Time has mercifully wound itself down to merely 68 days remaining until the start of our new trapping season here in New York. Funny how it seems like only a million years ago since I pulled the last stakes and shipped the end of a season’s catch off to sale.
My how time crawls when we’re waiting impatiently to have fun! <lol>
My own personal gameplan for this season ahead has taken firm shape. I had hoped to begin my year out in North Dakota chasing after thick populations of muskrats along with various other incidental furs. But the historical drought event this country has suffered since spring greatly reduced shallow waters habitat and muskrat numbers overall. For sure there are still plenty of animals to be caught out there, but the difference between that and staying here to work the NY areas is not great enough to merit extra time, travel, effort and expense to operate so far from home.
That trip will have to wait until April 2013 when spring season arrives. So I turned attention to trapping various public and private water flows in the northern zone of NY, where water season opens Thursday October 25th to start. It also runs thru April 15th, 2013 if a spring trip for muskrats and/or beaver merits that effort there.
It will still be out-of-area trapping because the nearest point of water from my front porch is a solid three hour’s drive and the furthest distance planned is just shy of four hours away. I do have arrangements with a close friend to store gear on his property and run freezers for holding catches and fur. The plan is to skin very little while on the road, spending max time tending lines from daylight to dark and maybe a bit beyond either end of those extremes.
That early season game will be a juggling act between home and away for roughly a month until our southern zone water season comes in, or until I run out of acceptable density muskrat locations up north. Whichever comes first.
I’ve made a couple of road trips north to scout the general region and familiarize myself with some new locations. Even talked Holly into joining me for one of those scouting trips under the premise of it being a two-day getaway trip. Actually, it was her trip planned, she asked me where I’d like to go and it just so happened to be along the St Lawrence seaway area. Imagine that? <grin>
My hit list of places to go has now been narrowed to fifteen with ranking of preference from top to bottom based on various factors combined. When scouting muskrats at this time of the year, overall populations are deceiving. Vegetation is thick, cover is dense and you just don’t see a whole lot of feeding activity visible. It is more about looking for ideal water conditions and habitat than it is counting actual muskrat numbers.
Once summer turns to fall and temperatures cool off, emergent vegetation goes away and the entire scene changes. Then you can see channels, runs, bank dens and later on actual muskrat house construction. For now it’s all about general exploration and familiarity of the areas. Soon it will become missions of precision scouting for details. Next month begins those efforts in earnest.
Other than that, just idling time away with necessary prep work. Dipping traps to treat, looking to purchase the final round of traps and gear for this fall – winter effort when the New York State Trappers Assoc convention arrives at the end of this month. That still leaves plenty of time to prepare any new and used traps for line use and wrap up all loose ends for misc missing gear. Need to be sure I have more than enough traps in case of harsh theft or extreme high water conditions that can reduce equipment without warning.
So here we are, checking each past day off the calendar until such time comes that opening day arrives. Meanwhile, taking all the necessary steps involved to prepare ourselves best we can while enjoying what still remains of summer & early fall in the process :)
It’s been said before that she’s not a trapper. Which is not actually true. Holly tagged along on traplines prior to our time together, and she’s joined me on various lines thru the years since.
The period in time of that photo sequence was way back in 2003 – 2004 when Dustin & Dylan were still kids instead of the nearly-grown men that they are today. Not only did everyone pitch in with the setting & checking details, Holly insisted on handling all skinning chores that given day. I think our total catch was 40ish muskrats, a mink and a beaver.
Considering she’d never skinned a mink or beaver before, I opted to take those on myself. But all of the muskrats we piled up were skinned family style… with Holly handling the bulk of those by far. Dustin skinned a few and if I recall correctly Dylan skinned maybe half a muskrat before he whined about it and mommy took over the task from her baby.
No doubt Dylan kept busy screwing around and hamming it up for the camera, as usual back then. These days he is adept for either end of the camera… my go-to photographer when needed and also keeps himself quite busy on the modeling end while sporting various big bass in hand angled during local tournaments on his boat.
