Trapping Muskrat Under the Ice

One of the more interesting things about the Muskrat is that it is active pretty much all year round, all over the USA. What this means is that, theoretically anyway, you could trap them any time you felt like it. Of course you should still consult hunting and trapping laws in your State first.
Trapping muskrat on land is a fairly straightforward venture; they’re so trap-friendly that you could probably just use a trap made for any other animal as long as it’s big enough.

And there are several other articles on this site that pertain to trapping them in or around the water. But what if it happens to be the dead of winter and all the streams, lakes and ponds in your area are frozen over, effectively hiding the muskrat dens and trails? This article aims to provide you with a unique way to help you figure this out and trap muskrat under the ice with only marginally more effort than you’d need during the summer.

Locating the Trail:
The first order of business is to locate the den and/or trail. An easy way to do this is to mark out their locations during the summer months before the ice shows itself and simply follow your markers to the trap site whenever you want. But let’s assume that you didn’t display such foresight and now find yourself staring at a frozen lake with no idea where the muskrat are.

You need to ascertain exactly how thick (and therefore, how safe) the ice is. You can do this most easily by visiting a hunting store nearby and asking them, or just measuring the thickness yourself using a drill, an ice auger or an ice chisel and tape measure. If the ice is anything less than 4 inches, consider this a lost cause and wait till the summer. If it is 4 inches or thicker, then you’re in luck. Note that these figures only apply to new clear ice. White ice is not as structurally sound and is therefore not safe at 4 inches. You have been warned.

You’ll need to do some legwork at this point. Look for tiny air bubbles just under the surface of the ice. They are accurate indicators of the exact trail that the muskrats travel to and from their dens. They will only be visible if the ice isn’t too thick, however. Caution, you must be extra careful when trapping muskrat under the ice. Plenty of stories of people falling in..

Setting the Trap:
Once you’ve located the bubble trail, simply find a convenient spot anywhere along the trail to set the trap. You’ll need to cut a hole in the ice that is wide enough to allow both the muskrat and the trap to be pulled out. The trap that is ideal for this scenario is the Muskrat Board Set. For details on how to construct and set one up please visit our article on the [Muskrat Board Set].

The ice will freeze over and steady your trap later, so just make sure that it is firmly affixed into the earth below the ice.

Retrieving Your Catch:
Since the Ice is clear and part of the Board Set serves as a marker, you should have no trouble telling if the muskrat has triggered the trap. You will probably have to loosen the ice around the top of the trap once again to retrieve the Board Set with the drowned muskrat in tow.

How to Setup a Muskrat Float Set

What is a Muskrat Float Set?
When water conditions are turbulent or water levels fluctuate markedly, the muskrat is not above using floating logs or other detritus as a serene island of calm in the storm. Food and rest are a premium for the muskrat during times like these and an enterprising (not to mention innovative) trapper can take advantage of this.

Any set that is designed to trap a muskrat while it is resting on these “floaters” is called, not surprisingly, a Muskrat Float Set. This article aims to provide tips to set up your own Muskrat Float Set and the boons and banes of using them.

Basic Setup of a Muskrat Float Set:
Since the muskrat is not very trap-shy, you need not bother with camouflage or foliage when designing your Float Set. You do, however, need to decide whether you will be using an existing log as the trap site or if you’ll be building your own floater.

If you’re going with the former, remember to test the strength of the log before you set the trap up. The last thing you want is the log to break under your weight as you prepare the trap. You can go ahead and use a conibear trap for this set, though a foothold trap will be fine as well. Bait is unnecessary but will help a little; use raw carrots in that case. And don’t be shy with the nails when you attempt to fasten the trap to the log; there are few things more vexing than a lost trap.

Making your own floater takes more effort, but affords a great deal more versatility as a result. You could let your imagination run wild and form patterns with wooden planks and boards to best suit your tastes. We would recommend a cross pattern formed from two 1×6 boards, but the choice is up to you.

Try to set multiple traps, preferably one for each arm of the cross, because you could catch multiple muskrats this way if you’re lucky. Whatever you do, just make sure that the float is very firmly attached to something on the bank unless you want to end up loosing your trap.

Another tip is to possibly attach some sticks or twigs around your trap in order to keep ducks and other birds from interfering with it. Don’t overdo it though, as you still want the muskrat to be able to trigger the trap.

