Archive for March, 2012

Mar
27

The End?

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I was fortunate to catch the heart of our spring-season muskrat dispersal in my time up north last week.

“Scent-post” toilet set locations were clicking right along with singles & double catches all the way. It was business as usual, laying steel in the high traffic areas for muskrats one day, shaking them out of traps the next.

Unfortunately, spring season turned to mid-summer practically overnight.

All-time record high temps over the past two weeks has all of nature upside down. Flowers and flowering trees normally seen in early May are in bloom now… or at least they were, before last night’s low-20s F temps hammered a bunch of budding buds. Apricots and peaches, cherries and magnolias, toads laying eggs and tree swallows inspecting next boxes. These are all things I’ve seen in the past few days… things not usually seen until May 1st turns the calendar page.

Whereas a “normal” spring season would gradually unlock winter’s grip in methodical fashion, this year’s Bahamas blast torched the ice from every blip of water in mere days. Instead of ice methodically receding from fast water first, then slower water, then still water in the shallows sunshine, then deeper water, then shaded water… it all disappeared at once.

Muskrats and beaver went from ice-out dispersal behavior right into house-keeping mode like summertime arrived. The fresh feedbeds and hot toilets along edges of flowing water went abruptly dead. Fresh cuttings and random droppings began to appear back inside the marshy stretches, away from easy reach and with congregation of cruising male rats.

And so with that, my trapping season of 2011-2012 has drawn to a close. The truck is unpacked for its final time until next fall sees where our first tire tracks pull up to when October arrives. One door closes and another door opens in life. Sometimes they swing on hinges at the very same time :)

**

We now move into next-season mode here in this forum. Lots to cover as we prepare for what comes next… and we’ll cover it in written text and video clips alike.

The first thing we need is a plan or plan. Knowing what we intend to do next year is the very first step in moving towards that goal. You need to plan yours, I need to plan mine. Perhaps by sharing mine we can help you better formulate yours?

Plan A for me next season begins with a trip to the midwest in late October for muskrats. I’d like to spend ten days – two weeks in hardcore rat trapping mode where populations are high and regulations liberal. The use of colony style traps is a deal-maker for me: if I can run somewhere between 100 and 200 colony traps daily in key locations at dense muskrat populations, it could get pretty scary for the hired skinners.

I’ll cover this subject more in the near future, but suffice it to say that many of the real key muskrat run locations are not readily visible to the casual observer… or even most of the veteran trappers out there. Guys who are able to set foothold traps on rat house slides and feedbeds pretty much arrest their development as rat trappers right there. From there they work on setting efficiency to do as much of that as humanly possible.

But instead of setting two footholds on every rat house in areas where eight to ten rat houses cluster, setting three – four colony traps in a fraction of that same time will yield more muskrats caught in much less time expended.

Truth is, most muskrats living in muskrat houses NEVER visit slide, never climb back on top once said house construction is done. Want proof? Why, the muskrats themselves will prove that for you. If indeed every muskrat living in a house eventually climbed up on top of said house, most rat trappers would nearly wipe them out of most contained marshes and sloughs.

Think about that for a moment. High-rolling rat trappers in Ohio and the Dakotas and other Great Lakes stakes where trapping at/on muskrat houses pretty much blanket every house and feeder hut with traps. Wherever legal, that is the go-to set because it is simple, easy and requires least amount of thought.

So the on-house foothold trappers work the same areas from fall thru winter and into spring. Guess what? They never run out of rats. If indeed every muskrat in every house visited said house’ slide, they’d all be wiped out sooner than later. Right or right?

There are much more time efficient ways to catch more muskrats per day than setting houses and feedbeds in the fall ;)

**

But I digress. So a trip to the midwest is top of my bucket list if conditions all align for that. I’ll make the final decision in September once I see first-hand what the water tables and rat populations look like where I’d like to go. Then it’s a matter of enough secured permissions and green-light go time from there.

If that fails to materialize, I’ll instead begin the season here in NY chasing fall muskrats as Plan B. Couple weeks of that and I should be over the 1,000 rats mark if, once again, normal water tables and muskrat numbers permit. Another drought year and thin rat numbers here in northern zone NY? I’ll shift gears and trap coon until the  southern zone water season opens near home.

Once winter settles in like it never did last season, I’ll split time between fox trapping and under-ice trapping for rats. Depending on which is more productive and/or my mood at the time, I might lean heavier towards one mode than the other. Again, we’ll let prevailing weather and animal populations dictate which way to lean.

On the back-burner is a possible trip slightly south for beaver & otter once our seasons here close on Feb 15th 2013. That too is weather dependent. I also have tentative plans for some ice-out beaver work here in NY which probably starts sometime in March 2013.

Depending on what happens with a midwest muskrat trip next fall, I might very well follow that up with a spring trapping trip in April of 2013.

At this moment in time I have a lot of tentatives based on variables, and not much set in stone. So I’m preparing for most everything on the menu and will be well prepared whichever way the winds blow me next :)

There are new traps to prep and and old traps to overhaul, with some going up for sale. I’m going to standardize my equipment to a large degree, not have so many various make & model foothold traps. That way my staking systems, my floats, my cross-use from water to land or vice versa is seamless.

