Muskrats Part One

Muskrats are found everywhere in water.  The annual catch of rats for exceeds any other harvested animal in quantity and total dollar value.  Part of this fact is due to the simplicity of trapping them.  Muskrats or plain rats as known to trappers are just what they are called, a water living rodent.  Each comes equipped with a long, scaly tail, thick body, weighing one to three pounds average, with short ears and beady black eyes.  Don’t let this description fool you though; pound for pound a rate can be vicious.  Rats have two coats of fur, the under being soft and thick, covered by longer guard hairs.  Un-prime skins will have a bluish hue to them, and are not worth a lot on the fur market.  Pelts prime up after a real cold weather arrives and lasts through spring warm up.

Rats breed in the spring, usually around March or April in Vermont.  One month later litters of up to fifteen are possible.  The sad part of this fact is that if three of the newborn make it, it is a miracle.  Rats are the favorite food of mink, fox, turtles, and all flying predators.  Rats will fight with each other during mating season actually biting each other, leaving holes in the hide making the pelts worthless.

Rats live in streams, rivers, lakes, swamps, and ponds, ditches; anywhere food and habitat are plentiful.  Rats dwellings consist of burrows dug into banks or more commonly in “push-ups” constructed of swamp weeds and mud.  Rats live on sweetflag, cattails, and many types of water grasses and roots. They also will dine on garden vegetables, applies, and corn.

Once you decide to trap rats you will need to find suitable habitat, and get permission to trap.  Trapping season for rats in Vermont5 in the past started the fourth Saturday in October through April nineteenth the following spring.  This year the proposal is to end the season the last weekend in March.  It is your responsibility to know the correct dates.  A call to Fish and Wildlife headquarters will give you the answers to these questions.  Being friends with your local warden is beneficial too, they know where problems exist.

Any farmer who has lost a cow or horse with a broken leg or damaged farm equipment will gladly have you trap for rats.  I have had them give me a tour of the farm so I could maximize my efforts to get rid of these burrowing critters.  Even a bunny hugger will let you trap when their prize trout die because of the pond went dry over night.  NEVER,  NEVER set traps without permission.  Advise the landowner where you will set the traps and how many you will use.  This info helps in not catching his cat or dog.  Northing will get you kicked off land faster than catching a domestic pet.  All attempts should be made to avoid this situation.  Accidents will happen though, but you as a trapper can make sets that minimize these incidents. 

Once you have permission, you are good to go.  I usually travel the area looking for road kill, and inspect it to be sure it is prime.  Explain to landowner that you practice sound management and it is much better to take animals when they are prime, versus taking them when they are a little or no value.

I start by walking the area where the majority of the sign is.  I look for feed beds, home sites, droppings, etc., and then decide the sets I will use.