Advantages of the Muskrat Float Set:

Fairly easy to construct once you’ve located the approximate area of a muskrat den. Since you can use bait with this trap, the trap site need not be exact.
The Float Set might be your only option if the water is rough because muskrats have been known to abandon their usual trails in such instances.
Disadvantages of the Muskrat Float Set:

Because this set is normally used when the water levels fluctuate, they are not the most effective traps during the calm when most Muskrats simply stick to their own trails. Also, the presence of bait could result in other animals or birds interfering with your trap.
If you are still having trouble, here is a video that may help you out when setting up your Muskrat Float Set:

Top Muskrat Traps That Actually Work: Don’t waste your time

If you’re reading this article then it’s fairly evident that you’re at least considering turning to the adaptable Muskrat for your trapping needs. This semi-aquatic burrowing rodent does offer an interesting new experience for trappers that have only restricted themselves to more traditional burrowers such as rabbits or weasels; primarily because of their amphibious nature.

The fact that you can just as easily trap them in the water as on land gives you a lot of options for the kind of trap or trapping method that you can use. This article aims to provide a very basic and general description of the best types of muskrat traps, in no particular order. Each of these traps (also known as “sets”) will be explained in much greater detail in their respective articles; feel free to click their links if any of them catch your fancy.

keep in mind though that Muskrat traps will vary depending on where you are planning to go trapping along with the season. Some traps have been proven to be better than others so you might need to try a few different things in order to succeed. Also note: Make sure you check for what seasons your state allows to trap in as you don’t want to be out illegally trapping.

Types of Muskrat Traps:
Spring Run Muskrat Set:
Named more for the location of the trap rather than the trap itself, a spring run muskrat set is any kind of trap (usually a foothold or body gripping trap) that is located in the narrower sections of a stream that flows into a larger body of water. These spots are usually frequented by raccoons and mink as well, so spring run traps can easily be modified to catch those animals too. We consider this to be one of the top muskrat traps to use due to how versatile it is.

Muskrat Runway Set:
The muskrat is a creature that doesn’t really do very well with covering its tracks. They usually leave deep furrows or “runways” in the shallow parts of the stream that they most frequent. Body gripping traps deployed at these locations are quite successful at catching the creatures.

Muskrat Slide Set:
In the same vein as the last set, the muskrat slide set also takes advantage of the rodent’s complete lack of concern for its own trail. The spots where the muskrat officially earns its semi-aquatic descriptor are usually quite distinctive and these “slides” that link water with land are ideal sites for your traps.

Muskrat Den Set:
Once you’ve located the muskrat’s primary abode, it should feel quite natural to set a trap at the place it feels most safe. Muskrat den traps are even more appealing than the others because they do not require the use of lures or bait. All they need to do is simply swim on in and they’ll be trapped in no time. Some trappers find this to be one of the top muskrat traps simply due to the ease of trapping it offers. Assuming you actually find a den though thats suitable for the trap.

Muskrat Board Set:
These sets take advantage of the harsher segments of winter when the water over the muskrat trails has frozen over. One would nail both trap and bait onto a narrow wooden board and plunge it into the earth under the ice at an incline (after cutting out a small hole in the ice, of course). The closer the board set is located to a muskrat trail, the better the trap works.

Muskrat Float Set:
Muskrats must be the surfers of the animal kingdom because they seem to enjoy riding floating logs and other detritus. Setting traps on these “floaters” can be an interesting way to trap yourself a muskrat, even if this particular set is somewhat challenging to get right.

How to Setup a Spring Run Muskrat Set

What is a Spring Run Muskrat Set?
Muskrats are rather bold creatures and are quite comfortable moving very far from their dens in search of food. This quality, coupled with their amphibious nature, allows for rather long trails that pass over both land and water. The point in the trail where a smaller stream joins a larger body of water is ideal for setting a trap because it is nature’s way of funnelling the target into a narrow underwater channel. Any trap that takes advantage of this opportunity to nab muskrats is called a Spring Run Muskrat Set.

Basic Setup of a Spring Run Muskrat Set:
Since this trap is named more for its location as opposed to its construction, you could theoretically use any trap that is designed to catch a Muskrat for this set. Practically, however, you will want to either use a Conibear trap or a Foothold trap as they are usually the most effective. If the water at the trap site is on the deeper side, then the Foothold trap is the better choice. For shallow water, the Conibear trap does wonders. Be sure to look up the laws in your state pertaining to legal trap types, just to be safe.

It is crucial that you fasten the trap firmly at the narrowest point of the spring run. And remember that the slower the flow of water, the better your chances of catching that muskrat. Retrieving the trapped muskrat (or racoon) from the set is a straightforward matter, but gloves are always a good thing when handling a trap.

