Archive for February, 2012


Weather Or Not

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Looks to me like this winter is going out pretty much the same way it went all season long: tumultuous, unsettled, up and down. One day freezing and snow, next day warm and rain. Some days, both. But that’s about to change real soon, as our first real taste of springtime weather is poised to roll thru.

Next week’s forecast points towards 50s and 60s F each day. That will chase the remaining remnants of ice off all but the most stubbornly frozen waters. I’ll join the fray which is otherwise known as spring-time muskrat trapping on public waters up north. I haven’t totally decided exactly which flow and precisely when will be the start. Sort of playing that by ear as the days unfold ahead.

I see the next several week’s of spring trapping as preseason scouting work for next year. Pretty much cold-rolling into places I’ve only visited thru Google Earth, until the canoe first hits water. Much of my time will be spent exploring, tracking and back-tracking, learning the lay of land first-hand as much as it will be productive fur harvesting. But one has to start somewhere. I’m looking forward to the new adventures :)

Regrettably, I did not carry a camera with me in the first several weeks of muskrat season this year. I think back on all of the excellent photos and images I missed out on capturing, and I cringe. They would have come in real handy now, but I guess it’ll have to wait until next fall for repeats. Meanwhile, I do intend to pack a compact video camera along this time around for some brief clips and quips. A lot of near-future blog posts will be in videos format ahead.

I’ve got one foot in the world of writing an updated book and another foot in the world of DVD production. At this point in time I’ve made no real decisions about anything. I might compile an extensive, expansive book on muskrat trapping soon. It would take all that I learned in the past eighteen years since the first book hit print, and encompass a lot more pages with literally hundreds of photos in support. If I go ahead and take the leap on completing such a project, it’ll lean real heavy on nitty-gritty, nuts & bolts detailed education.

Also on the proverbial plate are several different concepts for DVD production. I’m mulling over potential to produce something myself versus have it done by a third-party crew, or both. We’ll give it some thought, and see what happens.

For anyone who thinks there is some kind of big-money potential in either books or dvds in the trapping world, think again. Our collective arena is much too small for significant sales of any significance. It is more of a novelty with very modest financial reward at best. So I’m not losing much sleep or rearranging my life schedule for either one.

What is just about decided upon in locked & loaded fashion is a out-of-state trip to North Dakota for muskrats next fall. I’d love to go out in April for the spring-thing there, but too many loose ends that need to be tied up first. I’ve done enough mapwork, called enough biologists and talked to enough resident trappers out there to solidify my decision on going. Only thing that will cancel the plan would be extreme weather conditions now until then which crashes the overall muskrat population.

Barring that, if water and rats exist in normal to high volumes, I’ll be there :)

A lot of guys fantasize about the same thing, and for sure a lot of guys will give it a try next year as well. Visions of high-dollar rats and truckload catches will dance in their heads. I also know from past historical experience that going out on the road, operating away from the comforts of home inside strange surroundings is much harder than the at-home thing. Most of the guys who opt to venture west in search of mass riches on the muskrat line will find themselves far short of expectations. We could go on and on about all the reasons why that is, but in the end it is the truth.

One reason why I’m planning this far in advance, making a list and checking it thrice, making another list for contingency sake, and having backup plans for everything that could possibly go wrong.

Next October is still forever away. There is much life to be lived between here and then. Let’s just take one week at a time and enjoy the ride from one calendar season to the next. The geese are back and prepping to next on our pond. Bluebirds are paired up and inspecting the boxes they’ve used for nearly a decade now. Later on the tree swallows will return, and we’ve got ample space for them. Then their cousins the barn swallows, but before both those arrivals come the redwing blackbirds weaving nests along the pond. Last year we had four nests inside the one-acre surface area. They sure let you know in no uncertain terms when you encroach inside their space.

A family of muskrats wintered over well, and I watch them swimming around the pond’s surface every morning. I took a quick walk around the shoreline at dusk on Sunday, and three different rats flipped abrupt dives from makeshift feedbeds in cattail stands. They spent the whole winter digging bank hole tunnels which many pond owners despise, but I’m not your average pond owner.

Much as I enjoy the local muskrat family who enjoy security from harm’s way on my behalf, I will truly enjoy hoisting up stakes dripping with spring-time catches as the aroma of perfumy musk fills the air. Unfortunately that won’t be tomorrow, but fortunately it will be soon. Real soon ;)


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Elbow Room

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At this point in time, I’m just waiting for the weather to cooperate in our actual start to the spring muskrat season adventures. Same as it’s been all winter long… continued patterns of freeze – thaw – freeze – thaw keeps water conditions neither open or closed.

I’ve had plenty of time to look over just about every significant piece of public water within three hours’ drive of my driveway. That’s about far as I want to range in the muskrat quest to come. For me it’s a combination of chasing fur, enjoying the fresh air and waterways one more time, and opportunity to amass a collection of fresh photos to the file.