Soon I’ll be cutting some wooden stakes out of staghorn sumac saplings before they leaf out and the sap begins to run. Gives them all summer long to dry out hard. Later on I’ll rip a pile of 2x4x8s into sturdy stakes for bodygrip traps. They will all need tips painted and flagged by fall.

I’m going to make 100 or even 200 various size collapsible colony traps for use out-of-state. A few at a time in my spare time = a pile of them finished by fall.

Still need to buy many dozen more footholds, bodygrip traps of various sizes and various supporting equipment. That’ll mostly wait until conventions season rolls around.

**

Thru all that process and more, we’ll chronicle each step of the way right in here. Look for a series of written works and also educational videos on the how-tos of all that above.  I’m going to blow the dust off my camcorder skills and try to catch some good stuff on film. We’ll work gear together, make equipment together and later on this fall we’ll scout traplines together.

I’m going to do some product reviews starting with my current traps of preference and why. You can be sure that anything I profile will be given my honest assessment including the strengths, weaknesses and compromise.

The season of 2011-2012 has officially ended for me. The season of 2012-2013 preparations have already begun. We’ll now turn our full attention towards that, with plenty of how-to info in here to come :)

Furever
Austin

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Mar
21

Cold-Rolling Heats Up

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I pulled out of my driveway at 7am on Monday, cold-rolling my way thru the north country of New York seeking elbow room for muskrat trapping. What I found were clusters of beaver traps at every culvert and bridge, no possible chance at securing permissions to trap any private waters and no public grounds with nary a sign of muskrats present. Things weren’t looking so good, to say the least.

The area I toured was familiar to me, but I hadn’t ever trapped there before. What good on a map may or may not be good when your boots are standing on site in the mud. Such was the case in this situation. About the best I could do was find a small piece of public ground that everyone around warned me not to set due to theft. Little did they know, I have ways of deterring that in some cases and this was just such a case. Other than that, there was another stretch of creek not too far away that took some paddling to reach fruitful muskrat zones.

When I wrote a muskrat trapping book nearly two decades ago, it focused on the use of bodygrip traps in runs. When I wrote some stuff in this site complete with myriad photos earlier this season, that too was centered on bodygrip trapping. Hopefully that didn’t cause too many people to mistakenly assume think I am a one-trick pony who is clueless to the use of foothold traps for muskrats. Such is not the case. Springtime trapping is all about using footholds… bodygrip traps are extremely limited at best.

The photo up top shows an example of what I saw numerous times today: one or two (or three) muskrats in sight of each other at communal toilet locations. A lot of guys rely on float sets in the spring which do work to varying degrees of effectiveness… imo much better out west than here in the east. For whatever reason(s) the rats around here simply do not mob floats and stools that work so well in the prairie lands elsewhere.

Regardless, I’ve always found it most effective to set on fresh sign. If there is no fresh sign existing, you’ve got bigger problems than exactly which traps or sets to use… starting with no rats to work with. Muskrats present = fresh sign. It’s that simple. If you don’t see mud banks clawed up and fresh piles of droppings in the usual spots, there is no use setting it heavily for muskrats. They ain’t there in numbers.

**

Tuesday morning I laid out roughly 100 such toilet sets on the edge of a brushy swamp where it meets a grassy flowing stream. Perfect habitat for dispersing muskrats cruising thru. I believe it would have been better if daytime and night time temps weren’t running mid-July levels. Speaking of levels, the water dropped nearly two inches from the time I finished setting Tuesday afternoon to the first traps checked at 6:30am as dawn slowly broke. It’d be mighty nice to get some rainy systems passing thru… evenings preferred. Maybe we’ll see some of that between now and when I pull stakes for the season on Sunday April 1st.

Nevertheless, 38 muskrats joined me for the trip back home. Fibonacci numbers have a way of working their universal magic in all walks of life… including my one-check bag today. Two traps were snapped & empty, the rest made it all worthwhile.

There should be more time for me to write at some length inside here once I settle in to the motel stays up north, and then a steady dose of material coming your way as we lay the groundwork for a season to remember straight ahead. Last week I ordered several dozen Bridger #1.5 coils strictly for water work. They arrived on Monday, I got my hands on them at 3pm this afternoon and by the time I go to bed, all will have name-tags and 16ga wire leads  as terminal connections for stakes. By this time tomorrow, all of them will be in the water and guarding primetime locations for the next ten days. Should be a great way to prep them for summertime treatment while earning their keep posthaste.

Must say I am very impressed with these traps and the new bodygrips, too. But more on that to come, topic of interest for our next visit here this week. Right now I have to finish that prep work, pack the truck and get ready to re-deploy once more. After setting traps was finished last night, I took a ride thru one more location that looks very promising. And it’s big. And there is only one other muskrat trapper present, in one little corner of the region. He’s about to have company tomorrow. Me and about 200 of my little steel friends are going to join the party there starting tomorrow, and the party will last for me until Sunday next.

Considering it is more than three hours’ drive from my door to the location, I’ll be spending two nights there a shuttling home for a third to drop off furs, resupply and do it again. So here’s to some sleepless days & nights, sore elbows and stiff backs, tender hands from cracking open too many traps per day, and hopefully a return to some seasonal weather. I didn’t go into the spring-thing here with high expectations of record catches. That won’t happen… but we might make a respectable pile of pelts to dispose of properly when the dust settles and canoe wakes clear.