Those learning curves for the present family are some of my all-time fondest memories afield. I guess life is little more than a collection of experiences, learning curves and memories when its all boiled down.
After having written and self-published several how-to books on trapping in years past, I figured there would be some similar lessons involved with DVD production as well. And I was right… very much so, in fact.
The process seems easy enough. Record the material, produce said recordings into usable video format and farm out the printing – copy process to those with experience in the field. How simple is that? Well, that all depends. I’m experienced with creating and editing video productions to enough degree that creating a finished product to my specs is simple. But for my first DVD production I turned over the printing = copy process to a local company that advertises for just such services. Well, what I expected as a finished product on the first 100 units and what I received in my hands two weeks later than promised were rather different degrees of quality.
So with that said, I quickly found a professional-level production company out of California who specialize in printing and copying DVD products on a commercial basis. Another glitch arose when I discovered my choice of formatting from raw video footage to viewable production was not the preferred format. That meant reformatting the raw recording data to a different finished format style.
Long story short, the first DVD production of what I expect to be more was quite the learning curve for me in many ways. Despite considerable planning and research on the production side, what seemed to be so simple has been anything but. Good news is, a high-quality finished product is due be shipped this week ahead… the very same day I receive the new shipment they go right back out in the mail to awaiting trappers who are ready to insert and push “play”
This instructional DVD is not the usual trapline-setting collage of clips and scattered bits of info. That type of thing has its place and I intend to produce a lot of that this season and others to come. But the product we have available now is a heavy dose of technical, nuts & bolts info on what muskrats do, how to set for them via where = when = why and how to streamline trap-stake setups for maximum time efficiency afield in all water type conditions. And much more :)
Holly, myself and my cameras are heading to the north country along St Lawrence seaway next week for a couple days of summertime R&R. She works a lot, and decided it’s time to play. Part of that trip includes half a day in kayaks paddling thru some traditional muskrat waters. We’ll see if there’s anything filmworthy to share with readers here upon my return.
Other than that, just counting down the weeks and days until it’s time to string steel again. Thursday, October 25th is d-day here in NY. 82 days and less with every tick of time off the clock. Not to rush life away for anyone, but I’m ready for the arrival of fall and the morning to come when the canoe is loaded and cutting a v thru the morning mist at 7am eastern time to start.
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Well, maybe the word “soon” is relative. I’m not wishing time to pass too quickly because that’s my life flying by in the process. Everything will unfold in its own good time. Right now is a somewhat quiet time before the real preparations begin for a long, long trapping season ahead.
New York starting dates for the 2012 – 2013 season are set for both halves of this state. Thursday, October 25th opens land trapping here in the southern zone and everything up in the northern zone with a close of April 15th in water. Sunday, November 25th kicks off water trapping season here in the southern zone where I reside, closing date the usual Feb 15th 2013.
At this time my general plan is to work some water stretches in the northern zone for muskrats from late October thru Nov 25th. That will depend on what I find thru some late-fall scouting trips in various locations. If I cannot find enough sign to merit the effort away from home in that direction, I’ll either land trap here or look to deploy elsewhere.
November 25th begins the bulk of muskrat trapping here at home. Depending on area-wide populations and access secured, I might have enough muskrat water to work with all season long here. Then again, I might not. We can also expect a more normal winter season this time around with plenty of ice and snow. Could even see that right on the November opener… which has happened plenty of time before. No guarantee of open water and easy trapping when our water season rolls around in this neck of the woods.
In the middle of winter when freeze-up settles in and snow covers the land, I’ll be ready to run some winter fox lines that break the monotony of muskrats – muskrats – muskrats thru a six month stretch. Considering the first rats traps will get wet in late October 2012 and the last ones pulled sometime in April 2013, that’s half a year of working the water wherever I find myself in between.