Lately I’ve received a lot of email and PMs asking if I’d considering writing an updated book on muskrat trapping, an instructional DVD, or both. Truth is I’ve pondered each project for a long while, and I’m no nearer to making a decision on that today as I was weeks or months ago. So about all I’ll do for now is continue to stockpile on-line photos to the collection and if someday I find the need for them, they will exist.

Considering all public waters here in this state have been combed to some degree or other by trappers thru the season, I have no delusions of grandeur for giant catches this spring. If I’m able to piece together some modest catches thru next month, that about meets modest expectations I have right now.

One thing I’ve been told a few too many times is the concept that water trappers up north are “territorial” and that they “don’t like outsiders” in their area. Well, that’s nothing new in this state or any other state in the country. Private or public ground, certain individuals tend to lay emotional claim on what they perceive is theirs. I’ve seen that all my life, and I’m sure I’ll see it again.

Fact is, about all the muskrat trapping I do happens to be on public ground, behind other trappers ahead of me on private ground, or both. The pictures here which have published before = you’ve probably seen before both come from places just like that. Very seldom past the first week or two of open water here in NY can you find easily-reached places where no man has tread before.

Sharing space with other trappers in my backyard is never an issue with me. It is state ground, each man has equal right to it and whoever opts to work longest & hardest is who probably amasses the biggest catch. Pretty simple law of physics or cause & effect or whatever universal law applies in this case :)

Anyways, it has been several years since I have lost one single trap or animal to theft. That may sound surprising to some, and heaven knows I’ve dealt with my share of theft in the past and then some. But our group of local guys here respect each other and give space to one another with no problems between us. Matter of fact, I had more duck hunters poking around my muskrat sets this year than anyone else… all of them harmlessly curious about what goes on. Many of them either had prior trapline experience or would like to give it a try someday. I always take time to answer questions, share a little show & tell and encourage others to try our sport.

Perhaps that all costs me some higher catch totals in the end. Perhaps not. I don’t get too wrapped up in the whole competitive thing with others, at all. I do work hard to make the most of my time afield and I do move fast as feasible on the water to cover much area as possible. But if someone beats me to somewhere, it’s my obligation to graciously go somewhere else.

So I don’t have any fear or trepidation of potential conflict with other trappers in my travels on the road to come. I’m sure a few guys won’t be thrilled to see anyone else around, nothing that I would take personal. I’m equally sure that many or more guys will welcome the presence of other respectful trappers on public ground in the spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood. That’s the position I choose to come from, and look forward to meeting others of like kind :)


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Spring Things

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First off… a hearty and sincere congratulations to all of our recent contest(s) winners!

They are:
$100 “Best-Guess” contest
Dale Frank 3,834.00 = Minnesota Trapline Products
Teal Fysken: 3921.29 = Minnesota Trapline Products

$50 “Winners” contest
Cody  Petersen = McCourt Munitions LLC
Matt Byrnes = FNT post
“FishinHank” = MTP

I will get with all five of our dual contests winners tomorrow and get everyone settled on their prize money to spend with allotted outdoors equipment suppliers of their choice. Congratulations again to all, and I do hope each of you will share pictures of your purchases with us :)

The contest was loads of fun, best few dollars I’ve shared with fellow trappers in a very long time, and I look forward to doing it again in the future. With a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work and many miles on the road… we might just do it again real soon!

Spring season for muskrats is almost upon us. I’m using every spare minute of time to prep gear for one more round of serious muskrat trapping this year. For sure the #160s will see much use in their usual locations, but this time of the year demands plenty of footholds set at strategic locations. Natural toilet sets like this are akin to whitetail deer scrapes in the prerut and rutting season for bucks. Every rat in the general area will check out these key spots, and you can be sure I’ll have mine well guarded at every approach for traffic coming & going.

My personal preference runs toward bigger foothold traps, with 1.5 coils and #2 longs or coils the choice with their combination of jawspread and weight. I want solid front leg or preferably legs secured between those jaws, and I want some heft there to keep those catches submerged. Even in relatively shallow water, muskrats succumb quickly when held by solid front leg catches. Big coils or longsprings well-tuned at the pan & trigger make that happen.

So in order to make that happen on a regular basis soon, I’ve been going thru all of my existing foothold gear along with some various used traps purchased from different directions. They all require pan – dog tuning, chain checks and wires added, new nametags and boil-clean processing to remove old wax, gunk and grime.

It’s way too cold for treating traps with any type of dip product or painted finish, so I’m simply going to dip them in wax to speed up lock times and wait until the heat of summer for further surface treatments. They’ve got much work to do between now and then. So do I ;)

Once the footers are prepped, gotta go thru the #110s and #160s and #210s to sort for broken triggers, broken stakes and little things.

After all the gear is proclaimed good-to-go,  I need to cut and assemble roughly 100 floats. Now I might not run that many floats and I just might at that. They will be ready to go, regardless. While I’m doing all this prep work, I’ll be sure to chronicle it for pending articles coverage in here.