We’ll soon find out :)

Furever
Austin

 

 

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Mar
18

My Three Years (Part II)

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One thing that it depends on is the type of set. I will switch up my trap position for a standard dirt hole, step down, scent post, or my new favorite set which I call the Blueball’s dirt hole because that’s my nickname on the NYSTA site and around at the conventions.

This set is something I came up with through trials and tribulations this season and I will try to describe this set in as much detail as possible. I have caught a lot of k9s in this set and it will be my main set next year. Remember, this is not a set that is some secret and it may not work for everyone the way it did for me.

THE SET
This set is basically a walk-through dirt hole/scent post. I set on sign so there is no guessing if they are there, because the best set in the world can’t catch a k9 if there is no k9 in the area. After I find some sign I get two pieces of backing (My favorite backing is clumps of grass). You can also use sticks, clump of hay or anything else as a backing that will preferably hold scent.

I grab my hammer and dig out a trench that gradually slopes toward the middle about 2 inches deep, 24 inches long, and 12 to 18 inches wide. I should add I prefer this trench/walk through to be going upwind to downwind so the wind goes “through” the walkthrough. Once you have done this, make a trap bed in the center and stake your trap down (I prefer a larger trap for this set.). After this is done, I then face upwind and in the center of the walkthrough at the deepest point I put my first clump of grass or backing on the top of the ledge at that point. Then I make a dirt hole against the ledge that is at about a 60 degree angle in front of that first backing.

Next step is to put the other clump of grass on opposite side of first backing, on top of that ledge right next to the ledge. This will be the scent post part of your set. Next is to bed the trap so it will not rock around. This is my go-to set when the ground is not too hard.

In the trapping world, the word “competition” seems to make people cringe. Some aspects of competition make me cringe as well. There are three types of competition to me and they all strive to make me a better trapper.

The first type of competition is the one most people experience, yet I have not had much exposure with it. This is the type where two or more trappers are trapping the same piece of property. One person in particular made a HUGE impact on the way I think of competition: John Rockwood, one of my favorite people in the industry and a member of my “Family” of trapping friends. He showed me a couple of key aspects when trapping land with other trappers. The first thing he told me is when trapping public land it is always a “rat race” on opening day to get to the “best” spots. John told me for a long time he was one who would go fast as possible to get to the spots that everyone thought of as being the “best” such as bridges and culverts.

He then went on to explain that this is not always best and sometimes you need to think outside the box. This will make you a better trapper. I had the luxury to ride with him when he showed me spots that people would rush to set, and in this rush to get there they would miss out on A LOT of better spots. One place in particular was a spot with culverts. He showed me where everyone else would set on top of each other and then went on to show me a spot just a few feet away where most of the animals were traveling. Most people overlooked this spot because they would not think outside the box. This gave me a whole new outlook on competition. Competition makes you a better trapper, although you may not like it.

The next type of competition is obtaining new property rights. I happen to run into this a lot. When driving around to get more permission, you will often be rejected for many reasons. I have been rejected because others already trap it, they do not like trapping, because I am young they may not trust me, some just say they don’t like people on their land. This forces me to again “think outside the box”. I try to look and be as professional as possible. I had business cards made up with my name, number and address along with my email address in order to show them that it is a “business” to me and that I am trying to be as professional as possible. I think this helps out a lot.

I also dress appropriately and usually wear some nice jeans, a collared shirt and good pair of work boots. Again I believe this helps to show them that I will not disrespect their property and that I am professional. I also bring a nice trap to show them how it works and help take away some of the common misconceptions about trapping. After I do all this and still get rejected I leave them my business card and let them know that if they need anything to call and I will try to help. The property I get rejected from may be the best around, but I then try to get surrounding properties and develop a strategy to get animals coming to and from that property. It may be harder and I may not have great locations but it teaches me to learn other tactics to get the animal I am after.

The third type of competition is friendly competition between friends. This is my FAVORITE type of competition. I was challenged by “Redbonechick” or Danielle for short. She is new to my area and I consider her one of my closest friends. Well, she challenged me on our local trapping website (another reason to join a forum) in front of everyone that she could whoop my butt even though she was new to the area. I gladly took this challenge thinking I would annihilate her. Wow, was I wrong! She is a great trapper and she won that round. Back to the topic though, being challenged and having someone to compete against drove me throughout the season to keep putting in new sets and keep going even when things became rough. I would like to thank her for this because without being challenged, I do not know if I would have done as good.

The last thing I would like to talk about is Hard Work.

Many believe that people like Mark Zagger or others that succeed are infested with target animals or have a mystery set. The one thing that makes these people successful is hard work. People like Mark that go out and catch 100 plus k9s a year, or John Rockwood that catch hundreds of beaver a year are working hard EVERY day to do that. They wake up each morning and are going all day. They are running to check traps, dispatch animals, remake sets and put in new sets.

After trapping all k9 season, I know how hard it is to get up and get moving and how hard it is to put in new sets when you know you have more traps to check. Although most people may not be able to drive 100 plus miles a day or run 100 plus traps, if you want to succeed you have to keep going and push forward.

