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Trappers' Corner: Muskrat
© 2006 RogueTurtle.com


This issue of Trappers' Corner is dedicated to the lowly Muskrat.

This animal is found in almost every state that has water in it...Sorry, this is NOT a desert dweller.

Identification: The muskrat is a large, stout, semi-aquatic rodent. Its head is broad and blunt with short ears barely visible beyond the fur. The muskrat's coat is practically waterproof and is soft, dense, and grayish brown in color. The underfur is covered by long, brown guard hairs which serve to protect the soft underhair from wear.

Muskrats are seldom found far from water. They prefer the still or slow-moving water of marshes, ponds and streams. Muskrats are active year-round and, while usually nocturnal, may move during daylight hours.
The muskrat is primarily a vegetarian, feeding mostly on the roots and stems of aquatic plants and, if they occur near water, such items as legumes, grasses, grains, garden crops and apples. Animal food, particularly crayfish and fresh-water mussels, occasionally is eaten.

Muskrats live in houses constructed of vegetation or in burrows dug into banks. Both houses and burrows have underwater entrances and above-water living chambers.

Although the feeding habits of muskrats may result in some damage to agricultural or ornamental crops growing near water, the principal cause for concern is the potential damage to earthen water-retaining structures, resulting from muskrat burrowing activities. Extensive tunneling into earthen dams may result in water leaks or even in the loss of stored water.


STEEL TRAPS

Yep. This is the one that causes all the controversy. This one is a #1 Long Spring Trap, with one-piece construction from 1/8" thick steel. The pan is one-piece construction, rectangular style with crimped bolt and nut. The jaws have a 4" spread and the chain is #1/0 double link with one swivel point, ring, and drowner. The spring is heavy duty, heat-treated spring steel, capable of scarring the head of unwary trappers on a cold day in Indianapolis. This is the one that got me.


This is a body-grip trap. With this type trap, when the unsuspecting animal sticks his body through the set of wire jaws, they slam shut in a "X" pattern, effectively smothering the animal by preventing him from breathing.


This last one is another version of the Long Spring trap only it is more compact with the springs more under the jaws than beside the jaws. These are sometimes more easily hidden and are more compact that the Long Jaw trap. They may be referred to as jump traps. They both do the same job.


AVAILABLE TRAPS



The North Dakota Furtakers Educational Manual shows a large range of traps that are available for various animals.

Body Grip Size Chart:

  • No. 1 -- Muskrat, Weasel, Skunk
  • No. 1 1/2 -- Muskrat, Mink, Skunk, Raccoon
  • No. 2 -- Raccoon, Mink, Fox
  • No. 3 -- Coyote, Fox, Bobcat, Beaver, Badger
  • No. 4 -- Coyote, Beaver, Bobcat
  • No. 110 or No. 120 -- Muskrat, Mink
  • No. 220 -- Raccoon, Beaver, Skunk
  • No. 330 -- Beaver



PREPARING YOUR TRAPS

Just because you own a set of traps, doesn't mean you're ready to go out and catch something. Remember, the animal you are after has been avoiding danger a lot longer than you've been a trapper. It's the sense of smell you have to worry about now. It's YOUR SCENT and the smell of the steel, which you have to get rid of.

Factory condition traps need to be cleaned and processed before dyeing. To get the oil and grease off new traps you need to boil them in a large container filled with water and baking soda. Boil the traps for 30 minutes to 1 hour then rinse them off with clean water. Leave the traps outside until they get a light coat of rust on them at which time they are ready for dyeing. The rust will help the dye adhere to the metal. For dyeing traps fill a barrel with sufficient water to cover the traps. Add trap dye as recommended on the package. Trap dye can be obtained from a trapping supply house and usually 1 pound of dye is used for each 4 to 5 gallons of water. The dye water is brought to a boil and allowed to simmer for an hour or so. After the traps have taken a good blue-black color take out and let them air dry. After the traps have cooled down store them where they will not come in contact with any foreign odors.

This is about the least expensive trap dye I could find on the Internet. It's from Moosehead Trail Trap Supply:

This powdered trap dye turns black when mixed with water, removes light rust and turns traps a dark black color. I have found this dye to be as good as any black dye and a lot cheaper. Can be used on all steel traps.

