Mink and Muskrat Trapping by Herbert Lenon
It is just in recent months that I have considered writing a book of trapping instructions on animals other than fox, coyote, and cat.
My publishing this book was cause by my hundreds of customers that bought my book, “The Secrets of Successful Trapping”, asking me to write books of trapping the smaller furbearer.
In this book I am going to try to pass on to its readers the simple sets, and my theory and technique of trapping mink and muskrats.
It is not my intention to write a lot of silly sets just to fill up a lot of pages and to try and cause its readers to believe I am some superman, and that I have some super-duper, high pressure killer set to which mink and rats will come to from miles around; neither is it my intention to write a lot of silly, unproductive, complicated sets; rather it is my ideas that by giving you the simple successful sets I use, I can start you on the road to success; whereas dozens of sets would only confuse and discourage you.
No book will set your traps for you, or even locate the sets, no book author can accompany each book and drive your car—the best, and most I can do for you is to get you started right, and to assure you that mink are not difficult to trap; if others can trap them successfully, so can you: The old hooie about mink being impossible to trap without some superior, high pressure sets and lures, is just sales talk by some author who is interested in trapping trappers, not interested in helping trappers to get started right.
I cannot say to you, “Find a hollow log, or an underground stream, or a warm spring, why?!” Well maybe they just do not exist in your trapping area, better it is that I give you the honest theory of trapping, and some of the simplest sets.
Mink and muskrat are found in most parts of America, from Alaska to Mexico; in some parts, like Florida, one finds neither; but all in all, they are probably the most widely distributed and most profitable of all furbearers to trap.
Both mink and rats are skinned and stretched cased, with the fur inside; both are skinned in the same way, except that the tail of the mink is skinned out, while that of the muskrat is valueless. To skin either, first split the rear legs, somewhat on the inside, from the foot to the vent, then from the vent to the tail on a rat, and to the tip of the tail on a mink.
This is the only time a knife should be used, other than to cut the pelt free at the ears, eyes, and nose.
Great care should be used in cutting around the eyes and lips; one should be careful not to have ragged holes where the eyes, ears or lips are cut free.
After splitting from the feet to the vent and thence to the tail, one should lay the knife aside and using one’s thumb and fingers, separate the hide from the flesh gradually working around the carcass, down the back and belly until half way down, then pull off the pelt to the front legs, again using the thumb and fingers, loosen the pelt and pull the pelt free from the front legs, then pull the pelt down to the ears, cut the ears free, pull to the eyes, using the knife cut the eyes and lips free, then using a moderate pull, cut the balance of the pelt free from the head and nose. Without hurrying, one can skin a muskrat every four minutes, a mink every six minutes; by hurrying one can skin them much quicker. In skinning a mink’s tail, I pull the tailbone out and then split the tail with a sharp knife.
Always save the mink musk gland found around the vent; muskrat musk glands are valuable in lures; however, they are found only in the spring months.
My favorite trap for mink is the size 1 ½ Oneida jump trap, although the regular long spring type in the same size is very satisfactory. The long spring type is heavier, which is a factor to consider if one is running a long line on foot. Them being heavier is an advantage where one is drowning the mink.
My favorite trap for muskrat is the same as for mink, however where one taps marshland where there is shallow water, and drowning is difficult; one should use some type of stoploss trap.
The two-trigger trap is the most effective stoploss trap yet devised, however it is very heavy and clumsy, but it would probably be a good bet to have a couple dozen of them to use where drowning is impossible or impractical.
All traps, regardless, if they are to be set underwater, or not, and regardless of what animal they are to be used for, should be coated to prevent rust, as a rusty trap often is slow in action, or the pan rusts and does not work freely.
There are many ways to prevent rust; however probably the most practical, and least expensive way is to do thus: New shiny traps should be boiled in a strong solution of lye to remove the factory coat of oil, one can of lye to 5 gallons of water is right: Boil two hours, pour off solution; wash in clean water; lay traps in grass where exposed to rain and dew; let rust slightly.
To tan, boil for 3 hours in a solution of one-fourth pound of extracts of logwood or dyewood to every 5 gallons of water; remove the traps by hooking them from the water while boiling hang up to dry quickly and air out.