I hope this article was enjoyable for everyone and if you would like to see more pictures or see how my season progresses I have a thread

Also, bring a friend every now and again, makes for a fun time!
Cody Petersen

 

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Mar
17

My Three Years (Part I)

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My name is Cody Petersen. I am a 17 year old high-school senior into my third year in this wonderful sport of trapping, and I’m proud to say that I am improving each year. It seems that is a direct correlation to a few key things which we’ll discuss. First is how I got into this sport and why I have succeeded.

When I was younger, my Dad used to love trapping and from what I remember he was pretty darn good at it! I remember going to his house on weekends and running the line with him or going down in the basement and wearing a freshly skinned out muskrat as a glove. Some of my fondest memories I have. When the fur market took a dive, he stopped and never got back in. Although he could never refrain from noticing a muskrat hut on the side of the road or how he would set it up. I’m beginning to notice that I am the same way. I cannot drive past anything involving trapping without talking about it or just smiling to myself.

Jumping ahead a few years, a couple of my buddies started talking at school about who could skin a muskrat faster and how much they loved trapping. I convinced a buddy to come over and set a few traps for the weekend with me, and it is almost funny looking back at it now because he knew nothing and neither did I. I still pick on him because he has not changed. We set a few coon traps and rat traps in spots I would never set now. We ended up catching nothing much.

I started looking everywhere for a trapper’s training course since that’s a requirement in New York State. I could not find a trapping course for some time, but finally found one an hour away that I convinced my step dad to take me. He is also a huge reason I am the trapper I am today. Well, I ended up having the flu that day so it had to wait until after season. I started reading every single forum I could and gathering as much information as possible, which I still do. Trapperman.com became a huge help.

I ran into a trapper named Gary who lived a couple miles away. I wound up talking to him and noticed his location was close to me, little did I know but he would become one of my best friends and mentors! Gary convinced me to go for high quality traps and start out with “Cadillac’s” as he would say. He took me around to some properties I had permission to trap and just showed me sign for a full day, which I highly recommend taking the time out of your schedule to scout and watch animals’ habits.

We talked on a regular basis by phone, which took my parents getting used to but they soon understood it was much better for me to talk trapping all of the time instead of getting into trouble and doing stupid things such as drugs or partying. Gary took me to my first convention. I soon realized that these things and online forums were a huge part in becoming a successful trapper.

First thing that I have noticed is WHO YOU KNOW and how you go about talking to people plays a huge role in the style of trapping you do. As I stated earlier, my first mentor was Gary and he has a thing for trapping k9s, which I am obsessed with. I believe a huge part of my obsession with trapping k9s is my mentor always talked about them. I did not start out with cheaper traps because I was told, “ save for a few Cadillac’s instead of buying a lot of cheaper traps”. And I did just that.

I bought 6 mb650s inside laminated because I was told how awesome these traps are (although I now favor a different trap). Once I started being an active contributor on the forums and going to conventions I was becoming better, these people that I was talking to had already had made mistakes and they had trials and had errors that I could learn from. This accelerated my learning curve tenfold.

I then started talking to some bigger named trappers such as Mark Zagger, and I cannot thank him enough for all the information that he has given me and for taking me under his wing. The trappers that have taken me under their wing such as Gary, Mark, John Rockwood (and more) I believe are the reason for my success.

My first year I ended up catching 3 coyote, 2 fox, 21 muskrat, 4 mink, 2 fisher and a couple of other critters. My second year I improved greatly with k9s as I went from 5 to 15. This year I caught 29 k9s but I also had a few thefts of fur, one being a coyote came and took a fox from my trap. One reason for my improvement on k9s is because of these great mentors, but also another concept that they had taught me.

My first year trapping was on my land and my family’s land right next to me. The second year I trapped, I expanded a few miles and in turn I caught more k9s. This year I greatly expanded the number of miles and caught even more k9s. This brings me to another key concept.

This concept can apply to a number of things. First thing that comes to mind is when I first set a trap. First thing I think of is, “Will this set work if it rains?” It usually rains on opening day in upstate New York. When I am looking at a set location I think, “if it rains will this set still be able to produce fur?” In order to help I look for a set that is on a downhill slope… another thing I learned from mentors along with online forums. It allows for water to run off and makes so the animal exerts more force when it steps because it is stepping down. I use a lot of peat moss to help keep it dry and working.

One of my main problems, like most kids, is SCHOOL… but I have a different problem than most. Because I am in school, I either have to wake up at unbearable hours or let my animals sit through the day. I wake up early most of the time to get it done before school. Waking up at 3:30 A.M. or sometimes earlier makes for a long trapping season and it is sometimes hard to motivate yourself to keep putting in new sets and to keep fixing sets that you caught animals in.

One thing that kept me motivated was my family, whether that be my actual family or my trapping family. Another problem with having to wake up this early is that you can actually scare off a lot of critters going into your sets this early which I often experienced throughout the season.

Another item I have seen and noticed is people thinking that there is one secret set or mystery set that pro’s use to rack up k9s and they will not tell people their secret. This is completely FALSE. Many people also believe there is one position that the trap HAS to be at, such as 9 inches back and 2 inches offset. For me, and remember I am not a pro or anywhere close to it so take this lightly, my trap position depends on quite a few things.