Like I said before, “next season” officially began last week. My work up north will be as much about preseason scouting for next year as it is mass production for this year. I might spot-hop a bit, might take a friend or two long to enjoy some fun, might do a lot of things. But one thing is for sure… I do fully intend to hammer the muskrats in 2012 – 2013. Regardless of populations, weather and pelt price, I will be out there doing my very best to get it done.



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Why Not?

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“Ok Austin… what’s the catch?

“What’s in it for you?”

I fully expected a number of emails asking that in so many words about why we’d give away $100 to a random stranger in a guessing-game contest. And with little surprise, a few people did ask exactly that.

Well, I can think of a number of really good reasons to give a little bit of money away, and the best news is there is no downside for anyone at all.

Direct Advertising
Traditional printed paper magazines and periodicals spend many thousands of dollars per year in efforts to attract more readers. In turn, they must charge you a yearly subscription fee just to help cover postage and printing costs. By the same token, their fees for advertising ain’t cheap… at all. Do you have any idea how much your favorite company or companies pay for just a single half-page or full-page ad in print magazines these days?

A lot… not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just all part of the process for growing a printed paper magazine that hasn’t changed since the advent of printed magazines.

Surely we here will look to spend some advertising dollars in traditional ways to attract readership just like any other publication. And equally assured is the fact that we’ll direct even more dollars in direct advertising fashion such as contests like this with no entry cost to you involved. I expect to do plenty more just like this… and hopefully with bigger prizes to boot :)

For us to promote some fun-filled contests anyone can join with equal chance to win is little more than inexpensive advertising on its face. But to me it’s also much more than that.

Share The Experience
Right around this same time last year I cleaned out my trap shed and gave away a bunch of steel to several youth trappers. It felt good to do that then, and it felt even better when pictures and feedback arrived from successful trappers taking part in that program. An old cliche` states that it is better to give than to receive. I don’t know about that… maybe it’s as much fun on either side. I sure do like receiving gifts and presents and surprises myself. I like to win things, too. But I also know how much fun it is to experience something vicariously thru others. The idea of someone out there doing something in the outdoors that we played a small part in here is rewarding on many levels.

Free Public Plugs For Your Favorite Company
The act of each participant selecting and naming their preferred prize money certificate from is also free advertising for any & all companies named. I have no problem with that… and you must admit, a lot of bang for our proverbial buck (or in this case a hundred bucks) is circulating thru the outdoor world here. Hopefully the promotion of all different outlets for various outdoor products will help bolster business for them. It cannot possibly hurt, that’s for sure.

Nothing Captured, Nothing Shared
All entries for this contest run thru our website in order to document who each person is. No chance for three different Bob Smith’s to confuse which one actually voted what. We have IP address documentation of who is who all the way. That said, under no circumstances is any personal information being captured or recorded. No addresses, no phone numbers, no emails… nothing. The sole contact between us here begins and ends with this specific contest. No one else will ever contact you about anything else, I can assure everyone of that.

At No Cost
We’ve said plenty of times before what will likely be repeated again: at no time in the future will there ever be any cost for readers to read our publications. Ever. Maybe we will offer advertising space to select advertisers sometime in the future, and maybe we won’t. But one thing I know for sure is, our virtual doors will be always open for everyone free of charge.

A Good Life
In a nutshell, I had a very good year on the trapline. It was far from any record catches… but that’s the least of why anyone including me can’t sleep at night before it’s time to run each line tomorrow. I’m more energized and motivated about next season’s turn of events than I ever have been before. Those who care to stop by and visit with us as time permits will get an inside view at what it takes to make it all happen from beginning to end.

The outdoors life is a slow paced, soak in your surroundings kind of life. It’s a good life… a life worth living and sharing with others. So that’s off to our inevitable winner to be determined this Sunday. Good luck with your guesses one and all, and we hope you share pictures and maybe a brief note about how your winnings will be invested in God’s great outdoors :)


Sunday, Feb 19th Fur Sale Contest… no strings attached [click on link to enter]

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Let’s have some fun :)

Someone is going to win $100 towards the purchase of hunting, fishing, trapping or outdoor gear of their choosing… with no strings attached. Here’s how it works:

We have 300+ finished muskrat furs headed for the local Genesee Valley Trappers Association auction (link here) on Sunday Feb 19th.

Whoever can guess closest to the nearest penny what the auction sales dollar amount is (before any commissions or deductions) for this entire lot will win a $100 gift card or purchase order to any outdoors store of their choice.

That’s it… that simple. The person who guesses nearest the actual sale results wins $100 gift card, certificate or credit to their outdoor store of choice.

