turtle in a cooler and needed to shoot it, preferably without ruining the cooler. I didn’t want to let it out and take a chance of ruining his shell with a bullet or worse, letting it get away. I had to figure this out.
(We now know that the “she” was a painted turtle, not our snapping turtle. The snapper is a male.)
The first acre is almost planted, need to see Paul about the second. HTH am I going to manage two acres, go to market, supply a sporting camp and a store and get some sleep? Seedlings are almost sold out. Whatever doesn’t sell this weekend is going in the ground or compost pile. Did I say the ducklings went home? They did, except the two I kept. Steve’s on a mission – trap the snapping turtle. Now that he’s home to see her often she’s become real in his mind. “She” because Taylor found where she’s been digging. I haven’t been over to see if she’s laid eggs yet. If she has, they’re going. One snapper is too many.
The apple and cherry crops will be pathetic this year. One apple tree blossomed well, thankfully my favorite tree, but the rest were sparse or not at all. The cherries are sparse. I don’t know why.
My question on managing two acres this summer? Steve starts an interim job as a forester for a logging company Monday. It might become permanent, we’ll see what happens at Domtar. I’m on my own this summer for the most part.