One thing that it depends on is the type of set. I will switch up my trap position for a standard dirt hole, step down, scent post, or my new favorite set which I call the Blueball’s dirt hole because that’s my nickname on the NYSTA site and around at the conventions.

[to be continued]

 

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Mar
16

Set On Smoke

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I spent the better part of these past two afternoons out prowling around in familiar muskrat waters, eyes peeled and camera in hand.  I’m looking to do some photo work in specific situations and it’s way too nice outside not to be on the water somewhere.

Floated a section by canoe yesterday afternoon that had been pounded for rats this season by other guys first and then me. While out there I saw no fewer than twenty (20) different muskrats swimming around yesterday along with hundreds and hundreds of painted turtles out basking on any object above water. I’m afraid any traps set with floats or on logs with footholds would have been rendered useless past sunup.

Anyways, muskrats have already moved back in to an area which seemed totally devoid of a single remaining rodent just a few short weeks ago. That’s how it works with trapping pressure… a complete non-issue for muskrat populations as we’ve said in here numerous times before.

This afternoon I scoured a roadside location not far from where I grew up that actually yielded some of my very first muskrats ever… some thirty-eight years ago now. The area has changed in many ways, but one constant there is a good population of muskrats for the limited area in question. They were out en masse along the roadside, mowing down green grass like they were being paid piecework for production. Must be the fresh growth there awakened by our sudden burst of summertime has the sugar content boosted in those new shoots. Good thing I came along when I did… those frisky critters were getting way too close to passing traffic for my liking!

Shot umpteen images of muskrat habitat, signs and setups but neglected to bring my 300mm telephoto lens along for the stroll. Big mistake once more… could have gotten some really nice images of fluffy dry muskrats up on land, busy filling their faces.

**

Bank dens and hummocks are once again smoking with fresh mud in their runs as muskrats leave  wintertime housing for the seasonal shift to summer shelters. Muskrat houses of piled vegetation are in the early stages of decomposing here, with emphasis on the word “composting”. Heat inside as those shelters break down in the 70+ F degrees direct sun is becoming too warm to inhabit.

I’ll be looking to set on fresh smoke in front of bank hole locations along with any semblance of a toilet or trail for muskrats next week. No matter what, I’ll be staking out sets and running lines regardless all else. Worst-case scenario is I get lots of exercise, a little bit of sunburn and not much fur to show for it. Best case scenario is I find some pockets of rats like what surrounded me here the past two days and nights will be dedicated to skinning in motel rooms.

There are a number of catalysts pushing me out the door and on the water next week. First and foremost is pure love for the sport. I have two tickets for tonight’s mega-million lotto, jackpot is $200 million last time checked. So help me God if I won any part of that prize tonight, I’d cash in the winning ticket tomorrow and spend the next several weeks trapping spring muskrats out of state.

If MTV wanted to film me for one of their “cribs” episodes, I’d kindly show the camera crew around my newly purchased log home complete with state-of-the-art fur shed attached. Forget about Bentleys or Mercedes in my garages: walk-in coolers, walk-in freezers would be the feature attractions taking up that space.

OK… enough of the trip down fantasyland for tonight. That’s probably not going to happen (really?) and I’m probably going to settle for a trip away from home but closer to home than preferred. So be it. Let’s get after some fur!

**

We’ve got a busy agenda inside here this weekend, with a two-part article guest post along with some various items from me. I’ve got to squeeze that inside bits of two days before pulling out bright & early Monday with a steel-laden truck headed northeast for the week.

The very moment my spring fling officially ends the 2011- 2012 season, it’s time to begin preparation and plans for 2012-13 to come. Actually, I’ve already begun several loose ends in various directions that will weave their way into plans of action soon. Those who remain tuned in here will follow our progress from conception to inception and finally in action on traplines for muskrats & mink, raccoon, winter canines, late winter beaver & otter and spring muskrat seasons to come.

We’ve got much to do, much to discuss, much to profile, demonstrate and explain. But life only unfolds itself one day at a time. My primary focus for the immediate future right now is all about setting on “fresh smoke”  :)

Furever
Austin

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Mar
14

One More Time

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When the biologist told me a permit to trap muskrats would be in the mail that same day, I almost fell out of my chair in surprise.

A number of years ago, right about this same exact time of the year I drove north to the Perch River Wetlands preserve near Watertown NY seeking spring muskrat action. Little did I know it was a permit-only region, nor did I perform any research to find out otherwise. I’d been told the muskrat houses were dense enough there to walk from one to another without getting your feet wet.

That wasn’t much of an exaggeration: when I found myself standing on the dike that separates Stone Mills Pool from the Upper & Lower pools, I could easily see in excess of two hundred (200) muskrat houses and feeder huts sprawled out in all directions, far as the eyes could see. About the only thing that wasn’t visible was any hint of survey tape… with muskrat prices topping ay $2+ for the very best back then, nobody was interested in trapping them at all.

**

Fast forward to this year. I had called several times since in the fall to secure a permit (limit of 25 per fall and 25 per spring seasons) for trapping the wetland preserve. Each time I was told the permits were fully subscribed. So I almost didn’t bother calling again this year… specifically for this spring. When I did call on a whim and heard the biologist say there was room left to sign up and he’d take my info over the phone, I was pleasantly shocked.