The only way to enter is by comment reply at the bottom of this website entry stating your first name and either last name or initial, your one guess at the dollar amount of sales (for 300+ muskrats only) and the name of your selected store of purchase. Here are some examples of a qualified entry format…

Austin Passamonte


Austin P
Bass Pro


John Smith
XYZ Sports Store


Sally S
Gary’s Gunshop


That’s it… simple and with no strings attached. Simply cast your vote (aka best guess) according to the format above in the comments section of this website post. Not in Facebook… not by email… not by passenger pigeon… the only valid entry format is right here in the comments thread below :)

The lone winner by nearest final price to the penny will be notified here and awarded a $100 gift card, gift certificate or credit purchased towards whatever outdoor oriented gear they choose. This contest is open to all, no restrictions other than one vote per person. Contest ends Sunday morning at 9:00am eastern time. All entries past that point in time are null & void. Tie-breakers will determine a single winner from any potential “ties”.

Remember, the only valid entry which counts is a name, dollar amount of fur sales and name of where your prize money will be spent. Other than that, good luck to all and I look forward to awarding $100 to the best (lucky) guess!

Have Fun :)

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It Starts Today

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With trapping season now officially behind us here in this part of New York state, it is nigh time to start looking ahead. We’ve got a lot to do between now and next season’s marathon push that will have me questioning my own sanity many times before it’s thru :)

On the home front here, I do look forward to some coon and canine trapping when those furs begin to prime. I’ll probably begin sometime around the first week of November (as usual) and roll into the water season opener here. Then pause the land-line, with some coon sets managed along with muskrats where convenient and then fox sets once more when winter slows down the serious muskrat efforts.

But regardless of fur prices or any of that, next season for me is about personal goals, personal records and personal achievement. Not what someone else did or has done. Not what anyone else did or has done. I’m focused on next season for strictly personal objectives as always.

Some men deal with their “mid-life crisis” by trying to relive their youth in self-destructive ways. I’m not interested in drinking games… had enough of that in my youth to last three lifetimes. I’m not interested in wild women… again I refer back to my youth for that, I’m too ugly for new ones to be interested in me and the one I have now is all I can manage as it is. So that’s out. I love fast sports cars but I love diesel trucks even more. Climbing Mount Everest never had the least bit of interest to me, and still doesn’t. A triathalon would be fun, at least two-thirds of it before I summarily drowned.

Leaves those typical male midlife crisis behaviors off the table for me. So how about challenging myself to do something I’ve never done before. How about a commitment to not only break but totally obliterate my own personal record of muskrat catches in a single season?

My Own “Everest”
Perhaps that sounds lame to some. The idea of spending $30,000+ to climb Mt Everest simply because it’s there seems equally weak to me. I can relate to people who cannot relate to individual passions, whatever they might be. So I’m going to structure my life for the next year (and a bit more) in the quest for 2,000 muskrats boarded in my shed. If things fall into place that seem a bit far-fetched right now, it might even be doubled that or more.

The Plan
In order to put that many muskrats thru my shed in today’s world, I have to go outside of the local area… perhaps way outside.  It also requires a longer season than what we have here, with expectations of more seasonal winter cold to return next season.

My choices for an extended season are basically two: the northern zone of NY state with an opener in late October, and all the way across  country in North Dakota with a similar early-start date.

Each has advantages and disadvantages to ponder and weigh. Some of the comparisons are…

Northern Zone New York
ample public water to trap
within three hour’s drive of home
ample muskrat populations (depending on weather and other factors)
open water longer than ND
far less expense involved
less disruption to everyday life

North Dakota
water everywhere in places
much denser muskrat (depending on water and other factors)
plenty of available access to trap
far more liberal regulations… setting on houses, colony traps legal
distance from home
housing and living expenses involved
handling & storing catches logistics

Basically the comparison boils down to this: North Dakota has a lot more muskrats than New York under normal conditions. Whether that holds true this season or not hinges upon weather patterns out west thru spring and summer ahead. North Dakota allows trapping at/on muskrat houses AND the use of colony traps… which are monumental advantages over trapping conditions for big numbers here in NY.

There is no question at all that running & rotating 100 colony traps per day with 100+ mixed #160s and footholds sprinkled in thru fresh ground would average at least 100+ rats caught each day… if not double that. I have limited but enough experience with colony and funnel traps to know exactly how effective they are in dense muskrat habitats. Creeks, ditches, sloughs and marshes with any type of main channels or runs can be blocked with cage traps spread out in strategic fashion… and the catch results can be simply amazing.

Second to that is legality of setting muskrat house slides with footholds, a very efficient tactic as well. The combination of working colony traps as a core approach with fill-ins of bodygrips and footholds between is something that intrigues me no end. If I can find enough area in ND to keep rolling thru fresh muskrat habitat for ten days, I honestly believe I might be able to average 200 rats per day. Considering the Federal WPA zone I’ve researched in the Southeast corner encompasses 45,000+ acres alone, I’d say enough water exists there for at least one more trapper like me :)

The breakdown of all what’s involved there can and probably will take a couple of feature-length articles to cover in detail. Suffice it to say that is the one major factor in consideration of such a distant out-of-state experience.