If you have difficulty locating the trail in the water, look for evidence like droppings or trampled vegetation and more visible signs from nearby land. Or you could be infinitely more patient and simply observe the spring run for the entire day to see which animals use it to travel.

Advantages of thethis Set:

They do not require bait, which is a very good thing when it comes to muskrat trapping. Muskrats may not be trap-shy, but they are quite resistant to bait outside of winter time owing to their omnivorous nature.
Easy to set up once the ideal site is located. All you have to do is buy the Conibear or Foothold trap from your local hunting store or online.
Disadvantages of the this Set:

It is very easy to inadvertently trap other animals with this set. Raccoons and even mink are all potential red herrings, keeping you from your muskrat prize. Therefore it might be a good idea to set multiple traps just to hedge your bets.
This set requires a bit of legwork before it can be deployed. While muskrat trails are some of the easiest to locate, it can still be something of a challenge to newcomers. Also, the lack of bait means that the trap must be set in the exact path of the muskrat, or it will almost have to be directly near it unlike traps that use bait.
For the most part, this video provides a good overview once you watch it thoroughly.

How to Setup a Muskrat Den Set

What is a Muskrat Den Set?
While most of the traps and sets that you read about regarding muskrat involve the various features of their very obvious trails in some way or the other, this particular set eschews the trail completely. Muskrats either live in lodges made of reeds or underwater burrows dug into the banks of streams; these dwellings are generally referred to as “dens”.

And any set that takes advantage of the entrance of such a muskrat den is called, not surprisingly, a Muskrat Den Set. This article serves to educate you on the basics of the Muskrat Den Set, along with the pros and cons of using them.

Basic Setup:
Like most muskrat sets, this one is also named after the location of the trap as opposed to its construction. This means that, theoretically at least, you could use any water-based trap designed for a muskrat with this set. Practically however, you are most likely to catch a muskrat is you use a Body Gripping trap (Conibear, for instance) or a Foothold trap. The Conibear Traps are markedly more successful than the Foothold ones, but if your state prohibits their use, then the foothold trap is a decent alternative, especially if supplemented with support and tangle stakes.

Locating the den is a fairly straightforward process. The lodges are easily spotted because they resemble a small stack of hay sticking out of the water. The underwater bank dens are a bit trickier to locate, but are still fairly obvious because of the constantly disturbed earth just outside the den entrance. So if you see muddy water leading away from the bank, you should examine it for a muskrat den.

Please note that you should consider getting wet when looking for these bank dens because they can cave under your weight if you just walk along the bank itself. Also, if you somehow happen to locate an obvious bank den that does not have freshly disturbed earth near the entrance, it has probably been abandoned and you should move on.

Once the den has been located, all that’s left is to set the trap. The Conibear trap should be set just outside the den entrance, but preferably as close to the underwater earth as possible. Use a vertical support rod or stick to firmly fasten the trap in place. You could also use smaller twigs and sticks to funnel the animal even further into the path of the trap. The support rod also serves as a marker for the trap site if you want.

Advantages of this Set:

No bait or lure is necessary for this trap. In fact, bait is best avoided in order to minimize the risk of luring other species to the trap.
Quite easy to set up once the den has been located. All you need is to purchase a conibear or foothold trap from your local Hunting store or online.
Disadvantages of this Set:

It can be a bit dangerous to locate the dens without entering the water, as they can cave in under your weight. And if you enter the water, then you will get…well, wet.

How to Setup a Muskrat Board Set How to Setup a Muskrat Board Set

What is a Muskrat Board Set?
The Muskrat is nothing if not adaptable. They tend to stay active throughout the year, even during the harsh winter months when the surface of the water bodies that their dens are located in freeze over. While this makes trapping them a touch more complicated, it is not completely out of the question. The Muskrat Board Set is the ideal, perhaps the only viable option during this interesting time.

It is essentially a board with a trap and bait attached that is partially submerged in the water through a hole cut into the ice. This article serves to educate you on how to set up your own Muskrat Board Set and the pros and cons of using them. For more tips on a related topic, please visit our article on [Trapping Muskrat Under the Ice].

Basic Setup of a Muskrat Board Set:
While a Board Set can be used on land as well, it is best used when trying to trap muskrat under the ice. During the dead of winter, locating the muskrat den or trail isn’t as straightforward as it is during the summer. But the key tip is to look for air bubbles that are trapped under the surface of the ice, as they lead to and away from Muskrat dens. The bubbles will be visible through 10 centimeters of ice, but any thicker and you’ll probably not be able to make them out.

