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February - Muskrat month

Big Fin

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Given we are in the midst of one of the warmest spells in Montana history, it seemed like a good time to get some 'rat traps set out. In this part of Montana, when it starts freezing in November, the muskrats head for open water, abandoning their ponds and backwater areas that have a tendency to freeze, possibly freeze solid or dry up under the ice. So, if you can find open water, you will find rats in a density that is hard to describe.

Got a few traps set out earlier in the week, then checked them each morning. First day of checking was just twenty traps. That first morning had nine rats.

Later that day I was able to get another thirty traps set. The following morning had 32 musquash (what they call them in Canada).

Given the gettin' was so good, I invited Lawnboy and his wife to tag along and see what this rat trapping was all about. The yield that morning was 19 rats.

Yesterday had 15 more. Crittergetter has been taking his boys out to look over some traps I set in their part of the valley and report was they found five traps holding rats this afternoon.

That gives me 80 rats since I started checking them on Tuesday. Pretty good for the few traps I am able to service in the morning hours. If the warm weather continues and more water opens, I expect rats to move away from the areas I am trapping and take up short-term residence in some of the smaller open waters. Not much I can do about that.

Unfortunately, Russia is a big buyer of muskrats, only second behind Korea. The turmoil in the Russian economy and their currency struggles has dropped rat prices to half of what they were last year. But, as most who know me and my passion for rat and beaver trapping, I would do it for free.

Last year I was talked into getting back into trapping by my Uncle Elton. The biggest reason for the big effort last year was that his struggles with brain cancer made it obvious the days of Elt and me running a trap line were quickly coming to an end. He is still with us, but is under a very experimental process that requires him to carry a large computer and battery around at all times to provide electrical charges to the tumor. That cumbersome device makes it almost impossible for him to walk the creek banks and give me his advice. Here is the thread from last year's endeavor. http://onyourownadventures.com/hunttalk/showthread.php?t=257903&highlight=Elton

Here are a few pics of what the sets look like.

Muskrats eat primarily roots, which makes them so damaging to dikes, creek banks, etc. The biggest root I know of is a carrot. And boy, do 'rats love 'em. I've watched rats swim up to a trap, step in it, then with the trap on their foot, sit there and eat the carrot before trying to swim off into the deep blue yonder.
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The next two pics are of a colony trap. These small channels in feeding areas are deadly on rats. This one had two in it the day Mr. and Mrs. Lawnboy came with. Had another one yesterday.
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I prefer to use a size 1.5 double coil on these platform sets. But, as you see here, a #1.5 long spring will do very nicely.
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I prefer to see just off the bank, eliminating shrews from eating the carrot. I also set them right in front of the small feeding pockets that show sign of rats feeding in those pockets.
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First check of these three traps provided three rats. I have another spot like this where I have three traps at the mouth of a smaller feeder creek. In that spot I have checked the three traps three times, resulting in eight rats out of nine possible.
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I also use these 110 Conibears where the water is too shallow to drown the rats.
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Big Fin

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Having shown some of the sets as "before'" here is the "after."

Hard to swim when you have both feet stuck in a double coil spring.
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About ten yards to the left of this rat was another that met the same fate.
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These are two of the three in the creek mouth the first day I checked. Off to the right is the third trap that had another rat.
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Shallow water is always a hard riddle to solve for rats. A baited conibear is the easy answer.
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If the rat gets tangled on the platform and does not drop into deeper water, he is easy pickin' for a mink. I lost two rats to mink that day.
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Even fast current you can use these conibears. In some areas, the ducks are so thick they spring your traps when they swim over them. To combat that I am setting conibears in faster current areas that ducks avoid.
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You can make out all the dead weeds on the bottom of the creek here. The pocket in the upper left of the pic is a classic rat feeding bench. Seeing all of these root clippings out in front tells you more than one rat is using this spot.
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Big Fin

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If trapping has the "trophy shot," I guess these would be it.

A lot of rats to skin, flesh, and stretch. The first day of checking the entire line. These are as good of rats as you can get. Late winter rats are super prime furs, they are all large or bigger with most of these being XL-3XL, and they have not yet started fighting and biting as they will in a month when the breeding season is in full swing.
IMG_3689.JPG


Given Mrs. Fin is at her parent's home in Vegas this week, Lilly the muskrat hound is riding shotgun. If Mrs. Fin sees her dog posing with a tailgate of fifteen muskrats, my trapping may come to a quick halt.
IMG_3697.JPG
 

cornfed

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Always enjoy your trapping posts. Nothing like having your traps full and see the bait gone probably meaning another one came along and took it.
 

Big Fin

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If you need a quick and easy mink set send me a pm.

I'm purposely trying to avoid them. Wild mink are so low in price right now, I hope I don't catch a single mink. Last year I caught seven by accident and when I shipped them to the fur auction, they were held over with the thousands of other wild mink.

It's kind of a shame wild mink are so low. I have had years where Large buck mink would bring $25 and in that year I caught over 50 of them. The wild fur market is such a fickle thing. As you know, the foreign economies drive ti more than than anything.
 

ID_deerslayer

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Pretty cool stuff Fin! Do you prefer this kind of trapping as opposed to trapping coyotes and Bobcats do to location of where your traps are set and hem being closer to town perhaps? Just curious why when you can gt decent money for coyote fur as well.
 