1 Pound $2.75

Source: Moosehead Trap.com


After the traps are all cleaned and dyed, you may want to wax them as additional protection until you use them. It also makes them less susceptible to rust sitting in the water. But, not just any wax, use trap wax. Below is a typical example of odorless wax available from Kishel Scents.com

Odorless Trap Wax
Speeds up trap operations and protects at the same time. Formulated to seal in steel odors, won't crack or peal off. A must choice for canine trappers.
Use caution when treating traps with wax, it's highly flammable.
1 Pound $2.75, 5 Pounds $11.00, 10 Pounds $21.00


Once your traps are cleaned, dyed and waxed, you are ready to go trapping. Make sure you store your traps away from ANYTHING that could add an odor to the traps. You just spent a lot of time, money and effort getting them odor-free. Don't mess it up by storing them in with the onions or dirty laundry.

OK...if you HAD TO - You could possibly skip the clean, dye, and wax, as long as all your trap sets were under water. Above water, your scent will keep animals away. My wife swears that my scent keeps us safe from elephants. Wonder what she means by that? We don't seem to have any elephants here...I guess she's right. RT


There are several reasons that I pick the Muskrat as my second animal of choice to trap in a survival situation. (The first choice is the Rabbit.)

  • Muskrats produce many babies each year. You will not be able to hunt them to extinction, no matter what you do.
  • With just a few simple traps, you can continue feeding your family when everyone else is starving.
  • The fur from these animals can be used like any leather goods product, even to tanning up a fake-mink coat in the wintertime.
  • Trapping muskrats is legal in almost every state, but in "non-emergency times (like NOW)" you will need a license.


Pay close attention to your states laws on trapping with steel traps. They are not legal everywhere. In an emergency….you know the rest.

The muskrat is a member of the RODENT FAMILY...BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT A RAT!

The rabbit is a member of the RODENT FAMILY AND IT IS NOT A RAT EITHER.

I have a personal feeling that if, way back in the beginning of time, someone had called this animal a Water Rabbit, we would not hesitate to dine on it. As it is now, if you tell your family that tonight's dinner is Muskrat, stand back or you'll be run over as they try to get away from the table.

I like that. Let's refer to Muskrats as Water Rabbits. It's a lot classier than "muskrat".
Remember: Rabbit is "Hasenpfeffer", and Muskrat is "Water Rabbit". It's all in the presentation.


SETTING THE TRAPS

POCKET SET


This is the first trap set I learned as a youth. The Florida Roundtail Muskrat is smaller than the mid-western Common Muskrat, but the dens are the same. If there is no large bank, the Muskrat will pile up brush and weeds and mud to form a den with two entrances and both are underwater. Muskrats will only inhabit fresh water areas, not salt water.

Winter Muskrat fur is strikingly similar to mink. That is why most trappers caught the fur in the wintertime. The pelts were worth more money.

There may be up to 6 or 8 animals in a large den that can be caught one at a time. If a trap doesn't produce after 3 days, move on to better pickings.

One possible reason for the low Florida Muskrat population would be the fact that they share the same aquatic environment as the Alligator. Alligators eat anything, including Muskrats. Outside of Florida, the Muskrat has only the normal predators to contend with: Bobcat, Coyote, owls, hawks, snapping turtles, foxes and people.

Most states that still allow steel traps make it mandatory that some form of drowning provision be included so the animals' suffering is kept to a minimum. Seen above in the cut away view, you see the chain loop is around a pole that slants down towards the deeper water. The chain can be set fairly snug to the pole, if you want. What happens is that the Muskrat steps into the trap and gets caught. While he is thrashing about, the chain slides down deeper and deeper into the water, drowning the Muskrat.


DROWNER DEVICES

These little items are called Drowner Locks. One end of it is secured to the chain of the trap. A long wire or cable is stretched out from the bank (hidden, of course) and then sunk deep out in the water. The cable runs through the other hole in the Drowner Lock. Because of the shape of the Lock, it can only be moved towards the deeper water, and cannot be pulled back up by the Muskrat.

It's important that you use something like this, particularly when there is a big population of Raccoons around. Raccoons have insatiable curiosity. They will look into every hole, nook or cranny, in their never-ending search for food. Sometimes they get caught up in Muskrat traps. You need a STRONG drowner to kill a 40 pound, very mad Raccoon.