All mink and rat traps should be set so trapped animals will drown quickly; this may be done by using a drowning wire or by staking the trap in deep water and placing another stake out in deep water about six inches from the trap stake, this stake for the animal to become tangled around and thus unable to reach shallow water.
Foods and Habits
This chapter, “Foods and Habits”, is the most valuable chapter in this book regarding, mink trapping.
As I have already said: One cannot use hollow log sets where there are no hollow logs, neither can one use warm springs or underground sets where there are no springs or underground streams: BUT, where there is mink, then the mink eats, when one knows what they eat, and where such food is found, naturally one then knows where to set one’s traps.
Mink lives on fish, frogs, crayfish and small birds and animals and such foods.
Probably the two principal aquatic foods are frogs and small rough fish such as mudminnows, dace, sucker minnows and so forth; probably the principal dryland food is mice: Muskrats are also relished by mink as are rabbits, etc. however, I doubt that mink bother much with rats, rabbits, and small birds when a supply of frogs, fish and mice are available.
Occasionally mink is found living in dry marshes and hollows, but such places are not the most likely places to prospect, for if streams, lakes, or ponds are found in one’s trapping area, there is the best place for mink; Why! well along such places one finds all the varieties of food from frogs and fish to mice and muskrat. If one will just stop and give thought to the mink’s food, and then to where such food is found most plentiful and most available, then one knows just where to trap mink.
If one knows that small minnows, clams, crayfish, etc., are most plentiful in deep warm water in early fall; but are most plentiful in warm springs or spring streams that do not freeze in late winter, or if one realizes that mice are easily caught by mink along streams and swamps before snow falls, but are practically impossible to catch when they are under 2 to 4 feet of snow; if one realizes that frogs and such food hibernate under the muck in warm springs and streams; then one should know where to prospect for mink in the different seasons, from one’s knowledge of mink’s food and where that food is found. During early fall and winter, minks are always on the move, they are always hungry and searching for food constantly. In their search for food, they investigate all likely mouse range along the streams, searching in and out of holes, hollow logs, brush piles or wherever mice frequent, in their search for frogs and such, they investigate every small stream, spring, or underground stream.
This constant search for food leads some persons to believe that mink are just snoopy little rascals that take some great delight in snooping through every hole or hollow: Trappers who have such an opinion set traps in every hole, however; mink are not snoopy little rascals; rather they are hungry little animals that DO NOT snoop through every hole or hollow, they only snoop through such holes and hollows that are of the type where food is found.
Possibly only one out of ten holes along a stream are of the kind where food is found, therefore mink only enter that one hole out of the ten: One trap in the right hole gets a mink or several minks; the other 9 traps get nothing but rust.
The food of the muskrat is a great variety of roots of grasses, and other aquatic plant life, wild rice, cattail, sweet-flag, and various other plants especially those that have bulb roots. One’s prospecting for muskrat should be done in the two weeks before trapping season opens, not 2 months before; why?! well one may find a small pond, shallow stream or swampy area that is just alive with muskrat in July but barren of rats in November. Again, the question is why; the answer: shallows streams, ponds, lakes, and swaps are likely to freeze solid in winter, especially in the colder states; nature gave animals a knowledge of such things, muskrat leave such places early enough in the fall to get their winter houses and food supply laid away before cold weather. In the Southern regions muskrat do not move like that; for there, it freezes but little.
Just before cold weather comes the rats are most active and their sign are most easily found, so that is the best time to prospect.
Baits and Lures
I am going to give the bait I have found best and a simple, but very successful lure for mink and for rats.
For muskrat I have found corn, cabbage, carrots the best bait, corn and small poplar twigs are good in spring; however, I have never found any muskrat bait too successful until in late season after muskrat have become hungry from a long winter.
One-ounce fresh muskrat musk, place in a clean bottle, set in the hot sun from April to October, add one-ounce pure medicinal glycerine, 2 drops oil anise, 2 drops spearmint. Shake well often, set in cool place for 2 weeks, use 2 to 4 drops.
For mink I have found fresh muskrat the best meat bait with fresh salmon, not canned salmon, or fresh trout the best fish bait. Rabbit, ruffed grouse, chubs, or any fish can be used; any bait must be fresh, in warm weather place fresh bait every 3 days or more often; always remove the stale rotted baits that were placed previously.
