Streamside Muskrats

By: Dustin Caudill

This article first appeared in the 'Trapperman.Com Book'

In most areas of the country, muskrat trappers generally do not use the terms 'muskrat trapping' and 'difficult' in the same paragraph. Here in Southern Ohio, the ponds and marshes often require ATV' s or lengthy walks to reach them, only to catch a few muskrats. Most of us have to resort to the streams to make their catches. In the foothills of Appalachia, these streams often have their bottoms merely inches away from the rock bed, if not on it.

When I look at a new stream, I am looking to see if I can stake my traps. My preferred method is a slide wire drowner, after having a couple of coon and some beaver caught in muskrat sets, I have a little paranoia about single staking footholds. Ever try to release a trapped beaver without catchpole? I will only single stake a trap if I am 200% certain that nothing larger than a mink can be caught.

Most of the time when trapping streams, the stakes never made it out of the bucket. Most of the time I try to wire the trap to something underwater that will not be washed away in a flood. Many times, I have to wire the traps to the opposite shore or shove a stake in the bank and wire it off, then lay a heavy object across the wire where the water is deepest. When using conibears, I just wire it off to the bank somewhere.

When scouting the streams, you may only find slides and droppings and if you are lucky, you might find a den or feeder hole. Set selection is severely limited. Blind sets are the order of the day and pocket sets should be made where warranted. I have heard about some other bait sets, but I rarely carry bait or lure on the line for muskrats and the only attraction I try to use is sight. Traps should be of the #1.5 type or stop-loss, and conibears. The reason for the larger traps is that at times foot placement is hard to control and it is hard to get a hold of muskrats at slides, but I will use the #1’s if I can find a location where foot placement is easy to control.

Although a pocket set will catch most of the passing muskrats, when I am getting tired of raccoons I seriously consider pulling some of those pockets. Blind sets on the other hand, are the best muskrat sets to make where you can find the right locations. As stated before, you will not find many dens or runs, but slides are everywhere. While slides are everywhere, they are not great set locations. The first reason is that it is nearly impossible to have the correct depth on some streams without digging. Even with digging or if you found a ready-made location, the visit to catch ratio can be embarrassing at times. When you do make a slide set, use the #1.5 sized traps to maximize the chances of a catch. The second reason is that there are too many slides in some locations, if you set every slide you will be out of traps in a hurry. Many of those slides cannot be distinguished between the active ones from the inactive ones unless you get there early in the morning or you have softer banks than I do.

A set has come along in the last few years that has revolutionized mink trapping and provided another great muskrat blind set. The bottom-edge set, developed by Ken Smythe, is an effective set that probably has a 3-5:1 muskrat to mink ratio. The set is located where a point juts out into the water. Ken stresses that the point should stick out far enough that the mink/muskrat cannot see around the obstacle. Once you locate a likely point, the bodygripper that you use is set on the bottom and up tight against the point.

Another good stream set, when you can find it, is the log set. When I make this set, I try to find a log or tree, preferably fixed to the bank, which is already in position. I also like it if there are muskrat droppings on the log or tree. I probably should stabilize the traps but I do not.

Muskrat trapping in streams can be done. It takes hard work, good scouting, and a decent sized muskrat population to work with. I do not recommend trying to trap any stream that does not have a good population. Depending on the type of stream and if you have food crops bordering the creek, many of the muskrats you catch in the streams will be bigger than the ones in ponds and marshes.

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Streamside Muskrat Trapping Part 2.

By: Dustin Caudill

Several years ago, I wrote 'Streamside Muskrat Trapping' and I re-read it a few days ago and noticed a few things. I do things quite differently now. So this will be my attempt to correct some things that I omitted or did not believe in my first writing.

First thing you need to remember about muskrats on streams is that their range is not as limited as in marshes and ponds. The second is that the stream muskrats are very vulnerable to baits and lures. In marshes, your better off making blind sets.

Scouting muskrat streams is not as easy as scouting the marshes. When I am scouting streams, I look for four types of sign. I also look at the banks and underwater features for funnels.

My favorite two types of sign are dens and feeder holes. Around here, the dens tend to be underwater so you can find them easily from looking for plumes of mud. I must add this, when scouting streams, always scout from dowstream and work your way upstream or the mud that you kick up will cover these dens and other underwater features. Feel around the area the mud is coming from for the edges of the den if you cannot see the edges. The dens are easy to set, just place a #110 and move on.