If you catch a Raccoon that is still alive in a steel trap, kill it quickly. It will hurt you if you try to release it. Raccoons (unlike squirrels) DO carry rabies. Use a gun, or a long club, and kill it quick. You can eat the raccoon too.

The above Drowner Locks are available for sale in several web sites, or you can just drill two smaller holes in a large washer, and then bend the washer in half. Whatever works.


DEEP WATER POLES

Looking back on the drawing on the Pocket Set, you will see that I included a slanted pole to hold the chain of the trap. This is good, and it is bad. It's good because it's easy and quick to set up by the trapper. Its bad because its also an easy "tell" to others that there are traps in the area, and a dead giveaway to the people who steal traps for a living. While the slanted pole can also be "hidden" slightly below water level, that makes it even harder for you to run your own trap line.

"Running" a trap line means that you look at each and every trap checking for dead or dying animals. You remove the dead animals and reset the trap in the same (or different) location. Only when the last trap is accounted for are you through "running your traps". Incidentally, only you can do this. Nobody else will know where you put them, unless they were with you when you set them out. If all your traps and poles are under water, they will effectively disappear from casual view.

I call it "casual" view because a game warden can see them from 3 miles away. That's what they do. They have keen eyes and will glom onto you in a heartbeat if you are doing something wrong.



MARKING YOUR TRAPS

Many states make it mandatory to put your name or some other identification on each trap so the authorities can see who is who, and what is what. At first glance it seems to be a particularly good idea if you catch someone stealing your traps. It happens. But, if you are trapping in an emergency situation to feed your family, putting your name on a trap is admitting to a crime if its not the politically correct season of the year to be trapping. Like every other rule in the forest, you have to make up your own minds as to which ones to obey...and which ones to ignore. It's your conscience. And your money.

The difference between "survival trapping" and "poaching" is moot.


FLOAT SET

Muskrat and some other aquatic animals tend to climb up on floating logs or other surface objects. The trapper can take advantage of that behavior by using existing floating logs or by building a small floating platform and concealing traps where the animal will trigger them. When such sets are used in 1 foot or more of water, the weight of the trap will drown the muskrat. The trapper can avoid catching ducks by placing a crossed pair of branch hoops about 6" over the float.

Float sets are particularly effective where water levels fluctuate markedly. Two flat scrap boards are nailed to two logs. The traps are laid on top of the boards, under the water level. No lure is needed but can be used, if desired. Hold the float in place otherwise the wind will blow it away and you will never find your traps. I prefer to use 1 or 2 long poles to hold the traps and the float in one place. The chain and drowner needs to be long enough so that when the animal knocks the trap off of the board, both the animal and the trap stay under water, drowning the animal.
The chain needs to be attached to something fairly strong so that heavier, stronger raccoons don't walk off with your trap still attached.


CHANNEL SET

Most semi-aquatic fur bearers follow well defined trails under water. Since the animal commonly goes through restricted spaces, body-gripping traps of adequate sizes are ideal for trapping these channels. Where the channel is too large for the trap, it may be fenced or otherwise constricted using brush and similar natural materials. The trap is usually more effective if it is placed at the bottom of the channel. Mink will be taken occasionally in channel sets for muskrat. Beaver are effectively trapped in their channels, and otter may be caught in those sets as well.


OTHER SPOTS

Other places that are good muskrat sets are at their feed beds and where they have their toilets. The feed beds look like floating mats of cut vegetation. This is where the muskrat takes its food to sit and eat. Some feed beds can be as small as a few inches wide and others can be a couple feet wide. A feed bed set is shown below using a small long-spring trap.
Muskrat toilets can be on floating logs, on rocks protruding from the water and on the bank. They tend to use the same places over and over and this makes it a good place to set a trap for them. Shown below is a set using a small long-spring trap on a log protruding from the water where the muskrats are climbing on it to use it for a toilet.

The name muskrat, common throughout the animal's range, derives from the paired perineal musk glands found beneath the skin at the ventral base of the tail in both sexes. These musk glands are used during the breeding season. Musk is secreted on logs or other defecation areas, around houses, bank dens, and trails on the bank to mark the area.


