Anyone who’s been trapping long enough has had experience with some animal they just couldn’t seem to catch. Whether smart or lucky, those hard to catch critters haunt our dreams and frustrate us to no end. In this article, Arnold shares two stories of mink who gave he and his brother troubles on their traplines.
Trapping the Elusive Mink
First published in Hunter-Trader-Trapper December 1938
A big mink drifted into my experience way back in my early days of trapping. Trappers were not as numerous then and furbearers not as shy. However, this big fellow had gained a fair knowledge of the art of dodging traps and had played hide and seek with me for a couple of years. I had looked at his tracks so much, I got a hankering to see if his pelt showed the effects of all the nice baits he had found at my sets and made away with.
My favorite mink bait back in those days was one that would not be advisable to use in these modern times. There are two small rivers near my home, and salmon run up these to spawn. A small percentage die soon, and there would usually be one or more dead salmon. I would fish out a fresh one now and then to use for bait. My opinion is that at this time of year there is no other fresh fish that takes the place of salmon for mink bait. They have a fish odor that is all their own. Needless to say, if one were to consider the law to the letter, even back at that time it was illegal to use those dead fish for bait, but the warden who patrolled these parts at the time used his own judgment to some extent in deciding what was right or wrong. Sometimes things like the above, that really were not destructive violations, were overlooked unless someone stirred up trouble. Today with the woods full of trappers and hunters, and some who might welcome an excuse like this to cover up some wholesale poaching, that type of bait would not be tolerated any by our present warden force.
Getting back to the mink, there was a rocky point that projected out into one of the big, deep pools. Here at the water’s edge I moved a couple of square sided rocks into position about six inches apart, a flat rock over the top and a rock at the back, forming a natural looking rock cubby with entrance at the water. In the back was fastened down a big hunk of fresh salmon. A stick had been run through this, and the side rocks placed on each end of the stick when the cubby was constructed. The trap was placed under water at the entrance and carefully concealed with water-soaked leaves that lined the shore. The trap chain was securely fastened under water, out of sight. Stepping into the water and using my cup, the set and surrounding rocks were washed free of all human scent. A few drops of mink scent was placed near the bait and I then left by wading along the shore.
A few days later, I saw evidence that something had been going on. Examination of the trap showed it to be holding the foot of a mink (Author’s note: in those days the selection of traps and other equipment available to trappers was much more limited, and use of poor equipment and outdated methods sometimes resulted in such catches. This is a very rare occurrence in modern trapping, using the best management practices and equipment available to us today.) Considerable cussing to myself prompted the knowledge that I could have caught a valuable pelt rather than a worthless foot. Muttering something about “Lightning don’t strike twice in the same place,” I reset the trap.
Leaving the brook, I paused to look back to see if there were any visible signs that might attract the attention of a passing hunter. My eye rested upon some object across the brook, and there lay my mink. He had footed himself, crawled back on to the shore, curled up in the leaves and died. I decided that Lady Luck was camping on my coat tail that day.
My brother, who has long since taken the trail to the everlasting trapping grounds beyond, got mixed up with a mink that appeared to take delight in belittling any reputation he had as a trapper. Although only a young lad at the time, this episode stands out in my memory as clearly as though it happened yesterday.
All the fall and part of the winter, Brother had been employed as engineer at a small sawmill. The mill shut down, so he decided to take advantage of this opportunity to do a bit of trapping. This was at the time of the year when most of the boys in the neighborhood, including myself, were catching freshwater smelts through the ice. With a load of these fresh smelts and some traps, he started out one morning and set up a five or six mile line.
Right off the bat, a mink at Buck’s Falls started the ball rolling by swiping his bait the first night, and rubbed in the insult by repeating the theft night after night. It wasn’t long before the only subject Brother would talk upon was mink.
The strange part of it was, the animal paid not the slightest attention to human tracks, scent or disturbances and was not bothered by the presence of traps. However, she apparently knew what they were for, and had an uncanny knack of locating and keeping out of them, regardless of how they were concealed. And she just loved those fresh smelts!
Brother tried out various sure-fire schemes, sometimes using two or three traps at the set, but Madam Mink always went him one better by figuring out a safe way to dine on those delicious fish!