And this goes without saying, but make sure the ice is safe enough to handle your weight before you even think about setting up this trap.

The first thing to do is to cut out a hole in the ice that is wide enough to allow both the board set and the soon-to-be trapped muskrat to pass through. You can use any number of tools for this, though we would recommend an ice spud. The board set consists of a wooden board, usually 1×4 of 7 or so feet in length. Carve a wedge into the end that will be shoved into the water, and consequently the earth under it at about a 45 degree angle. This will help to keep the board set in place. The trap itself should be a foothold one for best results.

This set works best with bait; some might even say that it is a requirement. A small raw carrot will do quite well. The bait should be affixed to the area of the board that is approximately 2-3 inches under the ice surface and the trap should be another 2-3 inches below the bait. Lean the board against the ice hole and it should freeze over in time to secure the board set completely. Check the trap every 24 hours (you should be able to see through the ice) and cut the hole open again around the board set to retrieve your catch.

Advantages of this Set:

This is essentially your only real option to catch a muskrat during winter in the water. The set is also very reliable and can be reused even years after its construction.
Disadvantages of this Set:

If the ice is either too thin or too thick, then you’ll not be using the Board Set any time soon.
Obviously there will be more risk of trapping in the cold too.
In general, you’ll find most trappers having a preference in what trap is best. Its really going to end up with you trying a trap or technique and seeing how it works. Personally, some trapping techniques don’t work for me; while I have others simply saying I’m doing it wrong. In the end, you can give it a shot and see how it ends up! It may be the best trap you’ve ever tried.

Tips and Techniques To a Muskrat Runway Set

What is a Muskrat Runway Set?
Muskrats love the water, especially the shallow parts that allow them to occasionally peek up out of the surface. As a result, they dig out furrows into the earth at the bottom of the underwater trail and these furrows are referred to as muskrat “runways”. And as you might imagine, these runways make for very good trapping locations. Any set that takes advantage of a runway to catch a muskrat is called, not surprisingly, a Runway Set. This article seeks to educate you on the basics of how to set up and optimize your set and the pros and cons of doing so.

Basic Setup of a Muskrat Runway Set:
Since this trap, like most muskrat sets, is named more for the location of the set than its construction, you could theoretically use any trap that is designed to catch a muskrat for this set. Practically, however, you are better served restricting yourself to Conibear traps or Box/Cage traps.

Foothold traps are not ideal for this set because the water is too shallow. And as always, be sure to familiarize yourself with the trapping laws in your state before you set one up. If you’ve decided to go with the Conibear variant, then make sure that the entire trap is submerged.

Trap to catch muskrat
Conibear Muskrat Trap
This will ensure that the muskrat drowns. Also note that you will need to secure the trap in the runway using a sturdy vertical support rod or stick. Once the trap is fastened, you could use other smaller twigs and sticks to block off the area around the runway, though this is an optional step as muskrats are nothing if not creatures of habit.

box trap for muskrat
Box Trap for Muskrat
The Box or Cage trap variant is even easier to set up. All you have to do is place the trap along the runway and you’re golden. Make sure to weigh the trap with some stones or something similar, however, because you don’t want the flowing water to move the cage. And as with the Conibear variant, make sure to submerge the trap completely in order to facilitate the quick drowning of the muskrat. Use double ended versions and if you’re lucky, you might even catch two or more at the same location.

Advantages of this Set:

These traps, like most effective muskrat traps, do not require bait. This is a good thing because Muskrats are quite resistant to bait owing to their omnivorous diet and usual abundance of food around their dens.
Easy to set up once the runway is located. All you need to do is purchase a Conibear or Cage trap from your local hunting store or online.
Disadvantages of this Set:

This set does require a bit of legwork in order to locate the runway. While muskrat are among the easiest animals to track, it can still be a bit of a problem for newcomers. And unlike with other animals, you cannot fall back on bait for muskrat traps except in special circumstances.

Tips, Tricks and Techniques on Trapping Muskrats

Trapping muskrats is quite possibly the best way for one to induct oneself into the arcane world of trapping. There are just so many things the muskrat has going for it. Its soft fur, its meat (if prepared properly, of course), its complete lack of trap-shyness, its amphibious lifestyle (allowing for water and land trapping depending upon your preference) and last but not least, its plentiful population.