SKINNING MUSKRAT

BASIC INSTRUCTIONS FOR SKINNING MUSKRATS
(basic methodology may be used for other animals)


The muskrat should be skinned as soon as possible after being trapped. Slit the skin on the inside of the hind legs from the paws to the vent and cut off both hind and fore paws and the tail. Then work the skin off inside out using the knife as little as possible, taking particular care when skinning around the eyes and lips. The skin should then be scraped with a dull knife to remove all flesh and fat, washed with lukewarm water to remove the blood, and placed fur side in on a wedge-shaped stretching board made of soft wood, to dry. RT: I used to hang the animal upside down to do this part.

Remove the head from the carcass, then eviscerate the animal. Insert the knife blade, sharp edge up, at the tip of the breastbone. Cut through the thin meat over the belly down to, and encircling, the vent. Lay the body cavity open and remove the viscera by grasping them above the stomach, pulling down and out from the body cavity. Remove the heart and lungs, and wash the muskrat thoroughly with warm salted water. With a sharp knife, cut out the musk glands from inside the legs, the white tissuey skin, and all fat. Soak the meat for two or three hours in a weak brine solution (1 tbsp. salt to 1 quart water) to draw out the blood, then drain and pat dry.

Source: Ellis, Eleanor A. (1973) Northern Cookbook. Ottawa: Information Canada.
Collected by Bert Christensen
Toronto, Ontario
web site: Bert.com


KNOW THE ENEMY


At the request of my wife, I must add that in the above instructions for skinning a muskrat I refer to the muskrat's "Vent". For clarification this is the anus or rectum of the animal...and usually includes the genitalia. Cut around all of this stuff, and tie it off with a piece of string.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference has nutritional information for roasted muskrat.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has studied the age-old Muskrat and published these nutrient values for Muskrat meat. Somebody got paid to sit down and do this.


MUSKRAT MENU

Now you caught it, you cleaned it, but how to cook it? A tour around the internet gathered up the following recipes. Credit is given if it was available. If you have other recipes, send them to RT and I'll put them into the article.

1. BRAISED MUSKRAT

by Louis Campbell
visi.com/~wick
Toledo is the center of a large muskrat trapping and eating area. And, believe you me, the little "marsh rabbits" are really something to rave about. If possible, get the muskrat directly from the trapper, who will remove the musk glands. Remove all the fat (this is important) and cut into convenient pieces. Soak in salt water overnight. Roll in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, or flour and corn meal mixed and fry in hot lard until browned. Add 1/2 cup of water, cover and simmer until done. Meat may be covered with onions, tomatoes or mixed vegetables before simmering process.



2. FRED'S MUSKRAT

astro.cf.ac.uk
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)
3-4 muskrats (all fat and glands removed)
1/2 lb. bacon
1/2 bunch celery, chopped
4 onions, chopped
1/2 lb. oleo
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
salt
pepper
21 oz canned tomato soup (2 standard cans)

PREPARATION

(1) Saute bacon, celery, onions, oleo, and cayenne pepper together for 10 minutes.
(2) Put rats in bottom of a pan you can cover tight (my mother makes a double batch and uses the roaster she cooks turkey in).
(3) Pour sautééd mixture over the
rats, and then cover with tomato soup. (Don't add water to the soup.)
(4) Bake, covered, for 2 1/2 hours at 350 deg. F or until done.



3. FRIED MUSKRAT AND GRAVY

coon-n-crockett.org
Put some regular all-purpose flour in a paper bag, add some salt and black pepper, then add the pieces of rat and shake to cover. Let the meat sit for a few minutes while you heat some oil in a skillet to moderately hot, then fry it until crispy brown and well cooked.
When the meat is finished cooking, remove the meat and drain all but 1-2 tablespoons of oil from the pan. Add 1-2 tablespoons of flour to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour begins to brown a bit. Then add one cup of milk and simmer until the gravy is thickened to suit you, salt to taste, and serve.
Serve with some sourdough biscuits, and what more could you want? :-)
Most any recipe you would use for rabbit would work just fine. A favorite of mine is to fix the rabbit/rat as above, then take all the meat out of the skillet and put it into a casserole dish. Add a little of the oil from the skillet, a little water, cover and bake for 2 hours at moderate heat. Remove the top and cook another 30 minutes to crisp it up a bit, and it's done. The meat will fall off the bones, and you will be shy about sharing it with your buddies.
Bob Spencer
bspen@aye.net

RT: These recipes definitely could be improved by changing the word "rat" or "muskrat" to "Water Rabbit", don't you think?