One-ounce sun-rendered trout fat oil, not juice; one-ounce of thick rotted fish from fish that have been rotted all summer and the thin juice drawn off, use the thick part; one-ounce of ground rotted muskrat musk, one-ounce ground mink musk, one-fourth ounce ground beaver castor.
Mix very well together, set where cool for one month stirring or shaking often to mix and blend the ingredients together. Please remember that as mink and muskrat do don’t establish scent posts or calling posts, such as coyote, fox and any member of the dog family does, that lure for either mink or muskrat cannot be dependent on entirely in trapping; rather it is used in connection with a good natural set, thus making the good natural set more likely to be productive.
Successful Mink Sets
Mink sets can be classified in three types: 1, The bait or lure sets, 2, Natural or made narrow passage sets, 3, combination of the first 2 type sets.
The trail set.
Mink like any other animal have regular trails or passages through which they pass when hunting or travelling along streams; these trails are usually quite faint yet can be found if one looks closely.
There may be a trail in the mud at the edge of the stream, or they may be a rabbit trail, muskrat trail or one made by mink. This trail may lead from one lake or pond to another, or to a stream, it may be a trail across a bend in the stream, thus making a shortcut, or it may just parallel the stream.
As mink probably spend 80 percent of their time and travel on dry ground before snow, these trail sets are very productive. After snow comes mink probably do 80 percent of their traveling in the water.
The most successful trapper does not depend on one type of set for success; he has several kinds of sets, some dry land sets that will produce if the water level should raise or lower, also some water sets that will produce if the dry sets freeze or ice over; he also has some type water sets that will not freeze as quickly as others, such as the warm spring or notched log sets, and if he is a wise trapper, he will also have some floating sets that raise or lower with the water.
The wise trapper also has such trails located and narrowed long before season.
When such a trail is discovered, select a spot in the trail where mink hop over a small log, knot, twig or something that causes it to hop in the same place every time, kneel down by the selected set, being sure your knees are clean, cut out a place exactly the size of the trap and deep enough that the trap, when placed will be one-fourth inch below the trail, place a piece of brown waxed paper over the trap pan and under the jaws, cover with covering that blends with the trail until it is just a little below level.
A common shears is handy for covering traps with leaves or grass; the grass is held in the hand and cut off in very short pieces with the shears, leaves, etc. are cut the same.
If one’s hands are clean and not sweaty, one need not wear gloves when trapping mink; however, a pair of rubber dipped canvas gloves in gauntlet type keep the hands warm and dry, as well as prevent human or foreign odors at the set.
Dirt Hole Set
The dirt hole set produces satisfactorily, it is a cinch that when one can trap wolf with it, one can most surely trap mink. The dirt hole set is made where mink pass near; to make: Dig a bed the size of your trap and deep enough so that the trap sets one-half inch below the surroundings, line the trap-bed with dry grass or leaves, short needles from spruce or balsam that have been gathered and dried during summer are best; place brown wax paper over pan and under trap jaws, a dry leaf may be used instead; cover with a light covering of above mentioned needles, or as explained in the trail set.
About 4 inches back of the trap dig a hole, sloping back into earth at a 45 degree angle, the hole should be about 4 inches in diameter; a little earth may be sprinkled over the trap and to each side of the trap, trap should be 4 to 5 inches in front of the hole so any mink whose intentions are to just take a peek, will be caught, the depth of the hole is not important but should be at least 5 inches deep, a small dead, natural twig or two should be planted just each side of the trap to guide the mink on the trap pan.
Dirt Hole Water Set
The dirt hole set can be made at the water’s edge, it is a very popular set; dig the hole back into the bank of the stream in such a position that there is a little water in the mouth of the hole and 2 or 3 inches of water directly in front of the hole, bait or lure is placed back in the hole, the trap is set under water in front of the hole about 4 or 5 inches.
The dirt hole in water set is probably more successful than the dry dirt hole set, when made where water levels do not fluctuate, such as on lake shores, but along streams where water levels change, I suggest one have plenty of dry dirt hole sets also.
The underground stream set.
Occasionally one finds where an underground stream surfaces at or near the bank of a stream, lake, or pond.