So all of my plans have contingency backup plans as well. If the fall season here in NY turns up nil muskrats north and not enough coon to keep me happy here at home, I’ll be prepared to head elsewhere for early season muskrats instead. I expect to run an extensive spring 2013 line for rats out in the midwest to wrap the season on that end. Should that plan somehow fall thru, I’ll spend time up in the northern zone NY for water trapping until the April 15th close.
There might be a stretch where I either run out of fresh areas for muskrats and/or run into weather harsh enough to stall things out in the mid-winter stretch as well. With that in mind, I’m looking for a contingency plan there as well.
All my life I have heard about, read about and wondered about trapping the eastern shore tidal marshes for muskrats. Way back when I was still a kid, stories on that in “The Trapper” and “American Trapper” magazines fascinated me. Something about the idea of endless acres of mixed marshland habitat along with the extreme challenge of fluctuating water levels and a dollop of winter weather mixed in seems like a complex challenge for water trapping.
After an extensive amount of internet and telephone research, it looks like a trip or two on the public marshes of New Jersey will fit right in. Turns out there is a lot of public access water there, it’s roughly a seven-hour drive from my door and seasons run from Jan 1st thru March 15th. Our season here in my part of NY closes Feb 15th and the usual spring season out west usually starts sometime in April. I looked for a place to fill that void in between, and found one that seems to fit perfectly :)
A lot of emails have asked about my plans = progress towards an instructional DVD on muskrat trapping. Well, that project is finally complete. I’ll save that discussion for another conversation post in here later today, but for all those who have asked, we will do our dead-level best to help push your muskrat (and mink) production a little bit better this season ahead.
Also, the next stage of production here is a YouTube videos channel. I expect to post a lot of frequent, brief but helpful segments about all aspects of traps and trapping. Look for that to go online soon.
Mid-summer is here. Trapping conventions season is upon us. Weather conditions are ideal for treating traps and gear. Fall will arrive sooner than we think. Time to get busy getting ready for a long, loooong traplines adventure ahead :)
A few readers asked about my backyard wetlands sanctuary, and I happened to be on the far end of property this evening while spying on the local muskrats. So for all those who wondered, here is a rat’s-eye view of what they see from a waterline perspective :)
I have a bunch of emails from trappers asking what my
expectations guesses are for next season’s fur prices to come. The simple reply is, no one knows for sure.
There is no possible way to predict or assure anyone of anything. I learned that much in the summer of 1987, coming off record high fur prices and heading into the fall season ahead. I had a very profitable season of 1986 – 1987 and prepared for the mother of all longlines ahead. Bought a new 4×4 Chevy fresh off the factory line. Bought twenty dozen BMI #220s and twenty dozen #1.5 Montgomery coils. Bought a bunch of other stuff, too. Lots of it. I was well prepared to be cookin’ with peanut oil soon as season came in.
But the stock market crash in October 1987, mere days ahead of the trapping season opener took fur prices up in flames with it. So I have firsthand experience and a lifelong lasting memory of how quickly things can change in the wild furs world.
Meanwhile, final Canadian auction house sales went well overall at the FHA last month and NAFA sale this week. Fox and coyotes sold very well, mink and muskrats very well, everything else did fine. I’m sure some trappers were disappointed because some items brought less now than various sales last winter. It is core human nature to expect trees that grow to the sky, to expect prices to keep advancing with no end or even pullback in sight. But that’s not how it works in the world of commodities, of which wild furs definitely are.
Having sold red fox in the past for $100+ averages and then a decade later sold even better fox for a $18 average, repeating that process with $40 coon to $5 coon, $9 rats to $2 rats on average, I’m here to tell you that current fur prices are good. Real good. At the very least, they definitely don’t suck.
Anyone who expected $20 rats and $100 beaver and $200 otter next year simply because has not yet learned how this game works. Likewise, anyone who hung onto their furs just because the summer sale has to be higher prices than the winter sales has not yet learned how this game works. Nobody rings a bell at the price highs. No one knows where price levels will be in a month… not even the fur buyers.