My hope was to find a similar muskrat population today as before. The area is managed for waterfowl and in turn offers excellent furbearer habitat. So that was the basis of my intended first-week spring season trek northward, along with some other potential areas to supplement or fall back on as needed.

I arrived on location at the Perch River area Monday morning, around 9am. By then it was mostly ice-out with a few remnant areas still coated with skim. A few other trappers were present and much of the general site was already setup by local trappers. But the most glaring reality for me was a definite lack of muskrat houses and huts. Matter of fact, there was a dearth of active feed beds and cuttings, bubble trails beneath areas of skim ice, fresh mud in active runs or any other sign of highly populated muskrats.

Considering the number of active trappers there was greater than the number of visible muskrat houses from any view off any road, I continued northward towards the St Lawrence River to check on a few spots there. Ice was still covering all but the waters with direct current so I really didn’t get a close-up view of what’s going on there.

After that, I turned back south and followed the eastern shoreline of Lake Ontario and spot-checked several locations… none held enough fresh sign or quite frankly even aged muskrat sign to warrant setting up shop in serious fashion.

The first leg of my intended three-week northern quest turned out to be a bust. I ended up on the road for twelve hours, logged 350+ miles on the aging truck and never wet a single trap anywhere. So it goes.

Next week I’ll regroup, repack and reload for another trip elsewhere for muskrats and beaver in earnest. The destination will find me three-plus hours from home, and I’ll be staying there in that area for the week regardless of weather or populations. I’m either gonna catch some fur or check lots of empty traps… but by God I’ll be out there every day regardless!

More details on all that coming soon.

**

It is with great pleasure I announce the moderntrapper.com site sponsorship support from two well-known companies in our industry. Minnesota Trapline Supply and Kishel’s Scents & Lures are now valued and much appreciated supporters of our online production here. I’ll have much more to say about both of those fine companies tomorrow, too.

For now I’d like to publicly thank Rob Caven and Kevin Kishel respectively for helping us provide the content present and future to you. There is much more to come, way more than we’ve done so far… and it’s only possible thru joint efforts between us and valued site supporters alike.

That’s about all I had to share with you tonight. Quite a bit more to say over the next few days between now and Monday morning, when the truck pulls out well before sunrise to distant waters from where I sit tonight. A little or a lot doesn’t matter to me at all: so long as there is wild fur to be found and harvested, I’ll be a happy man :)

Furever
Austin

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Mar
09

Fertile Ground

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Today was spent mostly indoors, mostly sitting down, mostly in front of computer screens. Definitely not what I prefer to do at this time of the year… or any time, for that matter. My heart & mind are somewhere else, many miles from here in the water and cattails and mud along one long drive northward from here.

While late-winter winds blew and snow squalls competed for air time with the sun, I combed thru umpteen stretches of distant waters courtesy of Google Earth viewpoints. Good Lord… how did I ever get anything done before that program was invented? <lol>

Seriously though, what a priceless scouting tool it is for outdoorsmen of all puruit.

Long story short: I have two initial areas of public water lined up for the launch of my spring season operations. One is a controlled area by permit only, the other open to all. The former may have too much pressure already, the latter probably has little to none. All a matter of easy access and likewise lack thereof.

In addition to those, I also have a bunch of other “fallback” locations tentatively planned. Everything is within a three-hour drive from my house, and I have friends with vacation property in the general area to potentially run a base camp operation from. Now it’s simply a matter of nosing my canoe into the waters, see what shapes up and react accordingly from there.

This time of the year I’ll be packing a mixture of both bodygrip traps and foothold traps, for the most part everything I own that’s worthy of setting for muskrats. The usual dens and runs and feedbeds are always in vogue when setting on fresh sign. A special emphasis will be placed on “toilet” locations where piles of droppings from aged mush to glistening wet (and sometimes steaming) collect as passersby stop to mark the territory. Call it “pee-mail” if you will. Male rats are full of musk and ready to mark territory anywhere others see fit.

That’s the whole premise behind float sets, which are effective and certainly do work. But the basis of my approach will start out setting any locations already established as active scentpost areas for local area muskrats. You can be sure the transients soon to pass thru will suck right into those like black sand on magnets.

In my opinion,  float sets work great in marshy areas with lots of cattails and open water. Places where rat travel is somewhat dispersed and landing pads are limited. But when it comes to grassy bank creeks and rivers, muskrat travel is naturally directed along the shore. Traditional haul-out spots for toilets are prevalent. And the fresh ones I find are about to be guarded with all manner of foothold traps staked in deep water :)

I’ve been asked by various trappers how I intend to deal with calling it quits… when to know when the spring season period is effectively over with. There are two different aspects to that decision. The first one is easy: season legally closes on April 15th. Pretty clear-cut on that side of the ledger.

The other limiting factor is fur quality or lack thereof. I’m going to keep rolling thru this month and possibly into April unless – until I see evidence of dark kidney spots on the leather side which indicates fur is shedding and pelts are past prime.