When such an underground stream is located, you have one of the most successful sets known, for from such streams the water is warm and does not freeze so quickly; also, the underground stream is one of the best wintering places for frogs, crayfish, etc. When setting a trap in such a place, set the trap about 4 to 5 inches in front of the entrance, to get the mink that only peeks into it; after weather turns cold and the water freezes, set trap back in the underground hole a few inches where the water is still flowing.
One time I found such an underground stream that surfaced about 2 feet from the river, about 20 feet back from the stream there was a hole leading down about 2 feet to the same stream; I set a trap in each, I had mink in each trap the first two mornings; in 3 years I must have caught at least 15 minks in those two places.
Mouth Of Small Stream Set
Where one finds where a small stream enters a larger stream, lake, or pond, is a very likely set, if the stream is over 6 inches wide, it should be narrowed with natural looking brush, preferably dead brush; set one trap about in the mouth and another back from the big body of water from 6 to 10 feet.
Where one finds a small stream, or a wider slow seepage into a larger stream or lake, one may place a hollow log with a hole at least 5 inches in diameter, in the center of this small stream or seepage, if no hollow logs available, make a tunnel with 3 pieces of old board or thin pieces of wood, have the mouth of this tunnel within 6 feet of the stream or lake.
Using stones, sod, or dirt and leaves, cover the hollow log or tunnel, and dam the stream so the water runs through the tunnel from one to three inches deep; set trap 5 inches in front of the mouth; by damming such a slow seepage or stream, the water runs through the tunnel faster and does not freeze so quickly. Such a set resembles the underground stream set.
Overhanging Bank Set, Fall or Winter
Occasionally one finds a place where the stream has a sharp bend, usually on the outer side one finds that under high rushing water the soil has washed away, but the roots from grasses and brush on the brink of the stream has retained a portion of the firmer soil, this will eventually hang down over the stream, as the water recedes to normal level, there will be a tunnel formed above the water level by the overhanging bank.
Mink seems to like to travel such tunnels, probably because they can watch for minnows or other food, without being seen. If this tunnel is over 6 feet long, set a trap in 2 inches of water at each end, if a short tunnel, set a trap at the end where a set can be best made; scented bait should be placed in center of the tunnel; the bait and lure is placed there to induce any mink that is up on the bank, or out in the stream, to investigate the tunnel.
After snow and cold weather comes, the sand in such a tunnel is usually frozen dry, a trap or two, with bait and lure between, can be set in the tunnel, the eaves of the tunnel protect the sets from rain, sleet, or snow.
If the sand is not frozen dry, one may bed one’s trap and cover it with sand that has been collected in summer and dried in the sun or in the stove oven
The tunnel set is one of the most productive winter sets. One can often find such a type, setback from the stream for winter sets, where said tunnel is caused by a tree falling or being blown over; as the tree falls the roots raise up a large area of sod and muck, the sod and muck that is attached to the smaller roots usually hang down from the larger roots thus forming a dry tunnel like the one explained at the stream’s edge. A well baited set made under such an overhanging turnout where protected from snow and rain is a very natural looking set and does not look suspicious to the mink.
The Fence Set
Quite often where one finds a bend in the stream with a tunnel set on the outer side, one also finds a low sloping sandy beach on the opposite side.
Usually if mink is at all plentiful one will find mink tracks where the mink has followed along the edge of the water, watching for food.
When such a place is located, I have had very good success by setting a trap just underwater at the very edge of the stream, then building a fence of small dry branches, place about 5 branches 2 inches apart from the trap out in the stream, and enough to make a fence from the trap up the bank for 2 feet, leave an opening 5 inches wide where the trap is set. See picture.
A mink when following the edge of the stream will always hop out in the stream at the opening, and land directly on the trap.
Steep Bank Stream Set
Occasionally one wishes to set a trap in the water in a stream that has a very steep bank on each side, and where the water is deep.
In such instances, one can make a very satisfactory trap support wherever one wishes by using 4 sticks about a foot long and a half-inch or so in diameter.
Sharpen the end of each stick, push them back into the bank so they stick straight out, and under the desired depth of water; if one wishes, a small hole can be dug back into the bank just above the trap, and scented fresh bait placed back in the hole.
