Mostly Trapping

Lisenbee: More trappers can help solve several problems
Aug 26, 2019 08:38 ET

(Reprinted from above link)

Coyotes may or may not be having an impact on deer population, but there is an effective way to manage the damage

There are a couple of “situations” that I find troubling. I do not believe they are related, but I could be wrong on that thought process.

With that said, here are the facts. If any of my 73 semi-regular readers have other ideas, I sure would enjoy hearing from them.

The first is that large areas of prime deer habitat in our area seem to be either severely reduced or almost completely devoid of fawns. My good friend, Judson Peck of Branchport, who happens to be a retired Lt. ECO, has a number of trail cameras out on his wildlife-friendly property where deer normally travel.

And he reported his trail cameras catching photos of numerous does. But not one fawn has bee seen. That is very unusual, according to Jud.

A few weeks later I sent him an e-mail concerning my recent sightings in this area of Potter (and Italy). There are plenty of does, and plenty of fawns. I am seeing mostly twins, but with a scattering of triplets and only a few singles. Here is his reply. “Still no fawns on any trail cams, large well mature does, but again, no fawns!

Now Jud happens to live in what I consider to be one of the two best prime deer areas in Yates County, the Guyanoga Valley (and surrounding hills). The other is the Italy Valley (and surrounding hills).

But all of Yates Co is considered one of the best areas of deer habitat (and annual deer take reports) for many years.

Which leads me to the obvious question. What on earth is going on with deer in Jud’s area? He has obtained photos containing coyotes in his area, and, black bears are becoming more numerous everywhere in western NY. The former are numerous and among the best hunters anywhere they are established, while the latter are known vacuum cleaners of almost any edible stuff they come across, including fawns in the spring.

There could be other reasons for near-zero fawn production in some areas. I sent out e-mails to several of my hunting contacts asking for their observations. Two reported seeing very few fawns in their travels. Others told me they were seeing normal or near-normal fawn numbers.

Therefore I can only reach a single conclusion. Jud Peck and a lot of others are going to get along with a reduced population of fawns this fall and winter. Coyotes, if they are the cause of extreme fawn losses in some areas, will quickly move on to other areas with better hunting before the next crop of fawns is delivered next spring. And coyote pups will once again be added to our ever-growing list of predatory animals.

Some folks, myself included, might wonder why NY continues to protect coyotes for six months out of every year. There is really no valid scientific reason, so why not open a year-around hunting season? But I also understand that such a season is not the answer to this problem because only a few hunters would go out in the spring and summer to hunt coyotes.

The only real answer is trapping, NY needs more trappers! Coyote fur is one of the few furs that have held steady through the downturn in fur prices. These critters are in demand for trim on clothing items like parkas. But that rich, thick fur is only available during the winter. It loses it’s “prime” with the coming of spring.

So I have a suggestion for anyone who either wants to “live off the land” or that wants to get closer to nature. Trapping is an art form, and trappers often claim they never stop learning this important part of their chosen craft. It goes hand in hand with other skills such as finding safe potable water, cutting firewood, gardening and a whole host of other skills and know-how.

Which brings us to the second topic of this column, the question of just where have all the muskrats gone? For the last two decades or more the population of these cute, furry critters has been plummeting.

The loveable little muskrat was once considered the “bread and butter” of fur trappers.

Scientifically known as Ondatra zibethicus, it is known to inhabit marshes, brooks, lakes, ponds and miles of ditches and streams, and is found across a wide range of climates. Its soft, naturally water repellent fur is both durable and insulating.

And now for the problem. For roughly the last 25 years or so, trappers throughout the Midwest and Northeast have witnessed a rather startling decline in muskrat populations. In states like Pennsylvania, the muskrat harvest has declined from 720,000 in 1983 to 58,295 in 2010.

Various studies have found that it isn’t just a decline in pelt value that might be causing decreased population records. Experts have noted that there seems to be a number of possible causes for the muskrat’s decline.

They have considered and are still considering everything from chemicals used on agricultural farms to field tile spacing to pharmaceutical contamination, and even to harmful metals that may have entered into the overall biological chain.

Muskrat carcasses, many of which were submitted by licensed trappers, were examined for age, sex ratios, female reproductive output, organ health, and exposure to contaminants. Heavy metal presence was significant — with 40 of the 41 animals tested for metals showing moderate to severe levels of heavy metal contamination.

In one Ohio study, most muskrats suffered from exposure to six widely-used metals including antimony, calcium, iron, mercury, molybdenum and strontium. This kind of contamination can have all sorts of negative effects on health, survival and reproduction.

Some experts believe the muskrat’s decline is naturally driven — either by cyclical population cycles, disease outbreak, wetlands drying up, and/or the noticeable increase in predators such as raptors, mink and river otters. Despite the noticeable decline, professionals in many states continue to assert that the species isn’t in danger of becoming threatened or endangered at this time.

Still, after witnessing the reduction of “rats” for more than a decade myself, I am very concerned with this situation. My worry stems from highly rated experts that are unable to come up with a suitable cause for the decline after more than two decades of research.

I have to wonder what is in store for these furry, harmless little critters in the years to come.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Writer. Contact him at