Big Fin

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Pretty cool stuff Fin! Do you prefer this kind of trapping as opposed to trapping coyotes and Bobcats do to location of where your traps are set and hem being closer to town perhaps? Just curious why when you can gt decent money for coyote fur as well.

I will admit to being lazy about it. Or, maybe just a function of the time one has to do it properly. I like trapping canines and bobcats. Just takes a ton of prep time for canines. And, you have the issue of them being alive in a trap until you arrive to dispatch them. That brings with it the risk of someone complaining about an animal in a trap.

With water trapping, you can make sets such that almost every animal is drowned and out of sight. Since your trap is under water, human scent is not an issue. In the area I live, there are a lot of landowners who are fed up with beaver and muskrat problems, so the guy who acts respectful and appreciative will have plenty of places to trap.

There are a ton of coyotes in this area and Montana silvers that have not yet rubbed are bringing great prices right now. I just don't have time to run a line, unless I was to do it closer to town. Given this valley seems to be the dog capital of the world and leashes are seldom used, even trapping coyotes on private land will result in some dogs finding your sets. I just don't want that hassle, no matter the value of fur.

Imagine the fiasco if a TV host caught Fido when the owner let the dog off a leash and chasing deer on some private land. Even though I use traps that would not hurt Fido, people unfamiliar with traps freak out about traps worse than those unfamiliar with guns freak out about guns. Another reason I don't snare here. I could catch a big sack of canines with snares. But, when people let their dogs run on private ground, you will have dogs following the same trails the coyotes and fox run. End result is a dog in a snare, which is usually fatal if the owner is not nearby within an hour or so. I don't need, nor do I want the hassle, even if it was the result of an irresponsible pet owner letting their dog run around and trespass on private land.

If I could justify the time to set a canine line further from the valley, I would think about it. I have plenty of ranch clients who would welcome me and they have no city folks letting their dogs run around on private property. But, I don't have the amount of time. Once I get done filming, I have about a month break and then it is trade show and seminar season. I get windows of time to do the water trapping and if the weather is good, I will take advantage of such, as I am this year.

So, it will be water trapping, mostly on private land. Already this week, where I trap rivers that flow through private land, I have had three traps stolen. I bumped into some fishermen who were on the private land, outside the high water mark (In MT you must stay below the high water mark), asking me what I was doing trapping the river. I told them I was trapping the deep areas that would be too deep and fast for them to fish, AND I was here at the request of the landowner whose property they were standing on. Since then, three traps are gone. A muskrat does not pull a stake out of the ground.

Fishermen are some of the worst when it comes to water trapping. They think they own the rivers. They have no problem cutting across private land and going outside the high water mark. They will even hike over to irrigation ditches and non-navigable waters. If they encounter my traps, they tend to untwist the wires and I suspect they just throw the traps out in deep water.

Long explanation for why I do what I do and the way I do it. Even if I am in the right, people will make a big stink about anything related to trapping if it involves their pet or their favorite fishing hole. So, I just avoid where those problems are most like to occur. And with the profile I have in the outdoor sphere, it is not worth the risk of my name showing up related to a trapping incident. Even if I was in the right, I would be on the wrong side of public opinion, even among some who hunt and do not like trapping.

Plus, if you ever want to get good duck hunting access, just be a beaver trapper. Ranchers are really happy when you show up to trap the beaver that is flooding their calving pastures in February or March. Asking them to shoot a few ducks in December is usually a small fee for the headache you solve.
 

Bulldog0156

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Kalispell, MT
So do the traps drop deeper into the water when triggered or are they set deep enough to drown a stuck muskrat? This looks like a pretty simple set up and I really like those gloves you posted a while back.
 

MT.PERCHMAN

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Kalispell , Montana
Nice catch Randy !!!
Keep the pict.s coming .
Is that 3/4 pvc you are using ..
I remember when I trapped rats back home they were at .50 ct.a piece . But that was a.very long time ago.

Thanks !!!

MT.PERCHMAN
 

mixedbag

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Nov 22, 2009
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Great post!!I remember as a kid trapping muskrat to buy my brothers and sister Christmas presents from the money.Muskrat are all but gone from my area which is ashame.I'd love to take my kids and show them muskrat trapping.For now they go out with me and trap some coon while I set up for yotes/fox.Ilike the fact your taking those guys and their kids along.We could always use a few more trappers
Terrible you have to worry about land trapping but it is true.Even hunters give me problems,but then turn around and talk about how bad the yotes are on the fawns/deer.
Learn to trap and you WILL become a way better hunter
 

RobertR

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Glen, Montana
I think the dog caught the rats lol.
All kidding aside, raptors steal lot of trapped critters. While shed hunting I seen a horned owl get a rat mid morning.
 

Randy11

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That's pretty cool stuff. Congrats on the haul. Can't imagine having to clean that many of those buggers.
 

shoots-straight

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Bitterroot Valley
Great job on the rats. Coni's are the only way to go for rats IMO. Pulling my wolf traps today, work is interfering with trapping and wolf sets are time consuming to check after work, before work, and on weekends.
 

What Map

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Great thread. Thanks for posting the pictures and story, Randy. Looks like a great way to spend this warm winter we are having.
 

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