Minnesota Trappers Association Furbearer Specialist

Jason Abraham
(651) 259-5197
Former MTA Furbearer Specialist, Con Christianson, Submitted this story in 2012…
“The Lesson of the Rats”
While growing up in ND, we, the young the know-it-alls and wise guys, often referred to our elders as being “older than the hills”.  Now that I have been around long enough to fit into that category myself, I find it refreshing to know that life still teaches lessons to old codgers like me.  Yes, experience is a tough teacher sometimes and a lot of time can be wasted before we let the lesson sink in.  I received a couple of lessons this year while trapping muskrats for some friends that have a wildlife impoundment on their property.  This pond provides them countless hours of entertainment each year.  They even enjoy the antics of the rats as the furry little buggers go about their daily routine.
Let me tell you, there is not a rat house or a push-up to be found on this pond. The rats here prefer to tunnel into the natural banks to their build dens because there are almost no shallow areas to park a house. This situation presents no problems until they start working on the earthen dam that controls the water levels at the outlet of the drainage area.  Rats being rats, they always predictably tunnel into forbidden territory.  This year was no different, except that, with a higher population, there are now a lot more of them getting into this mischief than before.  Fun is fun, but holes in the dike ain’t no fun.  Things seemed to be getting out of control.
Please understand, I’m no expert trapper and certainly not a long liner who earns a good portion of his annual income from trapping.  But muskrats…anyone can trap muskrats…  right?
I agreed to work on the problem and showed up at my friends’ house one day with a basket full of traps and stakes.  There were even four new feeder floats sitting in the bed of my old pickup, the final products of a lot of serious shop-time because I’m not much of a carpenter either.  After wading and paddling for a week I had most of the bank dens and travel runs guarded with 120’s.  But the rats weren’t cooperating like expected.  A couple of youngsters had stumbled into the floating traps baited with apple and cob corn, but it soon became obvious that there was too much natural food in the pond for bait to be very effective…lesson number one. Earlier I mentioned that I wasn’t a long-liner and that implies that I don’t own a lot of traps.  Because of being trap-poor, most of my 120’s have to do double duty as both martin traps and mink/muskrat traps.  This would seem to be OK at first glance but a second look revealed a glitch in the system.  A couple of years ago most of my 120’s were fitted with paddles on the trigger wires because this was supposed to be better for pine martin cubby sets.  I haven’t caught enough martins with the paddle setup to tell if they are better than bare split trigger wires or not.  But, what I am now convinced of is that the paddles don’t look good from a muskrat’s perspective.  Even with the paddles bent up almost square to the opening in the jaws and leaving more than enough room for a jumbo rat to squeeze through, they seemed to be avoiding them.  Bare trigger sets were catching rats and this convinced me to pull all the traps that had been fitted with paddles.  Even though the muskrat doesn’t seem to be all that hard to catch under most circumstances and it may not be the critter most trappers would describe as cunning, there can be circumstances that make them more wary than expected.  Never make too many broad assumptions about the survival skills of your quarry…lesson number two.
….Even though some of us may be “older than the hills”, we can still learn new lessons…even from the lowly muskrat.
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