|One of the 32 muskrats we recovered from 48 sets in the Tower Marsh;|
check out an article we posted a couple springs back about this important player in the coastal marsh ecosystem
|Muskrats prefer cattails to construct their|
mounded dens (as evidence by the
isolated Phragmites left standing)
Until very recently, Darl did all of this while holding down a full-time natural resource position for a local park district and (in more recent years) overseeing a family maple syrup farm that operated near the Pennsylvania line for a full hundred years. Now retired, he can devote even more time to what is clearly a passion.
I couldn't get to the marsh till almost 8:30 that Wednesday morning. Darl had already been up for a few hours (at least!) and had already checked more than 30 of the traps that he set the day before by the time I got in his punt boat. While I have some exposure to trapping -- mostly as a young kid watching an older cousin and in reading books on the subject -- I learned more in six hours than I could have learned any other way. It was a memorable day (to put it modestly). Below is a photo depiction of some of what I saw and learned.
|One of our punt boats loaded with gear|
My biggest takeaways from the day:
(1) trapping -- even when it is 45 degrees and sunny in January -- is a heck of a lot of work (the best kind of work);
(2) trapping requires a sound understanding of animal behavior, but when it comes down to it, it can be fairly simple (like so many things in the outdoors, it is immensely gratifying because it often boils down to 'cause and effect');
(3) trapping could easily slip into the realm of a passion for me (and I think for my kids); and,
(4) 10,000 is one hell of a lot of muskrats!
|Most of the sets utilized were "leg holds" but Darl|
couldn't resist setting a conibear when
presented with the perfect opportunity
Darl's experience and technique insure that the animals are killed quickly and humanely. And while the fur trade continues to struggle to rebound from an artificial over-supply (thanks to hundreds of millions of farm-raised mink introduced into the trade from China about a decade ago), every animal is carefully handled and fully utilized.
As the balance of the photos below demonstrate, a 3-4 pound healthy muskrat has a beautifully rich and amazingly soft pelt. It is truly a renewable natural resource. Darl works through the largest and oldest fur buyer in North America (up on the Hudson Bay) and if everything works out just right, he stands to make about $3-$3.25 per animal this season. Considering that he trapped and skinned 152 rats over the course of the week -- and that he still has to "flesh" (remove fat) and stretch each pelt before selling to his buyer (sometime in March), he is not doing this for the money. He does it because he loves it -- the entire process . . . from the early mornings to the full days, to the anticipation of what the new dawn will bring. As a 60-something, he enthusiastically admitted that he still lies awake at night retracing his day's efforts, restless in anticipation of which traps will bear out. Pretty cool.
|Hair color ranges from reddish blond to brown and even to black; condition, color, and proper presentation are all|
keys to maximizing price on the market
Aside: To read more about why all this effort helps us from a management perspective, check out an article we published last spring. Darl worked 12+ hour days for five straight days (not including the time to mobilize and demobilize from his home a couple hours east). He concentrated on just 60 acres of wetland at Standing Rush. He was obviously very successful, but there are plenty more muskrats even in those waters. The only thing that stopped him was a quick freeze. Open water or safe "walking ice" present ideal conditions, but trapping is tough when we're stuck in between as we are now. We hope he'll be able to come back sometime in February to continue his efforts. He'd start by concentrating on dike banks, another area (besides dens) that unfortunately tend to draw muskrats in concentrated numbers. If he comes back, I hope to be able to get back out there with him. Still so much to learn.