This is definitely a game of speculation, all the way from every level of participation.
So I don’t have any better guess or feel or insight on what next year might bring as anyone else on earth does at this time. I know that prices paid in the country got a little bit frothy at the highs for premium goods, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see somewhat lower prices overall before anyone sees new recent highs again.
Truth is we can do real well with $35 red fox and $8 muskrats and $20 male mink and $18 western coon. Of course I’d prefer double or even triple all that when it comes time for us to sell.But the reality is, fur prices are going to fluctuate from one season to the next and quite often one part of each season to other. That’s the game. Don’t be disgruntled by oscillating prices that may not hold up to higher-highs all the time. Don’t be discouraged if you ain’t getting rich this time around.
Truth is, fur trapping is not the easiest, high-paying work to be found. For those of us who are addicted to the core, we will be out there until our bodies simply won’t hold up no more.. even if fur prices fail to hold up long before then :)
Today was cool, dark and rainy… perfect weather if you’re a muskrat. The backyard pond family spent all day swimming laps from every point of the compass out and then back to their island condos complex. Matter of fact, I’m still watching them swim about while I sit here visiting with you :)
For the first time this season I saw juvenile muskrats out & about. They are kit sized already, half-grown and not too far from having their own litters soon. I did see a muskrat breeding episode one morning a couple of weeks ago, which should result in a new family group being born real soon.
My pond banks are somewhat riddled with tunnels and the island is a mess in some places. No matter… when I had this backyard pond dug in sight of my office, it was for the sole purpose of watching wildlife go about the natural process of progression. So far, so goood on that.
Now that I’m home and settled in from the scouting trip to North Dakota, it’s time to firm up some season plans. I saw enough area and locations out there to keep me way too busy if only 10% of the landowners grant permission. If by chance every one turned me down and said “no”, then Plan B would be public waters and go from there.
Not to hold all eggs in one basket… I’m also laying out potential land lines for fox and coon here at home should plans for fall season muskrats on the road fall thru. That would disappoint me, and I would dabble some with muskrats up north instead if there were enough rats to make it worth the while. Otherwise, plenty of fox and coyotes are right here with a side order of raccoons as the sure-thing to depend on.
I can cover enough state land in three counties here to keep my busy with fox, and know plenty of large landowners who’d welcome another canine trapper with wide-open gates if I went around and asked. With the price of fox and coyotes holding where they are, that ain’t such a bad contingency plan at all!
But Plan A remains fixated focus on muskrats thru fall, winter and spring. So my active plans for now revolve around that. I’ll be making a pretty big bulk purchase of various models’ new steel, soon. Also have a pile of colony traps to cut and bend, too. Every piece of existing gear is 100% ready to be dipped, sun-dried and staked on location when seasons open. That will take days to complete before every trap old and new is finally packed for deployment afield.
The colony cages I’m making will consist of 8x7x36″ models and 7x6x36″ models that will slip inside the others for sake of saving space. These cages will deploy along roadside locations where size and bulk don’t matter for transport. I’m going to purchase premade folding models that are 7x7x24″ for locations away from any roads. The time it would take to make folding model traps is not worth the dollar savings between construction materials versus wholesale price when total time is factored in.
Other than that, steady as she goes. Something less than 150 days left until the first season opener ahead. No need to begin an exact countdown yet… let’s not rush thru summer in particular or life in general too fast. I’ve racked up enough birthdays to know that each one comes a little bit faster than the previous. In my decades past I would look right thru the present and live for the future in my mind. Now that I’m decades further into this adventure we call “life”, I’m much more appreciative for each day given as our gift or “present”.
