By Paul Wait
Lamenting About $10 Muskrats
I am not always motivated by money. Still, I am intrigued about what could have been.
Seven years ago, I stumbled into the muskrat mother lode. Unfortunately, I was too green to know it at the time. I owned six #110 bodygrip traps. My buddy had seven.
We had hunted ducks in the public marsh a few months earlier. Muskrats slithered through the cattails around us, so we knew the area was home to a burgeoning number of furballs. We guessed other trappers might catch some of them, but we didn’t figure anyone would wipe them out, so we weren’t in a big hurry to set as soon as the season started.
We began our operation on a sunny January afternoon. A foot of snow covered the frozen marsh. Our first short jaunt revealed that the muskrat population was doing just fine.
After freezeup, the water level had dropped. In most places, the only remaining water was ice. The little furbearers of the cattail marsh were ‘rats out of water — literally. However, they still went about their business as if they were swimming in it.
We found dozens of active runs — both above and below the ice — where the muskrats were traveling to feed and socialize. With so much sign, we focused on the furball highways above the ice. Using stiff cattail stalks as stabilizers, I jammed my first #110 in a snow trough between two bank dens. Ten feet away, a scat-stained trail led to a hole in the ice. It took more work to wedge my trap in the trail there, but after a few minutes of kneeling, I finally completed the task to my satisfaction.
The incredible amount of sign spurred excitement, but it also caused me to question my judgement about trap placement. By the time I placed my last trap, I was tempted to move the first couple in favor of spots that looked like they had even more traffic.
“I’ll move them tomorrow,” I thought as I walked to my truck.
As my friend and I discussed what time to meet the next day to check our traps, a fat ‘rat scurried across the road toward our waiting sets.
“Let’s check them now!” my friend said.
As we walked to our sets, I heard the unmistakable thump of a trap firing in the distance.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
“I’ll bet we got one now,” he said, hastily hoofing to the stand of cattails where he had set his steel.
A minute later, my buddy compressed the spring and I slid the first fur of our line through the jaws. Two more fat muskrats were waiting ahead, and we scared a couple more into their dens as we ran our little line.
The next day, we had eight more in our 13 traps. I borrowed a dozen traps from a friend, and my partner bought a few more at a sporting goods store. At its peak, our line consisted of 31 bodygrip traps.
We caught 102 muskrats in two weeks. A mink ate one, and two more were shredded by hawks or owls. A month later, after a couple long skinning and stretching sessions, I took 99 put-up ‘rats to the fur buyer. I came home with $237, a $2.39 average for my prime Wisconsin muskrats.
In all of the seasons since, I’ve never found another muskrat opportunity quite like that one. Like most trappers, I sure wish I could — especially this year, when prime muskrats are reportedly bringing $10 averages in my area. I could buy a lot of traps with $1,000.
Of course, with prices this high, discovering a honeyhole with hundreds of vulnerable ‘rats and no competing trappers is not likely.
If I ever find a similar situation, I’ll have more traps to catch them with. But I doubt I’ll ever have more fun trapping muskrats than I did that winter..