Hollow Log Winter Set
Any hollow log near where mink travel is a very popular winter set, the hollow should be large enough so the bait can be placed back in the log far enough to be back of the trap, the trap being set back in the log far enough so it will not be affected by rain, snow, or sleet.
The hole in the log will bring much better results if it is a foot or over in diameter, it seems mink do not like to be crowed over a trap.
When dry rotted pulp is found inside the hollow log, cover the trap lightly with it, it is the natural covering and will not arouse suspicions.
Combination Mink, Muskrat Sets
Notched Log Set
One of my most productive sets for mink and rats has been the notch set.
Usually along the smaller streams one finds old partly rotten logs laying in and across the stream with part of the log underwater and part above, usually these logs are moss covered and partly dam the stream.
When such a log is found on a small stream, cut a notch in the center of the log, on larger streams cut two notches a few feet apart: Beaver dams or other obstruction are as good as logs. First cut the moss and tip it back each way from the center of where the notch will be, then with a sharp ax, a small Finn saw is better, cut a notch about 6 inches wide and deep enough so that 2 to 5 inches of water flows through, flip the moss back in the notch, thus covering the fresh cut wood, set trap with spring upstream, set the trap on the moss to help hold moss in place. If no moss on the log, smear the fresh cuts with mud.
This set will get every mink or rat that swims the stream; they will always swim through the notch rather than under or climb over the log.
Another advantage of the notched log set is that the water rushing through the notch will usually be open long after the rest of the stream is frozen over.
The Floating Notched Log Set
The floating notched log set is made the same as the notched log set just explained; except that the log is placed in the stream, pond, or lake and so fastened that it will float. To fasten the log so it will float; do it thus.
First lay the log in the water to see which side floats up, then remove and cut the notch, next staple a piece of wire are least 6 feet long to the end of the log nearest shore, on the other end nail a small pole about an inch in diameter and 4 to 6 feet long; nail it so it will be level with the stream, and extend up stream; fasten about 6 feet or more of wire to the end of this small pole, drive stakes in the bank or in the stream to fasten the wires to, stake the log so that it extends straight out into the stream or lake: In stream, have stakes upstream from the log.
A float so made will raise and lower with the water, even if the water level fluctuates 2 feet.
The purpose of the small pole nailed to one end is that it acts as a lever and will not allow the log to roll in the water; it will keep the log laying so that the notched side is always up.
Other Notch Set
A notch cut in the top of a beaver dam or other obstruction in any body of water is just as successful as a notched log, the simple principle of the set is just that it makes a passage that mink or rats can swim through rather than climb over or dive under, it can be made in a beaver dam, log or any obstruction, the idea or principal being the same: I caught my second mink in such a set some 35 or more years ago.
The same set is also used for beaver or otter, the notch of course being wider and deeper.
The principal factor in trapping muskrat is the thought that where muskrat have been feeding, setting, or passing through, is the most logical place to expect them to do so again.
I believe 75% of all muskrat are caught on feed beds. Feed beds are simply piles of the discarded portions of food that the rat has been eating; it eats the edible portions and drops the balance.
As muskrat always sit on some log, knoll or other rest while feeding, they soon have a pile of discard weeds, grasses, etc., that form what is usually called a feed, or feeding beds.
The Feed Bed Sets
When one has located the described feed bed, one should check it carefully to see that it is being used, this can be told by the fact that a fresh bed has fresh droppings freshly eaten food bits on the bed; a bed where the droppings and discarded food bits are old, probably denotes that the rat has left that vicinity or has been trapped or killed by some predator.
If signs denote a bed is being used, locate the place where the rat climbs on the bed, set the trap in 5 inches of water so that the rat will be caught by the hind foot as it climbs on the bed. One usually needs to change the bed a little by moving the bed to the extent that one can so place the trap correctly.
Two to 4 drops of good rat lure improve the set but is not necessary, do not use bait at such a set.
The Sloping Log Set
The sloping log set is simply a log that lays on the bank and slopes out in the water with the outer end under the water. Muskrat use these logs to sit on while eating, such logs often become feed beds, however in the streams the water washes the feed away, in lakes the waves wash it away.
If muskrat is using such logs that slope into the water, one can tell by the fresh droppings on the log.