So for now I’m enjoying each summer day in relaxed fashion, while taking time to do a few things every day towards the task of next season ahead. No need to hurry, but no sense in idling time away. Just living life each day at a time, enjoying myself while out & about :)
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 :)
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 :)
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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As fate would have it, we’re now getting the weather patterns in late April that would have been picture-perfect ideal back in mid-March. A continual push of cold fronts and rain systems coming thru for the past three weeks have kept muskrat activity above normal on my backyard pond. Where was this when we needed it during spring trapping season in March? How about upper 80s F now and upper 30s F then?
Yes, I do rear muskrats on purpose… or at least I provide conditions suitable for their inhabitation. The pond I dug in what was the soggy lowlands of our backyard borders a small spring-flow stream that never freezes. Ever. I don’t care if the air temps are -20s F for a week straight and everything else has turned to ice.
That little creek (Dynamite ditch) which bubbles out of the ground in numerous spring seeps to form a constant flow simply does not ice over. Needless to say it has muskrats, with some of that sprawling population made their way up the pond’s overflow to ideal habitat since last spring.
Back then we had what appeared to be a couple of muskrats just trying to get established in the somewhat dense rows of cattails and emergent water weeds. Now it’s obvious there is a full-fledged muskrat population populating our pond.
And I couldn’t be happier.
Watching them feed, groom, swim and submerge never gets old to me. I commonly pause in the midst of whatever I’m doing to watch what they’re doing now. Considering the pond view is right outside my office windows in living color, I truly have the best seat in this house :)
One thing I’ve noticed about muskrats… they waste little time. If they aren’t actively feeding, they are traveling from shelter to food and back. If on the shore grooming, they spend no more time than what it takes to keep their fur coats oiled and shining. Then it’s right back to completing the busy tasks at hand. So to speak.
It’s amazing how large a house muskrats can erect out of nearby vegetation. One day there is nothing but water, weeds and mud. Seemingly overnight, lodges the size of a double-bull blind pop up. How in the world does one little rodent who barely weighs three pounds on average make that happen?
One cattail stalk at a time.
Muskrats don’t need superior force or exceptional gifts to make something significant happen. nor do they need any outside leadership or role models to complete their individual tasks. Muskrats simply work together in common fashion to accomplish impressive feats in rapid order.
I have to admit I’ve found myself squandering time in wasted little chunks lately that, when all added up, gets me no nearer progress of completion to any projects worthwhile than if I did nothing at all. It’s easy to sit around, fritter away time on the internet with others and wind up with many hours invested and no payoff at all in exchange. In plainspeak, it’s nigh time I stopped wasting time with worthless tasks.
For the moment I’m finished with working over traps & equipment on hand. Everything I currently own is reading to be treated and fine-tuned once the hot, dry weather arrives for keeps. All of my water traps will be dipped with several layers of brown tinted speed dip and left to dry real hard in the summer heat. Once dipped, the dog-trigger settings will be checked on every single trap to make sure it fires perfectly upon setting.
There is a lot more gear to arrive, which will be handled and treated accordingly. Once the pending trip to North Dakota this time next month is complete, I’ll have a firm idea of what my approach will be there. Ideally it will be two trips for muskrats… one this fall and a second outing for the spring of 2013. That means construction of a couple hundred floats and enough foothold traps to deploy. All the wood needed for that project is either on hand or easy enough to secure for next to nothing. Same with foam board strips on bottom for flotation aid. Simply a matter of running the table saw, hammer and nails.
If the water conditions favor setting a bunch of colony type cage traps as my core approach, I need to build at least 100 of those and probably 200 while I’m at it. At first I pondered buying or making folding cage types to conserve space in transit. That’s still an option for some of my cages if I use them, but I do want bigger ones than what’s available commercially.
Homemade colony traps run between $3.50 and $4+ each depending on size and construction. I’d like at least half of my stock to be 7″ wide minimum and some at 8″ would be nice, too. In order to cover the wide, deep runs they need be wider than usual 5″ – 6″ inch models. Height can be shorter than width… nothing wrong with building 5″x7″ or 6″x8″ colony traps for muskrats. The only benefit to height is keeping inside rats towards the top instead of clogging doors shut. But there are other tactics of construction to help prevent that as well.
