Muskrat Trapping

Snared Muskrat.


      Muskrats are very fun and easy to trap once you can find a good population of them to trap. For most trappers, the muskrat was the first animal they targeted and caught. As stated above, they are easy to trap and you can find them in almost in body of water with enough vegetation to survive on.
      They were not exactly the first animal I tried to trap, 'coon was the first. I didn't catch any until my second year of trapping when I decided to trap them seriously. I got a call to trap beaver off one of the Ohio State Extension Agents land and I was allowed to trap anything I wanted too while I for my nuisance permit to come back. After a couple days I had finally caught my first muskrat in a slide set on the creek that fed the one being dammed by the corn raiding beavers.

      After a while I soon amassed a decent catch of muskrats. I think I caught a dozen 'rats off the two creeks. That's not bad for someone who had just started seriously trapping muskrats and off a small section of stream. I later caught a couple more 'rats on some of the places I was called to trap beaver on. I had to catch a couple to keep them out of my traps, I had seen a group of 5 'rats swimming past me as I tended my traps. I did catch one of them 'rats in the no.3 Bridger trap I was using at a castor mound set for beaver and caught a couple more in feedbed sets I made.

Tools for Muskrats

      If this is the first thing you've read about muskrats sorry about skipping their biological information since its well covered in other books, trust me.

      The traps I like to use for muskrats are any of the no. 1 traps of any brand and style, jump, coil and longsprings. I like the 1.5 coilsprings and longsprings for muskrats, too because of the increased spread, weight and ability to hold any raccoon or mink that comes along. As for conibears the 110 conibear is a must for trappers that have a lot of den entrances, runs and deep pools or water with few spots for footholds or insufficient water depth for drowning. Colony traps, where legal, are perfect for trapping muskrats when doing nuisance work and fur trapping where you want to catch as many muskrats in as few checks as possible.

      After you get your traps you need some things to keep you from being soaked while trapping muskrats. Some kinds of boots, hip boots or chest waders are essential to keep you dry while wading through the water, just make sure you wear the appropriate ones for the water depths you are trapping. Gloves are optional but if you don't like getting your hands wet and freezing, they are the way to go. I usually wear shoulder length gauntlets for trapping most ponds, marshes, or lakes and some creeks and rivers. I carry a pair of 14 inch gloves for VERY shallow water trapping. You may want to carry a walking stick to find those deep spots capable of filling you waders before you find them.

      Your are going to need some kind of shovel or spade for making sets along your line. I like a tiling spade for making any kind of baited set involving digging. I have also used a short-handled shovel but its harder to make sets with it because of it being short-handled, carry one any ways cause you might need this to dig out your truck or 4-wheeler when it gets mired.

Sets for Muskrats

      Of all species of furbearers, I believe that there are more kinds of different sets for muskrats than any other species of muskrats. As a general rule of thumb, blind sets are more productive for muskrats than baited sets. The reason for this is that muskrats seldom travel vary far for anything when they are in good habitat and they usually have more than enough food available so they don't respond do bait very much. Blind sets, on the other hand, are almost guaranteed a catch as long as the feature you are setting is active, muskrats visit the same spots almost every night.

      The three most common sets for conibears and colony traps are the den, run and bottom edge sets. When you find an active den you have just found the most effective place for a trap as any. All you have to do is set the trap of choice in front of the entrance, stabilize as necessary, some states do not allow the setting of traps at den entrances so please check your laws. Runs are channels that are carved out due to the repeated use of swimming muskrats. Sets are made by placing again your trap of choice in the run and stabilize as necessary.

Bottom edge sets where you have the right kinds or streams and the right locations are hard to beat when dens and runs are hard to find. Mink trappers use this set a lot and catch 3 times more muskrats in these sets than mink. Finding the location for this set is the deciding factor if you are to make a catch. As you are walking along the stream, look for a point that sticks out into the water, this projection should be nearly vertical to be effective. "There are tons of these projections, which one do you set?" Well pick the one that the muskrat cannot see around and forces it to hug the projection. Set the conibear up against the projection at the extreme end of the projection and stabilize as necessary.

Slides, feed beds, toilets, and feeders are also important foothold blind sets where the sets mentioned above are illegal or very few or no spots available for them. Slides are found on anybody of water where muskrats are.