Pre “Season” Scouting
I’ll use the northern zone of New York’s trapping season as a quasi-scouting effort. I plan of spot-hopping a couple of different locations, and I’m going to tour several more between now and the end of April when aquatic growth gets too tall. Late winter and early spring is prime-time for scouting next year’s water locations. Vegetation is lowest, the area is wide open then than it ever will be with general topography plainly visible.

My scouting for a potential trip to North Dakota is map work… extensive mapping along with phone calls to the game & fish department, federal marshes, etc. If that excursion actually comes to pass, I’ll make at least one trip out there for boots in the mud examination sometime this spring or summer.

Geared Up
Regardless of all else, I need twenty dozen new coilsprings and twenty dozen new #160s for next season and beyond. Both of those purchases will wait for the summer trapper’s convention seasons where I can purchase outright for best prices and skip the shipping charges. Meanwhile, I keep my eyes open for acceptable used traps at favorable prices to fill in for use at certain spots as well.

If the ND trip looks promising, I’ll also need 100 folding-style colony traps as the core of my approach. Those can be had commercially and similar summertime purchase decisions at the conventions. Just a matter of shopping around, settling on price and having them available for pickup at whichever convention works best.

Other than new & used steel, I need to rip a few hundred new stakes from salvaged 2×4 boards, need to tune and treat every single trap, need to make minor repairs on some, need more used freezer space and a walk-in cooler setup would be ideal. No doubt there are a lot more “little things” that will come to mind later, but those are the bigger needs right now.

Get Fit
I know what it takes to run full-day, all-out trap-line efforts. One of the nation’s top fox trappers who also finds himself chasing muskrats told me he’s never experienced more challenging, grueling conditions than his fall muskrat line. I can totally relate to that… and we are both of similar age. My body needs to be in peak physical condition to withstand 10 – 12 hour trap-line days and the remaining time managing chores while getting enough nutrition and sleep.

My weight lifting efforts always ebb during the winter while outdoor seasons are open. Now it’s time to step up the compound lift work… bench press, military press, shrugs, dead lift, squat, leg extensions and hamstring curls, standing barbell curls, lat pull downs and especially forearm & hands work. All that, and a lot more pure cardio work this year than I’ve done in a long, long time.

Anyone who thinks water trapping is easy has never done it on a long-line basis. I’ve done a little bit of everything thru the years, and by far canine trapping is least physical followed by coon trapping, then muskrat, then beaver when it comes to pure physical exertion. A body that is not in top condition cannot perform at peak levels for extended periods of time.

Whether I decide to trap the northern zone of NY for muskrats and then on thru the southern zone season, whether I can make the much bigger leap and pull together a trip to ND first and then work NY afterwards remains a long ways off in certainties. What I do know for sure is that any added push on the trap-line = subtraction from archery & firearms deer hunting, other work projects that = lost income, some family time and holiday events, etc.

We all lead pretty full lives. No one really has extra hours every day to fritter away. Time allotted in any new direction means time subtracted from somewhere else. Also a major factor in what I ultimately decide to do. Trapping itself is something I do for enjoyment, for relaxation, for fun. A distraction from the stress and rigors of daily life, a connection to the land, my ancestors and my youth. It’s not some petty contest with anyone else over anything else to “see who measures up” type of nonsense.

The goals I set, the numbers I have in sight, what I’m able to make happen in reality does not define anyone or anything. It’s all just a collage of memories to look back on with fondness in the twilight of my time here on earth.

Get Ready
For now I’m getting ready for whatever comes next, one day at a time. From phone calls to map study, state regulations research, equipment maintenance and upkeep, study of new gear comparisons before purchase and about a hundred other things need be taken care of. Suffice it to say that next year’s success hinges upon what I can accomplish in preparations all the way.

In other words, next season already started today :)

Tight Chains

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Out Like A Lamb

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“I think you got one, Austin” I heard Bill say as the toe of my boot probed the narrow point of an island for its undercut edge set location. I looked up stream at the set we just staked in at another bottom-run location.

“That stake was really shaking” he said. I had to admit, the trap stake was wobbling a bit more than the gentle current flowing thru there oughta push wood like that. I got the present trap nestled in proper enough to my (sometimes picky) satisfaction and we ambled over to the upstream set in question. Sure enough, there was muskrat #499 for the season clamped firmly between the jaws of that aged #210 obstacle it ran into.

My good friend Bill found himself between tasks on Monday, so he joined me on the line to run the camera. Always a pleasure having good company along… and sometimes even bad company too, if there’s lots of heavy stuff to lug around <lol>

Anyways, I was a bit disappointed to end the day’s catch at #498 muskrat for the season. It was a little more fun nabbing #499 fresh on the hoof, and I must admit we did check the sets on our backtrack with a little more scrutiny than usual.