Feeder holes are holes at the waterline that muskrat, beaver, mink and other water-going animals use to feed and take a short rest. These can be quite big sometimes and ofter are the result of old dens that have collapsed. Setting these holes vary from feeder to feeder. If the feeder is narrow enough, a conibear can gaurd the entrance and prevent the animal from tearing it up after the catch. Sometimes these holes are a foot or so wide and you will need to place a foothold here. Just look at where a muskrat would go to rest and place your trap accordingly. I would recommend that you use a slide-wire here to prevent the hole from being destroyed by a caught animal.

Slides and toilets are the most common sign you will find on streams. I call this type of sign, locator sign. The reason is that often these are poor to average places to set a trap. Sometimes the depth, slope or other factors make it difficult to set where this sign occurs. Now what I normally do if the sign here warrants traps being set, I usually make a pocket set or two in the immediate area where I can control the foot placement of the muskrat better.

In addition to sign, I look for funnels and bank projections along and in the stream to place traps. Funnels are simply things that force an animal to go a certain direction. Examples are rocks along the waterline that make the animals enter the water, gaps in log jams. Trap placement is really easy to figure out when you locate these funnels. Just place the trap where the animal is forced to go. Bank projections are points from the bank that stick out into the water. If you are familiar with the bottome edge set you will know what I mean. The ones that stick out noticeably are the ones you want to set. Simply set a #110 on the bottom and against the end of the point. These sets will take a lot of muskrats and a few mink as well.

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The 4 Season Scouting Method

By: Dustin Caudill

Scouting is the most important part of trapping besides setting the traps. You can cold-roll, trap places you have never scouted before, and catch fur but you will waste traps and not trap the locations very effectively. Scouting can be divided into 4 main seasons.

Season 1: Pre-Harvest

This is the season where you are locating animal populations that you can trap. Normally this season runs July-Late September depending on your locations and the harvest tables that the farmers follow.

At this time of the year, food is plentiful for all furbearers. You are looking for major trails, toilets, dens, active slides, tree cuttings that show that the animals are in the area.

You are not looking for set locations yet for most of the water-going animals like muskrat, 'coon, beaver and mink on locations that have undammed streams bordering corn fields. The reason mainly is unless the crops are still up come fur season, they will not be there when its gone with a few exceptions, mainly muskrat and mink.

Of course, when your dealing with ponds, lakes or dammed streams, the animals will stay in the same areas unless the food moves.

For canines and dryland critters, you can generally get a feel of where your sets will be as they will not move out of the area and continue hunting and traveling their normal routes come fur season.

Season 2: Post-harvest to Opening Day.

This is the most important time to scout. The harvests are pretty much done and the animals have settled into their winter locations and habits. Some of those hot trails that you found back in pre-harvest have gone cold and new trails have emerged.

My normal fits with this season is the beaver and raccoon moving off from where they were when the corn is up. Luckily it does not take much work to find where they have moved off to. They will now be located is the nearest woodlots that border the stream and the cornfields. They will still enter the fields occasionally to look for leftovers but mainly be confined to the woods and shoreline looking for their meals.

Season 3: Trapping season.

Once you have set your traps, you should still be on the lookout for fresh sign. You might find new trails that have popped up and needing a few more sets. This is normally the time I start looking for set locations for beaver as beaver season is about 9-11 weeks behind everything else. If I can, I try to get permission to trap raccoon, coyote and muskrats on my beaver locations so I can keep an eye on their movements.

Season 4: Post-trapping season

Season is over and your traps are pulled. But maybe your sets are being worked over by the super-wary animals that you could not catch during the season or new animals that moved in. You should get out a day or two after a fresh snow to find tracks that lead you to trails that you may not have noticed before. Following tracks in the snow may give you some insights into the animal's behavior that can help you next season.


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Coyote Trapping Adventures

First thing I would like to point out in that I am primarily a water trapper. My first attemps at land trapping was raccoon and fox sets. My first fox sets were basically doomed as soon as I set them. When I first started trapping seven years ago, I hadn't realized how bad the coyotes were in Southern Ohio. Nor how bad they would be in the coming years.

My third year of trapping is when I first caught a fox, a grey fox. I caught it in a dirthole I made in the middle of a deer scrape. I managed to catch more greys over the next few year, mainly in snares, as chance allowed. I took a few years off for college. When I moved back I began to hear the grumblings of farmers about coyotes.

So with the reports of coyotes I bought a few #2 Oneida Victor traps if I got any properties with coyotes. The summer of 2005 came and went and I checked a fewer places out but can November I only ran my waterline. I found some coyote sign near one of the road crossings and was tempted to set my land traps but with the landowners dogs roaming I declined.