While they aren’t considered the most difficult game to trap, they certainly afford a fun way to develop the habits and knacks that any successful trapper needs. This article aims to inform its reader on some of the more useful tips on how to nab the loveable rodent. So here are the top 4 tips on trapping muskrats:

Locating the Lair:
As with most animals, the den or living area is usually a safe bet when setting the trap. This is certainly true in the case of the Muskrat as well. The trick to locating the den, which is essentially an underwater burrow dug into the bank of the stream or lake, is the earth around its entrance.

Freshly disturbed or dug earth is a sure sign of an active muskrat den and they can be spotted with relative ease because of the muddy water around the area. Also note that muskrat can sometimes live in huts made of reeds and grass, but these are quite easy to spot because they resemble small bales of hay that stick out of the water’s surface.

Tracing the Trail:
I think it’s safe to say that, of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, the muskrat is clearly the one that is least concerned with keeping itself anonymous. They frolic about the woods and streams with reckless abandon, without a single thought for the almost ludicrously obvious trails they leave in their wake. But luckily for us, this makes them easy targets for the novice trapper.

There are several unique features in the muskrat’s trail that set it apart from other woodland or semi-aquatic creatures, and each muskrat set is basically named after these features. For more info on the subject, please visit our article on the [Best Types of Muskrat Traps].

To Bait or Not to Bait:
The general rule of thumb when it comes to bait is that it usually helps rather than hurts. However, except in very specific circumstances such as trapping them under the ice, using bait with muskrat traps is not a good idea. Muskrats are omnivorous and semi-aquatic, which means that they have more than enough choices when it comes to food. This makes them bait resistant, while at the same time not at all trap-shy.

They are, however, creatures of habit and it takes a lot to dissuade them from their established trails. So generally speaking, a trap set on a muskrat trail will work just as well with bait as without it. However, the presence of bait does increase the chances of some other animal coming along to ruin the show. So you’re better off not using the bait after all.

Choosing the Chains:
When it comes to muskrats, you could use pretty much any kind of trap. But not all of them are created equal, and the most effective traps are the Conibear trap and Foothold trap. Cage traps can also be used, but they are not the best fit for many of the muskrat’s trail features. And snares are not nearly worth the hassle for trapping muskrats. So stick to Conibear and Foothold traps unless your State isn’t fond of them.

Muskrat Slide Set: Best Tips and Techniques to Muskrat Trapping

What is a Muskrat Slide Set?
Muskrats are rather bold creatures, and they have little problem travelling quite far from their dens for food should the need arise. And since they are semi-aquatic, they are as comfortable in the water as they are on land. The point where these topological preferences meet is also a perfect spot to place a trap for the muskrat.

When a muskrat leaves the water to get onto land or vice-versa, they carve out channels into the earth. These channels are colloquially referred to as “slides” and any trap that takes advantage of them is called a Muskrat Slide Set. This article will provide basic setup instructions as well as the boons and banes of using this set.

Basic Setup of a Muskrat Slide Set:
Since this trap, like most muskrat sets, is named more for its location as opposed to its construction, you could theoretically use any trap designed for a muskrat. Practically, however, some traps are far more effective than others. And for this set, heavier Foothold traps are ideal, especially when aided by support and tangle stakes.

Since you are using a Foothold trap, it is important to submerge the trap about 3 inches or so under the water’s surface, just where the slide begins. Lay the trap such that when triggered it is parallel to the bank. The support and tangle stakes should be placed a few feet away in deeper water depending upon the length of the chain on the foothold trap.

The support stake keeps the muskrat from being able to drag the trap too far away, while the tangle stake will ensure that the muskrat’s wild struggle will only serve to drown it faster. The heavier traps are better for this set because in addition to downing the muskrat faster, it also serves to trap larger animals that might accidentally trigger it.

Advantage of this Set:

These traps, like most Muskrat sets, do not require baits or lures. In fact, using bait will only serve to attract other unwanted species to the trap. Another reason for the absence of baits is because the muskrat is hardly left wanting for food except during the dead of winter.
They are quite easy to set up after the slide has been located. All you really need is to buy a foothold trap from your local hunting store or online if you prefer.
Disadvantages of this Set:

While locating muskrat slides is child’s play for the experienced trapper it can still be something of an issue for the novice. Since this set doesn’t allow for the usual standby of baits or lures, locating the exact slide spot is all the more important. So expect to do at least some legwork before you actually get to deploy the trap.
At least the locations are restricted to the banks of water bodies known to house muskrats, so simply follow the bank until you see a patch of earth that has been flattened out by something roughly the roughly the size of a muskrat.