Trapping muskrats was a right of passage where I grew up. Each season brought with it the expectation of huge harvests and the small paychecks that came with it. Most old timers in my neck of the woods put most of their thought into otter and mink and the rats just seemed to happen.
I will admit that trapping muskrat can be as easy as you want it to be, their natural behavior lends themselves to being trapped, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about your set locations. Over the years I’ve found I can increase my muskrat harvest by focusing in on the set types and locations you will find below.
Natural Muskrat Trapping Sets
When it comes to trapping rats you need to set your traps where you see their signs. This comes down to putting your sets where there is heavy muskrat traffic.
Where legal, the most obvious set locations are at the entrances to dens and houses. Setting bodygrips and conibears here is a certain method for catching a large number of muskrat.
These areas are usually fairly narrow but if the swimming lane is much wider than your set you can build up sticks on the edges of the pathway to funnel the rats to your sets.
Because this method is so effective you should take care not to deplete the local population as the muskrats will have trouble recovering if overharvested.
Ditches, Creeks, and Culverts
You should also scout for swimming lanes further removed from den entrances. These locations can be set with a conibear. Funneling the muskrats to your trap is again recommended. Take logs and sticks and narrow the swimming lane so the rats must go to your traps.
This method works well in ditches and creeks leading between ponds and other bodies of water. Look for signs and don’t overlook culverts and drainage pipes.
If well positioned, these sets can force all muskrat traveling through to pass over your traps.
Another tip passed on to me that has produced many muskrat is placing a stop-loss trap on partially submerged logs. Muskrat love hopping up on these locations making it a perfect set location.
The trap needs to be level on the log so it may be necessary to carve out a flat section. Placement should allow for about one inch of water to cover your trap and some muskrat lure should be added once set.
Stop-loss sets work great on floating feed beds. Set with a half inch of water covering your trap is an effective placement. Once set take a stick and add muskrat attractant to it and stab it into the opposite end of the feed bed.
The lure should be about six inches from your trap. Any local muskrat will come sniffing around and find your set.
Look for muskrat tracks along land trails going between food sources and water for great muskrat set locations.
Conibears work well but if placed on the land trail you run the risk of your catch being eaten by a passing predator.
To avoid this it is best to place your set at the point the muskrat leave the water to reach the land trail. The added benefit to this location is it is also a good place to trap mink and raccoon.
Springs Near Larger Bodies Of Water
Small springs trickling into larger bodies of water can produce a lot of muskrats and even some raccoon. These spots are particularly good for late season as they tend to freeze over last. Work these spots throughout the season, and for as long as you see rat signs.
More Natural Set Locations
A solid alternative to trapping dens is working feeder huts. Set your trap in the feeder hut and be sure to fully shut the feeder hut. When the weather turns they can be frozen and you need to note the exact location as they will get buried in snow.
Look for under cuts in creek beds for muskrat tracks. When you find them make a set. These are particularly effective when near exposed tree roots and around bridges. Be careful though if setting a trap near a roadway as you will have traps stolen.
While that is likely more than enough set locations to keep you rolling in muskrat all season you will find signs of muskrat in oddball places. When you do go ahead and make a set if you have the time and gear to work it.
Effective Artificial Muskrat Sets
When your territory isn’t offering you enough natural set locations it’s time to make your own. An artificial set done well can produce just as many muskrat as a natural set. They also come in handy when working an area you have not adequately scouted. Check for muskrat signs and make your set, simple as that.
Pocket Sets For Muskrat
One of the most effective artificial sets preys on the muskrats natural curiosity. A new pocket will be just too much for any self respecting muskrat to ignore.
The basic pocket set is a hole dug in the ground at a bank of water with muskrat signs. Dig your hole until around three inches of water fills the bottom. This tends to be around fifteen inches deep in total. Make sure your hole is around eight inches in diameter allowing for a level placement of your trap.
Place a stick with some muskrat bait at the back end of the pocket and make sure your trap is below the water line. I prefer a leg hold trap for this set. Properly placed, this trap set will harvest a lot of rats.
There are a number of ways to create a float set but the basic idea is to use a board, log, or bundle of sticks to hold your set as it floats on the water. Anchor your float with a stake to prevent drifting.
Placement of your trap is very important. You need the trap to be covered by at least two inches of water. I like to place some bait about six inches from my trap. This set will entice curious rats to investigate making it a very efficient rig.
When your water freezes over the season isn’t over. When working a frozen marsh, suspend your conibear under the ice near a den. Bait the trigger with a freshly cut piece of apple and make a note of your trap location so you don’t forget.
Each season I set a mix of both natural and artificial sets. Both bring in a ton of muskrat. The best way to go about knowing which sets to use is a thorough scouting preseason. Note where you will be placing your traps and the exact set you will be using at each location. Do this and you will take a big harvest guaranteed.
For more muskrat tips check out these articles