About the third week of December one of my friends came to me and asked if I could try to catch a few of those coyotes. I told them that I would try it. I went out the next day to check the place out. The eastern end of the property rose up into a wooded hillside on a hill with a tractor road that ran through the fields.

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Beaver Trapping Adventure

My beaver trapping adventure started with a phone call from one of the parents of my fellow 4-H club members. I had taken the 'Trappign Muskrats in Ohio' project the last two years. So they knew I was trapping and asked if I could help with thier beaver problem.

As the story went, they had the beavers all summer building dams and the husband had been ripping them all out with a backhoe. The call came in during late October prior to the regular trapping season. Since I had not recieved my permit yet from the DNR, I could not start catching the beaver until my permit came or the season came in.

While I was waiting on my permit I had a free reign of the farm to trap what I could find. This also let my keep an eye on the beavers. At that time, the beaver had taken to building their dams out of corn stalks. Seven days into the season, two after the muskrat season came in, I had a little suprise waiting.

Sunday morning I was checking my traps on a creek that ran into the Chickamauga, the beaver where in the Chick, and the first set I had on that streams was just 15 yards from the nearest dam. The set was a pocket set for muskrats and I had it rigged with a Bridger #1.65 and a slide wire drowner. The deepest part of the stream there was about 18 inches deep, which is fine for muskrat drowning but not beaver. I was checking the traps from the bank for speed when I noticed that something that looked like a muskrat was sitting in a collapsed den not far from my set.

As I approached the animal, it shot out of the hole towards the Chickamauga only to get yanked back my the drowner wire. It was still thrashing around when I hooked the trap chain with my trap hook, and to my suprise, my drowing stake was gone. Somehow, this twenty to twenty-five pound, front-foot caught beaver had pulled up my rebar stake. According to Ohio law at the time, I could not dispatch the beaver so I snagged the drowner wire and hauled up the beaver, grabbed the spring levers and the beaver dropped back safely into the water.

Well my permit did not get back to me before the season started, for some reason these permits never get back inside a months time. Before the season came in I borrowed a few #330's to use since I couldn't find any beaver traps for sale locally. I made two bottom-edge sets with these and waited. After a few days I had my first 'targeted' beaver. I gave it another week or two with no results nor fresh beaver sign so I pulled out.

Shortly afterwards, I got another beaver call where beaver had been cutting all the trees down within 20 yards of the shore that was not locust. Before the call came in I ordered 4 Bridger #3 four-coils and some castor lure. Not the best beaver trap perhaps but you can make them work. I made a castor mound set and a slide set gaurded by a #330. I didn't have much luck there between the ice and the muskrats but I managed one fourty pound beaver in two or three weeks. But the trees were left alone.

It was getting closer to February and I was looking forward to a baseball camp so I had pretty much pulled all my traps for the year. A little after February came in I got a call from a guy in Columbus that owned some property that borders the Wayne National Forest that was being flooded by beavers. I went to my baseball camp and luckily it was a bit dull so I felt better about leaving after lunch to go meet the guy and take a look at the land. It was at least a half-mile walk back to where the beaver pond was and what a pond it was. The stream was only 10 foot wide at the dam but the extension of the dam was 100 yards wide. There was also 4 secondary downs at 10 yard intervals below the dam. We walked back to where those beaver used to be on the Wayne and the remains of the dam there was at least 10 feet high.

The next weekend was Presidents Day and we had a 4-day weekend so I loaded up my truck and my 4-wheeler and went to see what kind of luck I would have there. I guarded two parallel runs near the lodge with my two #300's and made two dam break sets, one on the main dam and one on the first secondary dam. The first check yeilded two beavers at the run sets. Nice catch to make but I am not an expert beaver skinner by no means so I was dreading that night. The next day I caught another beaver in the run set and that was the last beaver from the runs. The next check had a beaver one the secondary dam break set. A few days later I had another beaver in the dam break set and then I was stumped. I switched some sets around the next couple of days because I knew there was a bigger beaver there and it refused to be caught.

Nothing was working so one day I got to talking with some of my friends on the Trapperman,com chat room. One of the guys talked about a dam crossover set and after a few more details on the set I went to try it on my line. A dam crossover set is normally a place on the dam where there is a break in the dam that the beaver never seem to try to fix. I found a crossover on the main dam and placed one of my #330's at the bottom of the crossover and hoped for results. Three days later and I had the last beaver in the pond, I nice little 59 pound beaver. Needless to say, I was glad I had the 4-wheeler.

I ended the season with eight total beavers caught, nine if you count the one I released in November. It was a pretty good season overall for being a second-year trapper but those beaver calls really got me started on learning how to locate animals and sign reading.

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