When making the set, chop out a notch in the log so that the trap will have a level bed to sit on, and be under 2 to 4 inches of water; 3 inches of water is best.
When setting the trap, it is best to chop 3 notches, one for the set and one above it for higher water, one below for lower water level, thus all chopping is done at once and one is ready to raise or lower the trap if water level changes.
The Float Set
The use of a float in trapping muskrats is and has been rapidly gaining favor, since they raise and lower with the water and thus one’s traps are in the working condition regardless, if water level fluctuates.
This float is placed where rats are feeding, its principle being simply that it is in a convenient place for rats to climb on and eat; a few feet from a muskrat house is an ideal location.
Some trappers use a long piece of board, probably 6 feet long, and set a trap on each end, this is OK, my favorite float is made thus. Use a piece of one-inch dry board, 1 ½ feet long; nail a one-inch by one-inch strip of board or wood down each edge of one side; this is for the trap to set between and thus be level with the outer edges; on one end of the opposite side, which will be the underside, nail an 8-inch piece of cedar crosswise, the board used is eight inches wide: See picture.
For this piece of cedar, I find that an 8-inch piece cut from a 3 to 6-inch cedar post is best, split in center making 2 pieces. When the float is placed in the water, with the cedar down, that end floats higher, as the cedar piece gives that end more buoyancy, the other end sinks below the water.
The float is anchored with a piece of fishline so it can float, the trap is set on the lower end just so it is under water; a little mud and grass roots may be placed on the higher end.
Two to four drops of lure help materially; in fact, I sold 4 ounces to a trapper near Gulliver last fall, it was the first time he ever used muskrat lure; he swears the lure doubled his catch: I have used muskrat lure for 35 years.
Many of the water sets for mink will take rats, also many rats sets will take mink.
Traps set on the side of muskrat houses, in muskrat holes or dens are productive, however as they are forbidden in many states and as everyone understands them, I will not explain them.
Years ago, I trapped many many rats under ice by locating their dens before ice came, or on thin transparent ice then setting a trap in the den entrance.
A Simple Under Ice Set
A very simple under ice set that I used with good success, both in small narrow streams and in places on ponds where rats were feeding, was the fence set.
This set was made by simply driving stakes an inch or two apart, across the narrow stream, or across where the rats came to their under-ice feeding place, I would leave one or two openings in the fence or barricade, openings 5 inches wide and set the trap in the opening, if the water was too deep say 15 inches deep, I would just place brush through the hole, or drive stakes and cross them in the opening, leaving 6 to 8 inches of water under them; the rat would dive under the brush when passing through the opening in the fence and usually become caught by the hind foot.
Under Ice Bait Set
Another set I had considerable success with, especially in the latter part of the winter, when rats were running short of food, was made thus:
Locate the place where rats are feeding under the ice, preferably where the water is less than 2 feet deep, in this area stake down a head of nice light green cabbage, or 2 or 3 ears of corn, set 3 traps back from the bait about 10 inches, stake each trap straight out from the bait, so if one is caught it cannot reach the other traps, also out from the trap about 8 inches place another stake for the rat to become tangled around, thus preventing it from reaching and destroying the bait when it is struggling with the trap.
Where water is deep one can make a set by taking a pole, push it down in the ground under the ice to find where to place the trap so it will be under the ice about 8 inches, remove the pole, nail two little branches about one-half to one inch in diameter, nail them to the pole so they extend straight out about 8 inches, set the trap on these two branches, tie trap to them so it won’t fall or be brushed off, nail an ear of corn, yellow corn is best, to the pole above the trap, fasten the trap chain to the pole, push the pole into the bed of the stream again so that trap is 8 inches below the ice.
The rat is caught as it attempts to get the ear of corn; the porch or support need only be solid enough to support traps.
This ends my instructions, except that I wish to add that the ability to use one’s own head, and think logically, is of greatest importance in becoming an expert trapper.
All I can write in this book is just the principal details that should get the reader started on the right road to success: From there on, the reader must watch the road and drive his own car. There are no shortcuts to success other than those built with common sense, logical reasoning, incentive, and a determination to become successful.
When you fail, blame yourself; by so doing you will know your shortcomings and correct them, then success is assured.
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