Should water conditions steer me towards colony traps first with footholds and/or bodygrip traps to fill in spaces between, I need to get busy bending wire fencing. Fifty 5x7x24 and fifty 6x8x36 cages would be minimal deployment and possibly double that kept in rotation on the line. That’s a full summer of part-time efforts pieced together from an otherwise busy schedule.
Other than that, tentative fall muskrat lines here in NY and also winter canine lines are plotted on maps already. Just a matter of scouting them out late fall for exact specifics, but other than that we’re good to go here in-state. So I feel pretty good about where I’m at in preparations for this season ahead, but there is still much to do. Too much, unless I make it happen one bite-sized chunk of time at a time :)
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The alarm clock rang at 4:00am just as we instructed it to. No matter… it was late or I was early, having already been up and showered with hot coffee in hand and boots pulled on by the time that noisy little clock tolled for thee.
My breath hung heavy and suspended thru the frigid air, which measured 22F in the wee hours of that starlit morning ahead of the spring turkey season opener in Pennsylvania this year. I was here with a plan, on a mission and determined to right some wrongs from the prior season past.
Pennsylvania, late April 2011: opening day of spring turkey season found me on a high hillside in northern Tioga county. Warm, clear, sunny weather with active gobbling that echoed across the hills and valleys. I was setup near the crest of that steep hill which overlooked a grassy pasture section roughly two hundred yards in length from west to east and one hundred yards wide from north to south. The field in view is not quite flat… it crowns a bit towards the top (north) which leaves a blind spot in the depression where upper edge meets a wood line.
Above me to the north there is a mixed stand of hardwoods to create said wood line. To my left (west) there are a series of pasture grass and tilled fields. Below me (south) is an overgrown woodlot which was once someone’s extensive apple orchard, now in the middle stages of overgrowth with multiflora rose in the lower canopy and various species ash trees reaching for sunlight above.
On the eastern edge to my right, a thin woodlot connecting the hardwoods ridge and apple orchard below is right where birds tend to roost and stage soon as they fly down. This day was no different: predawn vocals had birds calling from all around, and I watched them gather some eighty yards in front of me before they strung out and walked off in the wrong direction for me to get things done.
It was barely past 6am when the entire flock of turkeys flew into the grassy field’s southeast corner as I expected they would. Seven hens and two mature toms quickly gathered and began making their way in my direction, before veering off course and slipping single file into the ancient apple orchard below me, never to be seen again.
I spent the next hour of daylight softly calling, listening and scrutinizing every stick and twig while waiting for a red & white head to appear. Alas, it was a futile wait as I never did see those birds again. The remainder of that day turned up absolutely zero further sign of them. I stalked around the open field edges across that entire hillside until noon came and season for that particular day, went.
Pennsylvania, late April 2012: opening day of spring turkey season in the exact-same location… one year later to the very day. That lesson learned about setup on that staging area from last season burned in the back of my brain ever since. It was an unscratched itch, a sand burr stuck, a nagging two-foot putt left hanging on the lip.
Same story this time as before. My partners dropped me off at the bottom of that hill, 5am est sharp. I hot-footed my way upwards and arrived on site around 5:20am. This time I slunk over to the extreme southeast corner where birds all stacked up and marched thru last time around.
As I arrived on scene and surveyed the immediate area for a good place to sit, I almost pressed it ten yards nearer to the wood line than where I presently stood. A little voice inside my head spoke of bad experiences learned before when crowding edges led to toms spooked off the roost. That kept me from closing the distance any further, and it’s a good thing. My very next step in place cracked a small branch that was answered by a thundering gobble from just sixty yards away… in the same direction I almost crowded. Pretty good chance that bird would have flown off the roost by the dawn’s early light had I tried getting too close.