4. MUSKRAT SOUP

Peavine.com
This recipe is published here with the gracious permission of Ann McElhinney.
Total carbs (calculated using 1 lb. muskrat and 2 cups cream):
22 g

1 muskrat
cream
3 hard boiled eggs
1 T dry mustard
1 T flour
To Taste Black and cayenne pepper and salt

Covered prepared muskrat (musk removed and thoroughly washed) with water in a pot with cover, and cook slowly until tender, adding water if needed. Cool and take meat from bones and cut into small pieces with scissors (it is important to use scissors). Save the pot liquor and add an equal quantity of cream. Mash egg yolks, add mustard and flour and stir liquid into it. Season to taste with black and cayenne pepper and salt. Chop egg whites and, with the meat add to soup after it has boiled. Serve very hot. Sherry may be added at the table or before.



5. OVEN MUSKRAT

CyberSoup.com
Use only hams or shoulders. Be careful when you skin or clean rat and don't cut into the musk glands on the lower part of the belly. Take out white stringy stuff from inside of each leg. Boil with one sliced onion for 30 minutes. Drain, flour the pieces, and put in baking pan. Salt and pepper and put 8 slices of bacon or salt pork on top. Put 1/4 cup of vinegar and 1/4 cup of water in pan and roast until tender. Baste often with juice in pan as rats are pretty dry. It may smell a little different to you while cooking, but you'll learn to really like it.

RT: This is also easily prepared in a cast iron Dutch Oven.



6. SMOTHERED MUSKRAT AND ONIONS

Bert.com
Ingredients:
1 Muskrat
1 tbsp. Salt
1 quart Water
1 1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Paprika
1/2 cup Flour
3 tbsp. Fat
3 large onions; sliced
1 cup Sour cream

Skin and clean the muskrat, remove fat, scent glands and white tissue inside each leg. Soak muskrat overnight in a weak brine solution of 1 Tbsp. salt to 1 quart water. Drain, disjoint and cut up. Put flour, salt & paprika in a paper bag. Add muskrat pieces and shake until each piece is well coated. Melt fat in heavy fry pan, add the muskrat pieces and sauté slowly until browned. When meat is browned, cover with onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper and pour the cream over. Cover fry pan and simmer for 1 hour.
Yield: 4 servings

Source: The Northern Cookbook from the Ministry of Indian
Affairs, Ottawa, Canada, edited by Eleanor A. Ellis
Collected by Bert Christensen
Toronto, Ontario
web site: http://bertc.com



7. MUSKRAT CASSEROLE

NEArtica.com
Ingredients:
5 tablespoons butter
2 muskrats cut into pieces
1-1/2 cups thick cream
1/3 cup vinegar
5 scallions diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in casserole and brown the muskrat pieces lightly in it. Mix the cream, vinegar, scallions, salt, pepper, herbs and butter to the ingredients. Pour half the cream mixture over the muskrat. Cover casserole and simmer over very low heat for an hour. Be careful not to burn the mixture. Skim off the butter and add remaining cream mixture. Heat gently for 10 minutes until sauce thickens. Serves 6



8. MUSKRAT STEW

NEArtica.com
Ingredients
1 muskrat cut into pieces
flour
salt and pepper
2-1/2 tablespoons butter
7 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon thyme
1 cup corn
3 potatoes, cubed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 medium onions, sliced
2 cups canned tomatoes with juice

Roll the muskrat pieces in flour, salt, and pepper. Brown in butter. Add muskrat and all other ingredients, (with the exception of the tomatoes), to the boiling water, cover, and simmer for 1/2 to 2 hours. Add the tomatoes and continue to simmer another hour. Serves 4.

The above 8 recipes don't even include the old standby: Clean and gut the "Water Rabbit", taking off all the musk glands from the abdominal area. Hang the entire carcass on a green stick and set over a fire, preferably the coals. Cook until all meat is VERY DONE. Bon Appetite.
Option One: Spread the meat out over a metal grill, and barbecue with your favorite sauce.


YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN NOW, PILGRIM!
Marion Michael Morrison (a.k.a. John Wayne)
1907-1979
My hero!