For some trappers, when the winter is winding down and the coon and coyote pelts are starting to show their wear, it means only one thing…beaver and muskrat trapping!
The season on most furbearers in Nebraska comes to an end on February 28th. For muskrat and beaver, however, the season extends another month to March 31st. The pelts on these two furbearers remain prime through this time and for many reasons it is a good time to go after them.
If you are a trapper, the muskrat will provide fun for all ages! Muskrats can be found in marshes, rivers, small creeks and some farm ponds. Back in my early days (nineteen eighty something…) You could drive by any public waterfowl area and see “muskrat huts”. These were large piles of sticks and reeds and other vegetation that muskrats used as homes and feeding areas. I haven’t seen a muskrat hut in several years. Muskrat numbers have declined in the past years and they can be hard to find.
The equipment used for muskrat trapping is small, lighter weight and relatively less expensive than most traps and equipment. Size 1 foot holds (coil or long spring) and 110 body grip traps are effective tools against the ‘rat. Bob Miers of Sandy’s Fur Buying gives the following advice on equipment for muskrat trapping: “If you use leg holds make sure to use one way drowners and have deep enough water or you will find legs and not rats. If shallow water, use sureholds, conibear and colony traps work great in places as well.”
To trap them, find where it appears they are entering their dens at the waters edge. This can be a partially submerged hole that looks used, or get your waders on, get in the water and feel around with your foot to find the “runs”. These are channels down in the mud that muskrats use to travel to and from their dens, much like a land animal uses a trail. A 110 or foot trap placed in the run or mouth of the hole is your best bet. These runs are also good places for colony traps.
Shane Claeys of Papio Creek Trap Supply manufactures and sells the Magnum Power Clip conversion kit
which allows you to attach your 110’s to a rod, such as an electric fence post, and allows you to hold steady and adjust the height of your 110. This is an effective way to cover den holes in the bank. There is a link to Papio Creek trap supply on our vendor showcase page.
Muskrat floats are another fun way to target this furbearer. This is simply a raft made of wood, floating on the water, with some bait on it and a trap or two.
For bait, muskrats are especially fond of carrots, apples, and parsnips. Don’t forget to anchor your trap to the float and employ some method to keep your float from floating away! The designs of floats and methods of use are numerous. You can buy them pre-made or make your own. A google search will turn up numerous options on making a muskrat float.
If you skin your own catch, don’t throw away those carcasses. Muskrats have glands that are used in some lures, and their meat also makes good predator bait. The carcasses also make good mink bait when used whole or cut in smaller chunks.
Since muskrat numbers are down, it is good advice to not completely trap-out an area. Leave some of the numbers for “seed”, so you can have some breeding stock for next year.
In part 2, we will talk about beaver and the equipment and methods used.
-Mark Hajny – NFH Member. Bob Miers is the NFH Treasurer and owner of Sandy’s Fur Buying of Seward, Nebraska.