Tuesday morning I headed back to the same spot which had already given up seven muskrats already. It was sort of a blend between sprawling pond and tiny slough. Not really sure what to call it, but more than a few big rats seemed to call the inlet end “home”.


As I pulled up to the culvert pipe which splits the inlet feed from pond (slough?) itself, I could see the first two stakes without even rolling my window down. One stake was straight up in the air… and one was not.

A pair of #210s guarded two of several swimways that lead thru the flow. It’s a tricky one to wade, with stone bottom in some places and silted over holes that are deeper than I am tall in others. I tip-toed thru the cattail tulips nimbly as possible while donning size 10.5 neoprene waders. Sure enough, there on the bottom in a rather nondescript set awaited muskrat catch #500 for the southern zone NY state season.

Turns out it was another plump male rat or “pumpkin” as my trapper friends the Ikelers used to call them. One of those big ol’ boys that left a slick of rainbow-hued gland seepings on the surface of that water. The aroma of fresh muskrat gland wafted thru the crisp winter air like fine perfume in an upscale restaurant or theater.

Then the smell of swamp muck and silt grabbed me by the nostrils and dragged me back to the reality of this moment. I carefully extraced myself from the treacherous spots and found myself back on dryland, dry as can be.  That hasn’t always been the case when I’ve stumbled out of their in years past: especially some of the early ones when I was much younger and in too much of a hurry to actually get places without haste making waste.

And that’s how it went for the part-time efforts of 2011 – 2012.

When I first gathered my traps in preparation for the season opener here last November, someone asked me how many rats I intended to catch. I picked the number “500″ out of thin air, with a touch of educated guesswork sprinkled in. The ditch network that I usually pull 100ish rats from in my backyard was completely dredged from end to end last spring. Needless to say, it was not much for muskrat trapping this year. Maybe next year and onward, if they leave the backhoes out

Much of the local state land near me was drier than usual after this summer’s drought, and got even worse as Canandaigua Lake was lowered past usual winter pool for some type of work this winter. That left anything which was normally shallow, bone dry.

So I dug a little deeper, pushed into some remote stretches and fanned out my lines thru parts of Ontario, Yates, Livingston and Steuben counties. Distance was limited due to work commitments, which keeps me busy from 5am thru 11am weekdays. We had no ice to walk the hard-to-reach areas, but we did have much more open water than usual. I don’t know in the end if that was better or worse, but it’s in the history books now.

If things fall into place and the weather cooperates, I’d like to spend a little time up north for the spring season ahead. I’m also in the pre-plan stages for a potential trip out of state next fall… but that’s so early in the pre-plan phase, it isn’t even a plan yet. We’ll talk about that a bit more in tomorrow night’s entry here.

Thirty rats came off the boards tonight and the final twenty took their place. Friday night we sort, grade, shuffle, resort and bundle into groups for the upcoming sale on Sunday. It’s always nice to get the check and it’s always somewhat sad to see those furs go. A lot of hard work, sweat and toil goes into that production. I sure hope a bunch of young ladies in Japan and elsewhere really appreciate what it takes to make it all happen for them.

Another season passed… out like a proverbial lamb. Time to turn attention towards the seasons that lie ahead. The next steel wetting events will be here sooner than you think :)

Tight Chains

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It seems these days everyone is trying to come up with the latest and greatest earth anchor. I have come to find they all have their positives and negatives, and certain ones work best under certain circumstances. I will give you my opinion on a few that I have tried.

Heavy Duty Berkshire Stake

Let’s start with one of the originals “Berkshire” stake. Very effective holding device in the right conditions and the most economical. The makers of this stake advertise it as disposable, this is very true as once you use them they rarely get multiple uses. I personally have rocky soil conditions, so they can be tricky to drive in the soil without a pilot hole. The driver for the Berkshire is very simple and you can modify a piece of rebar if you lose/ break a driver, this is a major plus. The driver is a sharpened piece of round rod that rests on the end of the driver, it is not secured on the driver in any way so it can slip off. I do still use these stakes on my water line for coon.

Super Stake

Another earth anchor is the “Super Stake”. This is a heavy duty anchor that is very effective. Super Stakes are on the high end of the price scale as far as earth anchors go, but are reusable many times over. These stakes are suitable for just about any soil conditions. The driver like the Berkshire is a fairly simple design and can be improvised for if needed. The round rod driver with slightly sharpened end slides into the stake, preventing it from falling off the driver. The other neat thing with Super Stakes is the ability to use chain or cable to attach the stake to the trap. Chain holds up much better for pulling the stakes out to reuse, so the ability to use chain is nice. I would say one draw back to these is they can get plugged up with dirt, so you need to clean them out after each use.