A slide, or pullout, is where muskrats climb out of the water onto the bank or muskrat hut and re-enter the water. To set these, make a bed for your trap, like I like the 1.5 size traps for this because of the extra spread required for these sets since I have had a lot of empty no. 1's at these sets. Stake your trap into deeper water, it helps to have long chains on these kinds of set-ups, or use a slide wire drowner. When you do not have sufficient water to drown a 'rat, about a foot and deeper you, most go to a using a stop-loss style trap or conibear.

Toilets and feed bed sets are the same in many circumstances. Usually there is a depression on one or more sides of the vegetation mat. If there is not a depression, this means that it is a new mat or it is on the fringe of the 'rats family territory and you need to make your own depression. For traps at this set, I still like the 1.5's but it is hard to get these on the mat so I typically use the number one's here. In most locations where you find these mats you can just stake out the trap to deeper water but there are those oddball spots where you need the slide wires or stop-loss traps.

Feeders, when you can find them, are productive only during certain times of the year depending on where you find them. Bank feed holes are in most cases collapsed dens of muskrats or beavers where the entrance has some water in the entrance, these are productive only when there is open water, most times. When the feedhole is a collapsed den, there is usually some dirt near the entrance where you can put the trap. In ponds or marshes feeder huts, usually 1/3 the size of the lodge, have one entrance from where the muskrats have pushed up vegetation through the ice. Trappers set the trap here by what they call "sleeving". When the ice is thick enough to walk on, approach the feeder, chop a hole in the ice, reach up into the feeder, place your trap in, and stake it out into deeper water. They could also be set up like feed beds during open water.

For me baited or constructed sets are a last resort. When I catch a muskrat in a baited set it is usually in a 'coon or mink pocket or a castor mound set. Some times the application of food lures to a set will bring a muskrat in that normally would not come in to the sets that follow. Gland lures can really get the muskrats going because they are territorial.

As most 'coon and mink trappers can tell you, a pocket set will catch a ton of muskrats, and some of those trappers might say they might as well make the target animal the muskrat with the 2:1 to 4:1 ratio muskrat to raccoon or mink. Muskrats take a lot of interest in a freshly dug hole that just popped into their territory. The 'rats check these out because they want to know if they have some uninvited guests in the neighborhood, here's where a good muskrat gland lure can really put a dent in the local 'rat population.

To make a good muskrat-taking pocket, you need to make it look like an above water muskrat den. Start by placing your shovel, a tile spade is highly recommended here, and make the initial "punch" about 1.5-2 inches below water and up in a shallow angle. To make it more specific for muskrats while taking any mink that comes along and excluding most 'coons, keep the opening of the pocket no bigger around than the trap. You want to make this pocket deep and, without widening the entrance, widen the inside of the pocket. Slick up the sides of the pocket to make it look like that "den" has seen a lot of traffic other 'rats. Place your trap on the outside of the pocket, not all muskrats will enter the pocket. Apply gland lure to the inside of the pocket, food lure or bait also, if you prefer, and right trap for drowning.

This next little set is courtesy of the late Charles Dobbins. Thank you Charles for all you gave to trapping. This is a modification to the pocket set called the alcove set. Instead of digging the pocket back into the bank, you dig it parallel to the opposite bank. You want this to go about a foot bank into the bank and between 8-14 inches high and have a little shelf in the back for a dry spot for the 'rats to rest if the y get past your traps, also locate this set where there are overhanging weeds that can hide the alcove from the opposite bank. After digging the alcove, shave the ends of the pockets so that they form entrances into the bank, to be visible for the 'rats. Next, dig a 10x10 inch piece of sod, relieve it of all dirt, shred it to pieces, and place it in the shelf. Add some lure, either gland or food, and place two traps, one in each entrance. According to Charles, this set produces many doubles, mink, 'coons, which usually destroy the overhanging weeds needed for the set’s effectiveness, and when enlarged and using the appropriate traps, this is an effective beaver and otter set though I've never used it in this manner.


Muskrats are a very simple and it does not take much to catch them. That is why so many beginners and veterans specifically target them. When a trapper has little time to set and tend traps, muskrat trapping is the way to go since in some instances a set can be made in as quick as ten seconds to set and position the trap and toss a brick in to the water, when practical.

All information on this site is by Dustin Caudill. E-mail for permission to use information or picture at