Muskrat trapping is a fun and easy way to get started in the world of furtaking.
Back in the 1970's during the last fur boom muskrats could bring more than $10 each.
Now they bring much less than that but are still worth pursuing.
Anytime I smell fresh mint that I have walked on it takes me back to the wild mint growing along the banks of that river where I made my gas money as a teenager.
Most trappers young and old got their start on the lowly muskrat.
The reason being is that they are easy to catch, easy to skin and their fur is easy to put up correctly.
There are three main types of traps used for muskrats.
The first is the body grip or Conibear trap.
Conibear is a brand name but for so long it was the only body grip trap available most trappers call all body grip traps Conibears.
These traps are made of rolled steel and form a square. When set they are placed so the animal must pass through them.
When set off they snap around the animals body killing it quickly.
The second type of trap used for muskrats in the leghold trap.
This is the stereotypical trap you see. It has two jaws and a spring that holds them closed.
The jaws do not have teeth. Teeth on traps were found to be a detriment to their efficiency.
When holding an animal in a trap you want the jaws to not damage its leg, You just want a good tight hold. Teeth damage the leg and can cause the animal to twist its leg off and suffer.
So if you have an old trap with teeth hang it on the wall or sell it to a collector but don't use it.
The last trap is a cage or colony trap.
It is placed in front of the muskrat den and they push their way into it while swimming out of the den then quickly drown. I have caught as many as five muskrats in a single colony trap overnight.
Now we get to setting the traps.
Muskrats are water animals so you will need a water source, a creek or pond where there is some muskrat sign.
You will see their dropping on rocks or logs protruding above the water.
Once you have found a population of muskrats, you must seek the landowner's permission to trap.
Never trespass in order to trap it gives everyone a bad name and you could end up paying a steep fine.
Now walk over the area you intend to trap and look at all the sign.
Do you see where they have left their droppings on a log in the water?
How about a spot in the weeds where they have matted the vegetation down.
A trail into the water?
How about a hole into the bank from the water?
All of these places are good to set traps.
A Conibear or colony trap can go in front of the den entrance.
You can also put a conibear in the middle of a small creek where the water is running fast and do well. Use sticks pushed into the bottom of the creek to stabilize the traps so it won't get pushed over.
You can put a conibear in the trail into the water or set a leghold where the trail enters the water.
Place it so that it is covered by an inch or less of water and stake it in the deeper water so the muskrat will drown quickly.
Most of muskrat trapping is setting blind sets where you give your best guess as to where the muskrat will step and place the trap there.
You can also use baited sets.
One that works well is the running board set.
You take any old board at least five feet long and stick it on the bank so it is running down into the water.
If you can, push it way down in the mud of the bottom of the creek so it won't come loose.
Wire it to the bank so that if it does come loose it won't float away with your trap and maybe your catch.
Then nail the chain of your trap to the board so it is secured.
Next put a finish nail in the board near the water line.
The small hole in the frame of your trap will fit over this and it will hold the trap in place.
Finally put another nail farther up the board and stick a piece of bait on it.
Baits to use can include apples, carrots, turnips or any other kind of fruit or vegetable.
The muskrat will pass over the trap trying to reach the bait and be caught.
Once you have caught your muskrats you must do something with the fur.
Some parts of the country have fur buyers who will buy animals "in the round" meaning unskinned.
They will pay less than for properly cared for fur but if you have no time for skinning this is a handy option.
If you do skin you will need a sharp knife and a stretcher.
In the old days they used solid basswood stretchers and held the fur on them with push pins or thumbtacks.
Today we have wire stretchers that are really convenient.
To skin first make sure the fur is clean and dry.
A towel can speed up the process.
Next make a cut around both hind legs and the base of the tail right were the fur starts.
Then make a cut from one leg to the tail and then the other leg to the tail.
Next start pulling the fur off toward the head and cutting the membrane between the skin and the meat.
In the spring the muskrats may have two white glands on their bellies. You should save these in your freezer to sell when you get a bunch or for making your own lure someday.
When you get the fur up to the front legs keep skinning around until you can put your finger between the leg and the body the grab the leg and pull until the fur pops off the front foot.
Repeat on the other side.
When you reach the head cut through the ears as far back as possible leaving a small hole.
The eyes are hard for some people, just skin as close to the head as possible and try to keep the openings small. When you get to the nose cut straight down through the cartilage and the fur should come right off.
Then take your stretcher and put the fur on it with the fur in. Pull it tight with the hooks but don't stretch it.
Now you will want to cut off all the loose meat and membrane on the skin. You can save all this for bait also or feed it to your chickens.
When you are done hang it in a well- ventilated place out of the sunlight.
After a few days it will be dry and you can take it to your fur buyer.
Trapping muskrats can lead you into a lost heritage that is almost gone from or nation.
When it finally does go away, we will all be poorer for it.