Wolf Fang

My go to anchor most recently has been the “Wolf fang” anchor. This is one of the newer ones on the market and is a good product. This anchor is on the low end as far as pricing goes as well, but is much sturdier than some of the others in this price range. The driver for these anchors is slightly more complex than the previous two. The Wolf Fang driver has a channel that the anchor slides into, this keeps it from slipping off while driving into the soil. This anchor is set up for cable only, they can be reused if your cable ferrules are strong. These anchors hold up well to reuse.
There are plenty more left for me to try out on the market. We all have different conditions and circumstances where one may work better than another, that is why there are options out there for us.  All of the above anchors do the job they were made for, it is up to you to find what works best on your trapline.

Happy Trapping :)


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Barrel’s Bottom

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We’ve got three trap checks left to go here in the southern zone of NY State before stakes are pulled until next fall. At least for here, anyways. I’m sitting on a season’s catch of 495 muskrats, and I like my chances of making the even 500 mark by sunset Feb 15th.

They are coming slowly now, from a combination of inclement weather and therefore poor conditions. I can see dozens of fresh, grassy houses within easy walking distance if only the ice were firm enough to hold me. The bottom definitely is not… I’m wrapping up the season in one of those places where an errant step sends my hat floating and oakleys to the bottom forever.

This area was an old dredged strip pit many years ago for the mining of marl clay used in building bricks formation. Some spots the bottom is a foot below and hard clay, while other spots are ten feet down and hidden by a deep layer of decades’ old silt. Open water lets me carefully pick my way around on foot or float it with a canoe. Hard ice and I can walk the top while setting on big bubble runs. But this in-between weather makes neither approach possible.

And that’s been the mode here all winter. We’ve said all there is to say before about this one’s extremely unusual patterns. Now it’s almost in the books and we turn the page to what comes next.

I have some big plans for the trapline next year. I also have an idea, a pre-plan concept in embyronic stage that is way bigger than anything I’ve ever done before. For that to grow from seed to oak in the next eight months, a lot of different variables have to align in place. So I’ll share with you what my plans are when they actually reach the stage of becoming actual plans :)

Looking back on this season almost past, I’m happy to have met an initial personal goal. Not a lot of part-time trappers boarded 500 rats in my part of the state, or maybe any part of the state. Some guys surely did more, many less. Whatever. I only compete with myself and what I’m capable of within my own limitations.

Had I been able to run all-day lines, had I been more prepared with preseason scouting and greater permissions I’d have easily hit the 1,000 rat mark. Had I been fully equipped with twice as many traps and all the right traps along with a flat-bottom boat and 5hp motor, I might have made a run at 1,500 rats. Had I started the season up north for their earlier opener and worked my way thru to the spring season ahead, I might have cracked 2,000 rats.

But I’ll never know for sure, because reality is what it is.

Regardless of fur prices or anything else, I will be well prepared for next season. Matter of fact, I’m already preparing for it now. This year was sort of a surprise, a last-minute whim coupled with permanent change in working hours that permitted more time on the lines than I’ve enjoyed in awhile. Next year will have more free time than that.

While I scrape the bottom of this season’s barrel to amass my own minimal target goal, I have my eyes on a much loftier prize. It’s not for the money, although money would be nice. My future plans ain’t for the glory, I couldn’t care less about contests and competition. My sights for achievement in the year ahead is all about personal discovery. What can I do with four decade’s of trapline experience inside of a body that still has enough youth and vigor left to see things thru.

I’m at a point in life where it’s time to do the things I’ve thought about for too long. Maybe it’s a bucket list from a bucket I don’t expect to kick for a long time to come. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis as I edge ever nearer to the half-century mark. Maybe it’s just a simple fact that it’s time to have fun. Time to enjoy life. Time to do more things that I’d do if money were no object and tomorrow wasn’t promised here on earth.

After all is said & done, is there any other way to live than that?

Tight Chains

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By: Luke Jackson

I had never targeted beaver solely, so one year I decided I was going to give it a try. A year and a half before I trapped two beavers using a castor mound, but that was the extent of it. With little experience of beaver trapping, I decided I had better read up on the subject. After reading all the old issues of Fur-Fish-Game I had, I felt I was ready to give it a try. But after taking a look in my fur shed I found that I wasn’t as equipped as I’d like to be.

I owned four footholds that would be able to hold and drown a beaver without trouble, so I already had enough of them. After looking at some prices I decided snares would be an economical way to put out quite a few traps without breaking the bank. I decided to buy three dozen beaver snares from a guy in Minnesota. Five days later the UPS man pulled into the drive way with my snares. Then, I read everything I could get my hands on about snaring beaver and otter. It looked pretty complicated at first, but I figured I’d get the hang of it soon enough. A couple nights later I sat on the floor drooling over the 330s listed in the Minnesota Trapline Products catalog. That’s all it took… next morning I was out forking manure in the barn. After saving up enough money to make an order, I bought a half dozen 330s, six ten foot slide wires to drown any beaver that stepped in my footholds, two dozen “pigtail” snare supports and a four ounce jar of “Timber” which is a castor based beaver lure.