While I sat there in the cold frozen air waiting for first rays of sun to peak over the eastern horizon, a tom in front of me to the north and the bird in my back to the east traded gobbles back & forth. I gave two series of soft yelps followed by clucks and purrs on the slate call, then kept quiet.
Around 5:45am I heard several birds fly down thru the hardwood branches uphill from me to the north. Five minutes later, the nearby bird on my right followed suit. Now it was time to sit perfectly still, not move a muscle that might rustle leaves and twigs made crispy by the heavy frost which might give my position away.
Right at 6am, two toms appeared from the southeast corner of that field on my immediate right. A young tom with 6″ – 7″ beard was quartering towards me on a slow walk inside of forty yards. Dead bird, if I wanted him. But just inside the connecting tree line edge was a fanned-out strutter with bright white head glowing in the still early dawn. At fifty-plus yards and inside the trees, he was not in range to harvest yet.
Both birds spent about five long minutes staring hard in my direction, looking for that feathered seductress who purred at them while still in their trees. The lead tom at thirty-five yards gave my half-hidden blob the hard stare with no apparent reaction either way.
Suddenly, both toms took off running uphill in front of me like they were coyote spooked. My heart sank as what seemed to be the perfect plan coming apart and redemption from last season’s near miss in real danger of repeating itself once more. I quickly looked north and thru the hardwoods there saw another tom entering the field with other birds.
“Oh great”, I thought. “Here’s the boss tom with several hens, all of them with join up and walk away from me in the opposite direction of last year”, I thought.
“Drat!” Or at least I quietly muttered something like that to myself.
Turns out there were no other hens to rival my attention… it was four more toms and now a total of six gobblers all congregated in the middle of this field right in front of me. For the next fifteen minutes all six birds engaged in an epic battle where they took turns hopping and pecking and spurring and wrestling one another. Gobbles and yelps and growls and sounds I’ve never before heard a turkey make rumbled thru the hillsides. Feathers flew and floated in the air as the six-bird melee’ worked its way north and away from me.
It was one of those epic moments in the woods we all dream about. I had never witnessed a group of wild toms all fighting en masse before, and probably never will see it again. Those birds were so loud, efforts to yelp and cluck to get their attention was drowned out and ignored.
By now the birds had worked their way over the crown of that field and were just barely out of visual sight. The perfect opportunity for me to slightly shift my body position, get the blood flow restored to numbed body parts and prepare for what may come next.
Suddenly, a goshawk or sharp-shinned hawk swooped into view above the toms and let out a couple of screams. At first the toms totally ignored that, but then grew quiet as the royal rumble paused. Here was my chance to get some hen talk heard, so I laid on the slate call with yelps, cackles and clucks.
No response. All I saw was empty, frost-covered field ahead of me.
A few more minutes passed and the sight of heads and tail feathers started to appear above the field’s knoll. The gobbler group heard me, settled their differences and were joining forces to find that willing hen. Six big toms were standing on the crest, some sixty yards uphill and all staring hard in my direction.
Both of the initial birds which walked past me earlier led the charge back down that hill. Same lead bird walking, same strutter fanned out in full display following. They soon closed the distance to roughly forty yards and hung up sideways right there. With a lead bird I did not want to harvest blocking the path to rear bird targeted, I laid there patiently and waited.
Soon the birds separated enough to offer clear shots at either one, and I sent a 3.5″ round of hevi-shot 5,6,7 blend towards the strutting tom still in full display. Same result as usual with that load from my Remington 870 Supermag: hevi-shot out, very dead bird on the ground.
To be honest I never once saw the beard or spurs on my harvested bird before walking up to fill-out the tag and take possession. He remained in full strut the whole time I saw him, which was good enough reason to choose that bird for me. It wasn’t the biggest bird ever, a nine inch beard and 7/8″ spurs along with broomed-off wingtips made him a respectable harvest any day.
