If you clicked on this article, you likely didn’t plan on trapping muskrats this season. We’re in the dead of winter, and trapping prep is best done in the summer, or fall at the latest. But maybe you don’t like to ski, hunting seasons are coming to a close, and trapping is still open.
Chasing muskrats is a great way to enter the world of trapping furbearers. They are plentiful, not trap-shy, and easy to skin and dry. The traps and fur processing equipment are inexpensive, and the soaking and dying (or painting, you can use Rust-Oleum spray paint and the muskrats won’t notice) of traps will take around five days to prep. So, you could be trapping by the end of next week!
While most serious trappers have scouted and been trapping muskrats for months, you can still get after these aquatic voles now when the fur is at its most prime. It will just take a little more scouting and door-knocking on your part.
This article isn’t about how to trap muskrats—you can check out one of the many methods of how to do that here—but rather how to scout. And you’ll need to scout fast if you want to set some steel this season.
It might sound silly to say that you need to find water to trap a water mammal, but where water was open and inviting in the summer could turn into a wasteland of ice and dried ground by January. Don’t trust irrigation ditches, they are drained before winter. Also, marshlands can be hit and miss depending on depth.
Spend time online looking for rivers and small tributaries that you know have soft banks as muskrats dig dens in the mud. Moving water stays open longer and will attract muskrats fleeing from frozen ponds and marshes.
This bottomland is typically private, but don’t let that deter you. Ranchers and farmers often look at muskrats as pests that dig up dikes, cave in stream banks, and damage irrigation equipment. Properties, where you’d never dream of hunting big game, might welcome you with open arms if you’re looking for muskrats.
One of the more obvious signs of muskrats are their cattail huts in lakes, ponds, and marshes. These mound structures stick out in the vertical world of cattail thickets, but if there is snow and ice where you’re trapping, they might be more difficult to spot. As you’re scouting, be smart when walking on ice, and make sure it’s at least four inches thick. Be careful around huts as the entrances of an active hovel will have thinner ice and break under human weight.
Bank dens are easily identified by the packed runs at the entrance of the den. These tracks are typically lighter colored than the rest of the ground. Also, if there is ice, there is usually a distinct line of bubbles trapped beneath the ice from the air caught in the muskrat’s fur being released by the water when they swim out of their dens.
Root cuttings are also common around bank dens so when you see fresh white or green roots floating in the water or under the ice, you’re close.
Again, it might seem obvious, but for someone just getting into trapping after years of hunting and fishing, 50 miles might not seem that far when it’s a single there-and-back trip. But remember with trapping there’s a set and check day.
Every state is different when it comes to required checks, so make sure you read your regulations. Some require every 24 hours, others 48, and some, like Montana, have no requirement. But if you want your fur to be of great quality, you must check regularly.
Depending on your time availability, make sure you’re setting traps where checking doesn’t seem like a chore. Set days take longer than you think, but remaking sets, especially the more elaborate the set, takes time too. I’d suggest drawing a circle around your home with a mile radius you feel most comfortable with. Maybe that’s 10 miles, maybe 20.
With fur prices nearing historic lows, the competition to trap furbearers is also near historic lows. So if you want to eat some water rabbit, and make some of the warmest mittens in the world, this winter might be the time for you to start trapping.