Archive for January 2nd, 2012

Jan
02

Look Twice

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The arctic front predicted to begin its arrival here this week was preceded by a gradual, deliberate switch from warm rains to barely above freezing temps this morning. As I steered the canoe towards my first muskrat sets of the day, skies were leaden but holding just above Bare Hill in the background, legend has it to be birthplace of the great Seneca Indian nation. I sometimes wonder how many ancient hunters and warriors trudged the same trails and paddled their canoes thru the same paths I now take, all these centuries later.

It was one of those days where the sun would shine for five minutes, water would be dead calm and glassy. Then out of nowhere, a gust of wind would bring on burst of big, sticky snowflakes in flurry fashion. For the next five or ten minutes, snow would coat everything and you could barely see. Then just as abruptly as that change came, it went back to sunshine and calmness again.

I ran the line backwards… starting at the end where my canoe would be lightest for the check & pull, because that is the scene of yesterday’s mudpit battle. If I got up a head of steam on the approach, I could bull the canoe’s nose into deep silt and within reach of my trusty potato rake to wrest stakes out of mud from the comfort of my seat.

That all went well, and the next sequence of sets included this “bottom edge” type location where a point of land (so to speak) juts out into the water from shoreline. Muskrats, like every other living animal seek the paths of least resistance. If they can go over or beneath an object that blocks their straightest path, they will. If they must go around it, they’ll do so by tightly hugging the inside edge.

Call it energy conservation, call it smart, call it lazy… doesn’t really matter. That’s basic animal behavior, and we use that to our advantage. Look closely in these spots, anywhere some type of object juts out of a shoreline. Chances are you’ll spot a shortcut over, under, around or all of the above to block with trap sets.

This particular point had a well-worn groove at the edge of that hummock, which begged for a bigger bodytrap to block the path. I personally prefer the biggest trap possible in these locations to improve margin of error. Have caught countless rats and mink in the little #110s set up this way… but had my share of misses and knocked-down traps, too. That doesn’t happen with 6″ or 7″ body traps set accordingly.

As expected, the first rat thru last night stuck around for a boat ride this morning. With freeze-up pending for tonight, everything in the water was coming home with me in the boat today. With each fresh coating of new fluffy snow, I had a little more trouble seeing all of my stakes. Even though the ends are painted fluorescent orange and have survey tape added for colors contrast, the snow coating was blending it all in.

If you look really close in the two photos above, in particular right on the outside edge of left jaws in photo above, you’ll see a speck of orange in those cattails. If you didn’t see it right away… join the club. Neither did I, and I was sitting right there in my canoe! <lol>

While paddling away from that set, I looked back across my trail to see if I missed any stakes on the way out. Had already learned that lesson a couple times earlier. Once again, there was another set I almost missed and certainly would have, if not paying careful attention to details.

This hummock was one of those with a tunnel thru the bottom and path around it. I had set each run with a trap, as usual. Very seldom do I set just one trap at any location for any critter… I usually set two, and more often three than just one.

Pulled that stake… suit-cased another rat trying to sneak thru the shortcut tunnel trail. Typical animal behavior = typical trap check results.

Speaking of multiple sets… here is one of those spots where a rat house back in the cattail maze emerges into open water, then courses off bottom runs in three different directions. I set it up with four traps, knowing that chances were pretty good for a double or triple and also knowing it was a set yesterday = check and pull today effort.

Always a positive sign when first glimpe of the site on check day shows all four stakes tipped over in the silty mud. Something went on there last night… only a matter of how many traps connected versus what might have missed or snapped.

In this case, a blend of #110s against shore and #160s in open water all did their jobs accordingly. Four sets, four rats… one depleted house.

But no worries about that. I saw plenty of fresh muskrat trails cutting thru skim ice, tracking on top of the fresh snow and even had one rat dive off a feedbed as I paddled away from that location. Our job is to skim the cream, in & out quickly, leave a sound population behind for seed.

It does my heart good to see that I missed some, and just between you and me, the older I get, the harder I work at leaving a few more critters behind.

see you down the line
Austin

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