Archive for May, 2012


When In Drought

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My day began at 4am with a most obnoxious sound coming from my cell phone which lay just out of fingertips’ reach. Oh yeah… I forgot… that was my wake-up alarm to catch a plane.

Flew from Rochester NY to O’Hare in Chicago on a small plane. Flew from Chicago to Fargo ND on an even smaller plane. If there had been a third hop in this trip today, the next plane may very well have been a hang glider.

Stopped at Gander Mt in Fargo for a topo map atlas for this state. I had my pick of MI, WI, MN, SD, WY and even Alaska for map book choices. But nothing for ND. Go figure. Fortunately, couple blocks away I found a Scheels store that had one (1) map book remaining. It soon joined me for the ride as the guide :)

So far blew thru a full tank of gas covering a few hundred miles of highways and back roads seeing the sights. Everything here is pretty much what I expected, and more. And less.

Obviously, there are muskrats. Most places where those muskrats are (and were) would be ridiculously easy trapping… an absolute fantasy come true for setting runs with colony cages, bodygrip traps or both. No surprises, nothing unexpected other than the fact that this would probably rank right up there with the easiest muskrat-trapping marshes I’ve had the pleasure to stomp mud thru. So there’s that.

The other side of that? Water is becoming scarce, and it’s early. I can see where permanent bodies of water remain permanent. But the marginal waters, that stuff of two-foot depths or less that needed a normal winter’s snowpack and/or consistent spring rains to remain. But there was too little snow or rain, from what I can see. A lot of very good muskrat habitat that appears to have teemed with critters last season and before is now bone dry.

This pic shows a muskrat playing possum while I drove by and then locked the brakes after spotting a bunch of fresh sign roadside. I snapped one quick pic and almost had a second as he swam towards me and dove to finish his escape to the bank den sub-surface.

The series of pictures that follow show the rest of his story, one I saw repeated about a dozen times in various places this afternoon…

It’s apparent that several muskrats are living in this isolated short stretch of roadside ditch that’s dry on both ends with nowhere for them to go. If the water levels keep dropping as all probability into the summer, it’s only a matter of time before they are converted to coyote calories once the water runs dry. Apparently there’s no shortage of coyotes in ND, I passed no fewer than a dozen historical road kills in my travels. That, and about a dozen coon were the extent off road pizza visible today. For sure New York has a far greater array of road-kill samples to witness at any given time.

So day one of my five day handshake here is complete. I had a wonderful time driving around and looking around. Saw some songbirds I cannot identify… yellowish orange head a black bodies near water, almost think it’s a cousin to redwing blackbirds. Saw literally thousands and thousands of broody ducks, all species and sizes imaginable. It’d be a waterfowl photographer’s fantasy time right now for capturing images of ducklings.

I’m going to meet and spend some time with a local trapper here tomorrow, looking forward to that. Many more miles to go, a lot more to see and do. I’ve drawn no conclusions yet… way too early for that. I do see things of great interest and concern in roughly equal measures. Overall, it’s great to be alive, well and enjoying the sights and sounds in a remarkably wonderful part of this world :)


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Off “Vacation”

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I find myself starting each day in the same general fashion: sit down in my office, have a cup (or three) of coffee and watch summertime life unfold straight out the windows in my backyard pond.

No fewer than four family groups of resident geese along with twenty-some juveniles from last year are loafing on the grounds. Various mallard drakes and wood duck drakes grace our presence at dawn each morning. A kaleidoscope of songbird colors is spread across our acreage everywhere.

But most enjoyable of all is our family of resident muskrats. Every morning, every evening and sometimes midday in between they can be seen cutting their distinctive slow-v across the surface once they emerge from denning and before they submerge to the distant destination.

If I sat here every day for a thousand years watching nature’s show unfold in front of me, I’d never tire of that for one single moment, at all.


The bulk of this month in May was spent chasing turkeys in two states with a little bit better than mixed success. Two of my three tags were filled, one left to go with no free time left remaining to hunt within. Soon it’s off to a short week of sight-seeing and early strategizing in North Dakota for next trapping season’s work in earnest.

I have a written list of preseason tasks to complete, and it’s solid but manageable. Depending on what I see with my own two eyes in the scouting trip to ND next week determines my approach on what to gear up with. If that includes colony style traps, I’m prepared to buy half the number needed as 7″x7″x24″ commercial folding style. The other half I’ll make from 1×2 inch mesh with dimensions of 6″x8″x36″ to cover the wide areas runs.