A week later I had everything I would possibly need to trap beavers. I talked to my dad about bringing me up to our cabin in Northern Minnesota. My dad is a Forester for a big paper company that has land all over by our cabin. This would be perfect because we could mix the trapping in with work so he did not have to take of a day off. Three days before we were going to head up north me and my brother were driving by a thousand acre swamp that was owned by the state. I had tried trapping beavers out of there last year with no luck. As I was looking out the window I saw to my surprise, a beaver swimming in the ditch! My brother didn’t believe at first, so we pulled a U turn and drove by it again. “Yep, that’s a beaver!” I reported to my brother Zach.

Five minutes later I was home loading the truck up with my traps. A little while later I had my waders on and my hands full of traps! The first area I found was just asking for a snare. It consisted of a trail coming out of the water to some nearby trees. I decided to set it up; I grabbed a snare support, a new snare, and a T-bar stake. The first thing I did was pound the stake in with the snare support attached to it. I hooked up the snare and played with the wire until it was about four inches above the ground and the loop was ten inches wide. I put my head at close to the ground as if a beaver, everything looked to be good. The last thing I did was added some lure three feet behind the snare on a trail, and, for a finishing touch I fluffed up the grass on both sides of the trail and called it good.

My first snare set turned out better than I thought it would. As me and my brother walked down the drainage ditch we found an area were the stream narrowed down a bit, just the perfect with for a 330 conibear. We decided we would set the trap on the way back. We walked maybe another twenty yards upstream to find a “U” shaped inlet on the side of the bank. While I was fitting a 330 into the front of the inlet, my brother walked up with a big grin on his face. Come to find out he found the right side of and eight-point buck antler shed. After a little looking around for the other one with no luck we went back to setting traps. As I was putting the rest of the castor lure on a mud pie I heard a splash. “What was that?” I asked my brother. “Oh, nothing much, just a beaver swimming through the narrow area where we were going to put the trap.” He replied. So, we hurried over to put are trap in place before another one swam through! After we got done popping in that set we headed back towards the truck.

After arriving back at the truck, I saw another beaver. I grabbed a foothold out of the truck and hurried over there to put in a castor mound. Five minutes later the set was ready to rock! We then hopped in the truck and drove fifty yards and put in another set quick because day light was fading. At this area there was a trail leading into some willow brush. Setting this was easy enough: I just put a 330 were it narrowed down. After making sure the bodygrip was half submerged, I put a dab of castor farther up a trail. I collected my gear and headed back to the truck.

On our way back home we stopped at another area to see if it held beaver. Sure enough, there were beaver swimming around. I ran to the truck and got the rest of my traps. The first set we put in this area was a castor mound guarded by a foothold. After putting the slide wire in four foot deep water, my brother and I each grabbed a trap. He headed downstream and I head up stream. I was twenty feet from the lodge when I put my set in, just a 330 guarding a slide. After meeting my brother we packed up and headed to the truck. He told me he put a 330 in a run that was used recently. We both thought the last traps we put in the best traps of the day, but, I guess we’ll find out when we check them tomorrow.

The next day I was antsy to go check the traps. It seemed like a week later by the time my brother got home from work. I had my waders on by the time he put the truck in park. We then loaded the traps and gear into the back of the pickup. Five minutes later we were on our way to check traps. As we pulled up to the first set, I saw that my snare had been messed up. I hopped out of the truck and ran towards my snare. To my surprise, I had caught a skunk. I was happy with my first snared fur bearer though.

After throwing the skunk in the back of the pickup we headed down stream. As we approached are second set I seen the something was different. Sure enough, sitting in the 330 conibear was big ole beaver! It could have been the same beaver we seen here yesterday. As I took the beaver out of the conibear, my brother headed down stream to check the third set. But this one didn’t do so well. I then threw the beaver over my back and we headed down stream. After the two hundred yard walk we got to the pickup. I put the beaver right next to the skunk and headed up stream.

The first set which was a castor mound yielded nothing. But, as I arrived at the second set, we had caught a nice flat tail. I reset the trap and carried my prized possession to the truck. I was happy with are two beavers so far. After a five minute drive we showed up at are second location. I hopped out of the truck and headed towards the beaver lodge. The first place we checked is where we had set the castor mound. I looked at the set and found the trap was missing. I jumped into the creek and walked for the drowning cable. After finding the cable with my hand in icy cold water I pulled on it. Up came a nice two year old beaver.

I pulled the trap and catch to the top of the cable and went to work resetting the trap. As I was doing this my brother was checking his blind set. He had gotten a two year old male also. After resetting the trap I headed towards the last trap of the day. Upon arriving I found it held nothing. We lugged the beavers two hundred-fifty yards to the truck. We had caught four beavers and a skunk. Not bad :)

After a little more trapping I ended my first spring season with fourteen beaver! Next year, I’ll be hitting the rivers as soon as the ice goes off to see if I can get a few more!

Luke Jackson, Minnesota

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