I spent the next little while enjoying the actual sunrise, soaking in my view of the surrounding hills and valleys that stretched for miles far as the eye could see. At the precise spot where last year’s PA birds walked on out of my life, this year’s bird lay resting and tagged. An entire year spent relived, planned, strategized and visualized in my mind had come to pass and come to completion. On this particular day I had just witnessed an epic scene played out in front of me that most hunters never have the privilege to see.
It was a great day to be alive, on the mountain side and part of the great outdoors experience.
I’ve reached the point in strategizing next season’s trapline plans where it’s time to put my boots on the ground. Booked a trip to the southeast sector of North Dakota for the Memorial Day weekend in May.
At first I pondered the logistics between flying and driving out there for the limited time available. Considering it is +/- 24 hours on the road versus 5+ travel hours with one layover in Chicago, that wasn’t too much of a mental debate. Flight costs and rental car fees were very reasonable… that it’s a one-man show with flexible schedule and itinerary, should be fun ad-libbing my way around.
The trip starts out in Fargo when my plane lands Friday morning. From then to Saturday night I’ll wander my way along thru Bismarck and up towards Minot. Sunday morning finds me leaving the Minot area and on my way to Grand Forks. By Monday night I’ll be back in Fargo preparing for the early flight out next day.
The timeframe of late May should be a decent blend of vegetation just starting to emerge in the waters and row crops alike. That’l give me an idea what to expect for both muskrats and bonus coon trapping opportunities there. Lots of cornfields bordering ditches and water = pack plenty of new Bridger #160s for the trip. I’m all over that if the right conditions are seen :)
Mainly I need to know what to expect, so I can know how to best prepare. I need to see the various waters, the terrain and the soil types to determine my plan of action. First preference would be a muskrat line centered on managed rotation of 100 to 200 colony traps at the core. If I’m able to do that, if existing conditions permit, that is hands down the easiest route to massive catches.
100 colony traps set properly in key travel zones should average 150 – 200 rats per check and some days might top 300+ if it rains during the night. Anything approaching 200 traps maintained on fresh sign and rotated continuously into new water could be a serious problem for the skinning end of logistics.
Maybe I won’t see ideal conditions for colony traps to that extent. Then what? Do I apply the bodygrip traps approach? Foothold traps instead? Blend of each? Blend of all three?
None of those questions can be answered for out there from here. I have to don the hipboots, wade around in the muck and eyeball it in living color myself. I’m completely open-minded about what to expect and how to best approach whatever conditions faced. Doesn’t matter to me what traps or sets or tactics I use… I’ll use whatever appears to be best suited for what’s on site.
I will be taking copious quantities of notes, collecting local maps and contact numbers, categorizing public lands and noting prime looking private ground, things like that. Once I see a few choices on where exactly I’d like to set up shop for muskrats next fall, I can go to work on finding places for lodging, supplies and handling the catches. This trip is not about firming up plans… it is more about creating loose ends that will get tied up later.
Once I take the grand tour late May, then weather conditions and water levels can be monitored summer & fall. Barring any severe droughts or floods, a return trip in September to nail down final plans is in order. Meanwhile I can spend the months in between gearing up and prepping for best course of action.
There is a chance that muskrat populations out there might very well be on the low side this season ahead. For all we know this summer could be the worst drought in 100 years or so. Even if I’m salivating at the chance to go out west and work some distant lands for adventure, I’ll also spend the summer preparing Plan B.
Plan B for me includes muskrat work in the northern zone of NY if North Dakota this fall somehow falls thru. If muskrat populations in both states are low, I’ll switch gears and prepare to work some serious land lines for canines instead. Hopefully my choices aren’t dictated by adverse conditions like that, but one never knows.
So that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. The next step major in planning comes six weeks from now when I’m far from home, driving past and standing in waters I’ve never seen before. From there it all unfolds accordingly. Plan A is a successful, fun-filled water line out west this fall which sets up a return trip for more of the same in spring of 2013. Plans B and C will align as needed.
What I need to do first is see for myself… so now let’s go see :)
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