Conservation and Trapping Science

Newspaper: Combat muskrat trapping in the 1980s
Nov 10, 2021 11:07 ET

[Reprinted from original]

I was an active participant in the fur price boom that happened to coincide with high muskrat populations in Ohio during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Every creek, ditch, trickle, wetland, storm retention pond, swamp, water-filled tire rut, or isolated, flooded low spot in a field had muskrats living in them or at least passing through while looking for a permanent home.

Because of abundant competition from other trappers, I tried to locate the most obscure and remote muskrat populations, but no matter where I went, I still tripped over box traps in roadside ditches and found them already in every culvert pipe, and snapped foothold traps or stuck my boots into body-grip conibears in every promising bank den.

To thwart common trap thieves, my modus operandi was to set traps after sunset each day and pull them when I checked them at dawn or earlier the next morning for no more than one day at a time.

This method worked well enough to trap along the Olentangy River where it bisects the Ohio State University campus. A few nights, I caught enough $7.75 muskrats to pay my quarterly tuition with my fur check profits.

My worst loss to trap thieves was when 11 out of 12 brand new #0 Victor traps got taken the first night that I set them on a short section of ditch that drained an I-75 on-ramp, which produced 79 muskrats in a 100-yard section of cattails the following year.

Another headwater creek that I annually trapped had well-defined muskrat trails visible from the road, which passed within yards of it. It invited every passing trapper to stop and drop in a couple of box traps.

I waited until late in the season to catch the leftover muskrats in their bank dens after others took their fill and moved on. They would always repopulate this section of stream by the following season. Once, while setting traps after dark a couple of hundred yards downstream from the road, I heard some .22 rifle shots fired and had the rounds whistled over my head.

The best location that I trapped was a forked creek that had short ditches branching out to aid with field drainage to facilitate the conversion from farmland to an industrial park. A paved lane that was used by people doing all sorts of less wholesome activities led under the highway overpass.

The creeks flowed fast enough to keep the bottom pretty firm, with the exception of one short section that widened out and was too mucky to walk through. It was bisected with lots of deep muskrat runs.

Late each winter, I would walk the creek and feel each muskrat bank den with my boot to see if the top was firm, indicating its present use. Sometimes there would also be lighter-colored clay visible in front of the holes from the muskrats excavating the interiors of their living quarters.

I carried my 12-gauge Ithaca shotgun as a ruse to camouflage the true reason why I was there, although my burlap sack of traps would undoubtedly be recognized by other trappers.

I was glad I had it one time when an aggressive dog charged at me from the opposite side of the creek snapping his jaws, clearly with ill intent. With no sign that my yelling was going to stop it, I shot water close enough to splash his face, quenching his desire to bite holes in my hip boots.

This same creek continued to give up dozens of pounds of wild asparagus each spring, but the muskrats disappeared from whatever disease has been plaguing our formerly abundant ditch populations. All of these ditches are now devoid of these valuable furbearers, which still thrive in our local marshes.

Ohio’s primary furbearer trapping season begins November 10 (beaver and river otter on Dec. 26). Refer to the Ohio Division of Wildlife Hunting and Trapping regulations guide for full season dates, rules and regulations.