HOW TO HUNT AND CATCH MUSKRAT
HOW TO HUNT AND CATCH MUSKRAT
The musquash, or muskrat as it is often called, is another peculiar American animal, which is so well known as scarcely to require description. It is also very widely distributed over the United States, frequenting alike land bordering upon salt and fresh water, choosing swamps with dry, sandy banks, or earth embankments, in which it burrows. It is ten or twelve inches long, with a thick-set, arching body; head short, but rat-like; and the gnawing or front teeth very large, long, and powerful. The hind feet are very long, and a short web is found only between the longest toes; yet the animals are rapid and strong swimmers. The tail of the musquash is compressed vertically, that is, it is flat, the edges being above and below. The beaver, which the muskrat greatly resembles in its habits, and which is naturally close akin to it, has a broad, horizontally flat tail. Like the beaver, the musquash builds his dam-like house in the swamps, ponds, and marshes, setting the house upon the end of a log, or something that will swim, in the event of a flood, otherwise they would be drowned out; and where they are frozen down hi time of low water, when the flood comes, they have to abandon the house and go to their holes in the banks, or they drown in their houses, being shut in by ice. The materials used in building are roots and grass, and mud, carried together by mouthfuls and completely packed ; pond lily tops, where they grow, form a large part of the house.
They have a nice little chamber above the water, where they sleep, with an aperture through which they can dive into the water at any alarm from without; the house on the outside has the appearance of a heap of half-rotten manure, with some sticks in it. These houses they commence to build about the first of October, or when frosty nights begin to prevail, and they abandon them when warm weather comes again. This house building is a mutual thing; if there were ten houses in a pond, and you should destroy nine of them, they would all go the tenth, and there, by carefully managing, you •night catch the whole. They eat the roots of aquatic plants, calamus, pond lilies, etc., and are very fond of -resh water shell fish, especially the clam. So far as their food goes, they do the farmer little damage. The name muskrat is obviously derived from the strong odor of musk. " Musquash" is said to be the Indian name, and is preferable, for he is not a rat in any proper sense, but, so "o speak, a beaver on a small scale. I shall now try to tell you how to successfully hunt and trap him. As soon as the ice goes off in the spring, you should commence, as his fur is then at its best.
The muskrat drops his dung on logs or sticks resting on the bank, with one end in the water. When you find his
" sign" on a log, chop a notch in it and set your trap about an inch under water, putting the chain-ring over a tally stick or over a stake driven into the log, in such a position that the muskrat may get into water deep enough to drown him. So go along near the shore in your canoe, hunting out these resorts of the muskrat, and set your traps as directed. On a moonlight night at this season of the year, you may go with your boat or canoe into some sly place, and then set up a squeaking noise as much like a rat as you can. If any are within hearing they will soon make their appearance, and you may take aim at the head and shoot. This is a good way to hunt them along the edge of drowned land, and in ponds and lakes. Another good plan is to set your trap in two or three inches of water, at the places where they crawl ashore to dig for roots, and if you place a bit of parsnip, sweet apple, or carrot, on the end of a stick just over the trap, you will be quite sure of a catch.
Do not commence hunting too early in the fall; they do not bring forth their kittens until midsummer, and about the first of September they are but little things with very black pelts, and hardly worth the catching. But as soon as frosty nights come, and they begin to build their houses, you may go to work setting your traps two or three inches under water, at the place where they haul up their building material. At this season they feed chiefly on aquatic plants, and form large beds of loose stuff at their feeding places, and you may set your trap in these beds.
In winter, when the ice has made a bridge over all, go to one of their houses, and on the south side make an opening through the side directly into their chamber, and set your trap at the entrance of the dive-hole. Close up the opening that you have made, and you will soon catch the rat. If there are other houses, destroy all but this one, to which the whole colony will come, and you may catch them all; or you may have a one-tined spear made of round three-eighths rod, about eighteen inches long, with a strong beard near the point. Have this fixed to a handle, say four feet long. Go very softly up to the south side of the house, and drive in your spear in a slanting direction, a few inches above the ice. You will often transfix two at a time. Or you may demolish the house and watch the dive-hole, spearing the animal when you see his nose come up.
You may use a scent to call the muskrat in the beginning of the year. There are various things that will do it. Perhaps the strongest is found in the female rat, in a small bag which holds from thirty to forty drops, and lies near the vagina. Carrying this scent in a vial, go to a log which lies with one end in the water, set your trap and fasten it as above directed, and put a drop or two of oil en the log just above the water. The first rat that comes along will be yours. The oils of rhodium and amber can be used in the same manner to advantage.
Thrasher, Halsey. The Hunter and Trapper. New York: Orange Judd and Company, 1808.
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