Muskrats are found in just about every state of the union including small areas of Florida and California. The name “Muskrat” is derived from their scent glands, located on the ventral base of their tail, which is used to mark territories during breeding season. This scent can be strong and people generally find it offensive. It is common to have such scent marked on homes, sheds, bank dens, boat docks and other areas where muskrat are active.
Muskrat are small compared to beaver. The average size is 18″ to 24″, but some have been known to grow over 30″ long. Muskrat don’t live too long; their average life is 2-3 years. Gestation is 25 – 35 days and females in the southern part of the country will produce more than 6 litters a year.
Muskrat are aquatic. They like to live in ponds, streams, swamps, lakes, rivers, roadside ditches and just about anywhere water can collect for periods of time. They will use plants for building dens as well as river banks; feeding dens, platforms and mounds are also commonly constructed of vegetation when available. Muskrat are generally vegetarians, but they will eat frogs, salamanders, newts, crayfish, mussels and fish. They readily eat any healthy plant such as cattail or horsetail and can delete much of the plant life in small ponds or lakes if allowed to do so.
MUSKRAT POPULATION GROWTH
Muskrat populations are subject to large change based on both food supply and predatory presence. Since they can reproduce quickly, populations will rebound following a killing flood or regional outbreak of disease. Many areas of the country may not notice them at all and then the following year wonder where they all came from. Raccoon, fox, coyote, snapping turtles and even certain species of fish all find young muskrat tasty and won’t pass up such a meal if presented. Though largely nocturnal, muskrat can be seen at dusk or dawn. Referred to as “water rats” by many, this animal is capable of two kinds of damage.
The most common type of damage muskrat commit is in the garden. Being largely vegetarian, they will find the best plants and eat them during the night. Many a garden has been ruined by browsing muskrat protected by darkness. Though you can try sitting out all night to shoot these invaders, you will quickly learn this is not a practical method of stopping them. There are two things you can do to stop browsing damage. The first is to treat plants you want to protect with a liquid repellent called ROPEL. This material is odorless but tastes bitter. Sprayed plants will be ignored by muskrat; they will be forced to find food elsewhere. Treatments will last up to 6 weeks depending on weather. Once they learn your garden has food which tastes “bad”, they will move on to greener pastures and learn to feed elsewhere.
MUSKRAT LIVE TRAPPING
If food supplies are limited around your property, you may be forced to trap the active muskrat. This can be done with an assortment of traps. If you prefer to live trap it, use a LT7824, which measures 7″ x 8″ x 24″. This is generally big enough to handle any muskrat you may have and the 1/2″ by 1″ mesh insures that even young small animals won’t be able to escape.
Bait it with some of our special MUSKRAT BAIT. They love this stuff and it will work every time. Place 1-2 teaspoons on the trip pan of the trap and just a dab at the entrance. The placement at the entrance will direct them to where they need to in order to enter the trap. Make your sets in the evening and relocate the animals at least 10 miles away.
Muskrat can also cause damage which is more serious than eating desirable plants. Their burrows can lead to dramatic problems with water levels including runoff, leaks and unwanted flooding. Dens can go unnoticed for long periods of time. Be sure to inspect shore lines when you can. For many regions, this may be in the winter months or during dry spells when water levels drop. Be sure to fill empty dens with dirt and make sure dams have not sustained enough damage to cause them to break. If left unchecked, populations of muskrat can cause massive problems with water levels.
MUSKRAT KILL TRAPS
To handle populations which are large or if you want to trap muskrat as a sport, the use of BODYGRIP 110 TRAPS can be very effective. COIL # 1 and LONGSPRING # 1 can also be used but they don’t kill muskrat; they just catch them by the leg. The bodygrip trips will work when used along muskrat runs. These are generally water trails they’ll establish in streams, ponds, etc. where they travel. Muskrat will use these trails over and over. Place a Bodygrip trap in the run and they’ll never notice it’s there.
MUSKRAT TRAPPING GUIDE
Coil and longspring traps are a bit more complicated to use. Placements must be along shore lines, close to their den or where they’re feeding. If you are a beginner, we recommend getting our MUSKRAT TRAPPING HANDBOOK to help make efficient trap sets. This guide will help explain where, how and the best sets you can make along watersheds, ponds, rivers or anywhere you want to trap muskrat.
Furriers have trapped more muskrat than any other animal and leghold longspring traps have caught the majority. Since it’s introduction, the Bodygrip has become the favorite of most trappers. The difference is that the bodygrip is a true kill trap. It needs to be set at den openings, muskrat runs (trails along shoreline or stream beds where muskrat travel where you can see the path) and culverts. There are many other sets that can be used as muskrat are easy to trap and the set you use is limited only to your imagination.
MUSKRAT TRAP LURE
Leghold traps can be just as easy to use and will enable you to make even more sets than the Bodygrip. Make sets on feeding mounds, shoreline or where you know there is activity such as in your garden. The longspring or the coil design will work well. These sets can be baited and you can even use some MUSKRAT LURE to make territorial sets. These will generally attract local muskrats and will get them by appealing to their marking and territory scenting instinct. Again, our handbook gets into detail of how to make these sets.
MULTIPLE CATCH MUSKRAT TRAPS
If you have even larger populations to control, the use of COLONY TRAPS can prove to be helpful. These are set along runs and will catch unknowing muskrat which will literally enter as they move about. Once inside, they can’t escape. Set these along muskrat runs and pathways you know they are using. Colony traps are limited in the type of setting where they can be used but could prove to be helpful when trying to control local populations which have grown too large and where making simple sets over vast areas is needed.
Muskrat can become quite a problem in urban areas when they decide to feed on local gardens and plants which are needed for lakes and ponds. Their burrows can cause water to run off at alarming rates upsetting delicate balances of ecosystems. Spray Ropel on plants you want to protect. Live trap if you have a small number of animals which are causing the problem. Employ Bodygrip and leghold traps if you are having to control large numbers or if you want to trap for sport. Colony traps can prove helpful when dealing with large numbers as well. Our Muskrat book should be able to assist you in learning many sets needed for the different environments you are likely to encounter.