From the perspective of potential bites and damage issue, that’s something I deal with all season. There wasn’t a month from the opener where I didn’t catch a number of “swiss-cheese” rats. Even the worst of those beaten-up specimens still fetched $8+ to $12 at auction. Now who is to say that overall muskrat prices won’t back off substantially from price paid this season one year from now? Or less. If I’m still catching rats in the late spring that are downgraded to $8 averages or so, let’s be realistic here… those are prices any muskrat trapper would think he hit the jackpot with in any other year for the past 100 or so behind us.

So how do you define “damaged” or “low grade” if late spring rats still sell for $7 to $10 and still find willing end-use takers fur products that are worn by purchasers just the same? In my case I’ll judge fur quality on the skin side alone and call it a season when I no longer like what I see. Or when April 15th rolls around. Whichever comes first :)

**

Not really much more to say than that. The planning, waiting and anticipating is almost done. Almost time to get back on the line, start setting some lines and pushing fur thru the shed once more.

I sure am looking forward to the next few weeks ahead… can almost smell that sweet perfume of musk on the dew-laden morning air. How about you?

Furever
Austin

 

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Mar
08

Somewhere In Between

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The month of March is always a time where late winter is reluctant to release its grip on early spring. I heard the other day that our local record high temp in March was 86F just a few years ago. The record low is likewise single digits tied for all-time just last year. Quite the range in mercury potential, for sure.

A day or two of 60ish F is transitioning back to 30s and 20s again… for a brief spell. Forecast is low in the 20s to high teens Saturday night. That means anyone with water sets out on Saturday will be checking iced-in sets Sunday morning. Highs in the upper 50s that afternoon, followed by a week of above-freezing temps at night should get the spring thaw rolling in earnest.

Speaking of which, I’ve been in a standby mode for the past two weeks, trying to time the start of my spring water-trapping efforts near optimum conditions. Not sure that’ll be the case, but the gear is all prepped, truck gets packed and starts racking up some highway miles real soon. Got a start date in mind, locations in sight and it’s full speed ahead at whatever full speed will be.

I expect every possible scenario. My expectations range from competition so thick and/or rat numbers so low that it won’t be worth setting in some places. I expect I may have to cover lots of water and move around. I expect my average catch per trap to be lower than usual. I expect more inclement weather mixed in for good measure.

I’m also prepared. Prepared to catch some rats. Prepared to set for beaver and/or otter where fresh sign is found. If my spring trip becomes more about beaver and otter than muskrats, I’ll gladly live with that :)

Prepared to work over a fair number of different locations in various northerly directions from home. A couple of those are too far for regular commutes, falling into the four – five days stay category. But if the fur is there, the time spent having fun will be worth it.

My spring season will last until fur quality degrades to a point where it’s not respectful of the animal to continue. Seasons officially close April 7th for beaver & otter, April 15th for muskrats and mink. I expect to be shut down before then, but I’m prepared to work right into the closing bell if fur quality permits.

The idea that breeding season has begun and females may be bred has nil impact on populations. The exact same individual female rats or beaver taken in late October, November, December, January or February would have been equally removed from the gene pool then or now. Right or right?

One thing about rodents and big-water networks: no man or men can impact populations thru modern-day trapping pressure alone. Matter of fact, some of the most heavily-trapped areas are those with healthiest, burgeoning populations next season. I know that runs against common logic and reasoning, which is the emotional slant most people operate from. Fact is that spring trapping does no more harm to overall populations present or future than any other time of the year. If water tables are normal to high this spring thru fall with no real floods or droughts, animal populations will be there next year regardless of human interventions  :)

Other than that, this is a time of waiting in between. Too early for overhauling gear ahead of next season. The annual trapper’s conventions season is a few months away. Hunting seasons have ended and fishing seasons have not fired up in force just yet. Probably the quietest time of each year for me, right now. Good news is, time leaps forward on the clocks this weekend. I’ll be glad to have that extra hour of daylight to work with. You can be very sure I’ll put every possible hour to good use. The game (re)starts one more time this year!

Furever
Austin 

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Mar
04

Junk In The Trunk

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The choice between buying new or used traps is highly dependent on prices, condition of used equipment or a tradeoff from both. In the past I’ve done plenty of each, and expect to do even more in the future.

Last several weeks I did some used traps shuffling, with those I have little use for going out and others that I’ll use quite a bit coming in. You could say I swapped out some styles of traps for others with little net change in dollars spent. Most of the used traps I did buy are old #2 square-jaw coilsprings of various makes and vintage.

They tend to have weaker springs from the ravages of time than new models coils would if purchased off the shelf. For my use on the muskrat lines, that is ideal. I prefer a softer springed trap that is easy to set by hand in awkward positions. Also, the extra target zone these rather wide-jawed traps have is great for secured catches on muskrats and mink.

The conversations about which make – model – size traps are best for what use are endless without resolve. “Best trap” is all about personal opinion and nothing based on fact. To each their own. I can see great advantages and likewise disadvantages in most every brand and model trap out there. So can everyone else. Suffice it to say for this limited discussion here, I like #2 coilspring traps for muskrats and mink.

All that said, I fully expect used traps bought at what I deem fair prices to come with some warts. Whether that be bent parts, rusted chains, pan-trigger tune ups needed or all the above, I factor that into my consideration of purchase. Do I have the expected parts for potential repairs on hand? Or would the purchase plus cost of repairs not make sense as opposed to simply buying brand new (comparable use) traps out of the box?