Still need a big batch of footholds for spring floats and toilets work, but that can wait until late summer of fall. Need to build those floats, which is an outdoors summertime project. Leave all that pine sawdust from the kerf downwind and in the grass rather than messing up my indoor shop.

Been cutting sumac stakes, got a couple hundred put up, time to cut a couple hundred more before they all get leafed out. Not that it stops the process any, just easier to handle without leaves. Those will be used for footholds muskrat sets here in NY.

Need to decide on exactly which staking system I’m using for bodygrips… either 1/2″ x 1.5″ slats or furring strips. The #150s and #160s will get 4′ lengths while #210s get 6′ length wooden stakes. Flat wood is lighter and more compact than fiberglass fence posts which are great for footholds but less than ideal for bodygrips.

Along with speed-dip treating and tuning several hundred new traps of all styles, gotta set up some new #2 coils for winter canine work. The bulk of this season ahead will be muskrats from fall thru winter ands spring, but I do intend to enjoy some wintertime fox lines in late Dec thru January when reds are perfectly prime. I won’t go out of my way to target coon specifically this year, but will set for them where their paths cross mine.

The canine lines will stretch across a mix of private and public lands. No need to do much scouting or prep work there… same zones I’ve worked for the past two decades and counting. Just a matter of laying out the steel when the time for that arrives.

Also looking forward to some spring beaver work, which may possibly include a trip to North Carolina in Feb and then up north here in NY when ice-out occurs. There are a lot of beaver in the north country, and plenty will remain by next spring in the spots most guys aren’t willing to hit. Had I targeted beaver instead of muskrats up north in March, it would have been a daily canoe-swamping event.


It’s almost summertime convention season, too. I plan on making the PA and NY state shows, and definitely the long road trip out to MN in August for the NTA convention. Also in the mix is a summer rondy in early July on the opposite side of NY from me, where I’m invited to give a demo on muskrat trapping. I’ve already outlined the framework for that presentation, and we’ll do our best to pack a bunch of key info inside the one-hour block of time allotted.

The main reasons for my attending whatever conventions possible is to fellowship with other trappers, stock up on supplies and gear found nowhere else, and take a big pile of photos for some pictoral articles here. Truth is, most active trappers out there cannot make many shows and I’d opine most newer trappers don’t attend any conventions at all. So we’ll do what we can to bring a glimpse of that experience to the web via pics and video clips in hopes of sharing the experience with everyone.

Speaking of pics and video clips, I’m also in the very first stages of producing an in-depth, detail-oriented instructional dvd on muskrat trapping. Still laying out the framework for that and completing the bulk of filming and recording next month, with a target date of early July on production and release.

What I have in mind this time around will be somewhat different than anything on the market right now, and I think it will be well received. Of course if I didn’t think that, why go thru all the time, effort and up-front expense involved to begin with? I guess we’ll let public perception and feedback on the finished product decide all that for itself :)


Hi Austin,

I likewise enjoy this site and your writing. I too am wondering if there is an email alert list or something of that nature we can sign up on? Also, is there a forum on this website? I was active [elsewhere] but I am off that site. I am looking for a web forum that attracts “modern trappers,” not people who have not advanced their thinking past the late 1800s.

If trapping is going to survive in the future, trappers have to adapt to the culture we live in, at least, as far as is necessary to insure we don’t get voted out of existence. There are a lot of smart, savy trappers who recognize the need to avoid giving the Anti’s more ammunition, and I want to have conversations with them. [withheld]

This is a general question I get all the time. Readers wonder if there are plans for some kind of message board forum attached to our website. The answer to that is “no” for a number of reasons. First, there are probably too many trapper forums in existence already. With the widespread use of Facebook, new “group” pages pop up every other day for trapper chat of some sort or other. The number of new active trappers is by no means keeping pace with the number of new FB group pages vying for chit-chat attention.

Secondly, the amount of time and energy needed to moderate any public message board is more than I care to dedicate. Right now I need a couple extra hours each day just to get my current workload done. There is no time left to babysit a mixed group of people making sure everyone minds their manners properly :)

That said, you can expect a fresh season of posts and articles here covering the off-season aspects of trapping, along with some Q&A pieces that profile well-known, lesser known and even relatively unknown people in the outdoors world. Stay tuned!



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