This batch of used traps came pretty much as expected. Solid frames and jaws, for the most part just fine. However, a few of the chains were rusted beyond use.  I’ve had enough chain failures in the past to be a real stickler about this when examining each trap, all season long. If the chain looks anything other than rock solid, it gets replaced.

Twisted chain tends to go bad much faster than machine link style. It holds dirt, debris and moisture in the folds. Even when the actual links themselves appear solid and firm, the twisted folds will often have weak spots hidden from easy view unless you look closely at each & every juncture. Tedious work best done in daylight, but necessary work regardless.

Even though these particular traps are strictly for mink & muskrats and will never be intentionally set for bigger targets, I still want solid chains on all. So I decided to replace the chains on roughly half the traps after close inspection. The good news is, I already had lots of spare chain on hand.

A local playground nearby was clearing out some old swing sets to be replaced with new. In a jumbled tangle ready to be sold for scrap was a couple hundred feet of mostly #2.0 twist with some short sections of other sizes. I quickly secured permission to scavenge every inch of that chain, and have outfitted several dozen traps with fresh links ever since.

These traps get five double-links from the base swivel and then a single stake swivel on the end. A length of 14-gauge or 16-gauge wire from there to secure on a wooden stake completes the fastening sequence. I don’t have time to treat these traps with speed dip (my preferred water trap coating) or anything else before they get commissioned to muskrat work next week. So that’ll wait until the dry heat of summer arrives in July, when I go thru all of my steel for the preseason treatment process.

For now they’ll guard various natural landing spots where cruising muskrats are likely to trip those big rectangular pans. I’ll pack some flats with me too just in case, but I have an idea that the water I’m about to set up already has a flotilla of wooden bobbers with traps set well ahead of my arrival. That means working around expected competition in other set locations and/or areas still available.

Later on this summer I’ll fortify my arsenal with a moderate pile of new steel. But whenever I see the chance to buy the right used traps in the right condition for the right overall price, no hesitation on going that direction as well. Still have plenty of excess chain and other spare parts waiting to be deployed on tired iron to come. One thing we definitely don’t want is any junk in the trunk :)

Furever
Austin

 

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Mar
01

Gaining New Ground

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As a trapper, one of our most important needs besides equipment is the properties or locations to trap. Without private land we would be restricted to state land only; sometimes it is not the best option. Asking for permission to trap can be a tedious task and at times discouraging. I have found a few things that seem to work for me when I get my permissions ready for the upcoming season or as I see new locations throughout the season.

One of the most important things when asking for permission is your appearance. When I approach a landowner I think of it as a job interview. You don’t have to dress up by any means, but you must look presentable. This means put on a fresh pair of jeans and a clean shirt. First impressions are everything and after all it is a start of a partnership between you and the landowner. Depending on the part of the country you are from some landowners may or maynot be accepting of a “trappers” wardrobe, it is best to use you judgement for each or always play it safe.

So you are all dressed up for your “interview” what’s next? Another important thing you need to take into account is the timing of when to ask. Asking permission in the late spring or early summer seems to be the best timing. This is the time of year when all of the furbearers are the most active due to reproduction and, taking full advantage of abundant food sources. What this means is that the animals are noticed more by that landowner and more likely than not causing some sort of inconvenience. In the fall and winter (during the season) trapping is on our mind but not the landowners, the popular saying seems to make sense “out of sight, out of mind”. I personally like to be preparing way ahead of the season so I can scout and plan for my sets anyway. Asking early has always been common practice for me.

Now comes the hardest part of getting permission, posing the question to the landowner. It’s the right time of year and you are dressed to impress its time to ask. Being fully prepared is the best way to get this done and done right. The way you word it is not the important part, I find that a simple question like: May I trap your property? Can be all it takes for a yes answer and you officially have a new trapping location. You must also prepare yourself for the other side of that, the just plain no. If you do get the no answer make sure to be polite and thank the land owner for there time but still offer your phone number if they change there mind. This sometimes will lead to a call a little later in the year, especially if you make a good impression. I always try to be prepared with a simple business card with all of your contact information, along with “Fur Trapper” somewhere on the card so your intentions can be remembered. When it comes to asking for permission it usually isn’t an easy yes and a plain no, you must also prepare yourself for the tough questions that may be the difference of you getting sent down the road packing or getting to set steal in the ground during the season. Most of these questions are asked by people that couldn’t really care either way but if it makes sense they will answer in your favor. The land owner may ask something like: “tell me more about trapping? What kind of equipment do you use? What are you trapping? How can the animal affect me? Will your traps affect me?” You can answer most any one of the questions that may come up by understanding two things, you must know the target animal or animals, and know your equipment and methods. This is why you need to think about what you are going to be asked and think ahead to the possible answers, if you are prepared for the tough questions you won’t be surprised when they come up. Confidence shows competence and that is what most land owners are generally looking for during the first impression.

Getting permission is not always easy but once you have it you want to keep it. Be sure to respect the landowner’s wishes and property. Remember word travels quickly, if you are well received and do your job you will get permission to more locations just by recommendation. I always try to keep my relationship active with the land owner year round not just when I need them. By staying active our partnership will stay intact for the trapping season and, many more seasons to come.

Happy Trapping :)

Danielle

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