The American marten (Martes americana) is a cat-sized member of the weasel family that inhabits the forests of northern North America as well as high-elevation forests in the western United States. Marten hotspots include the forests of Alaska and Canada, as well as northeastern U.S. states like Maine, New Hampshire and New York, and Rocky Mountain states like Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah.
The marten is known for having weasel-like characteristics, a long, bushy tail and thick, yellowish to dark brown fur that is valuable in the fur trade. The American marten is often referred to by the name of its European relative, the pine marten. Another variation of the marten is the stone marten, also found in Europe and Asia. Fur marketers often refer to the marten as ‘sable’, which is its given name in Russia.
Diet and Habitat Requirements
Marten are obligate forest dwellers, meaning that they need to live in areas with adequate tree canopy cover, which protects them from predators. Marten also need to live in areas with adequate woody debris and open cavities on the forest floor, because these places provide important denning locations.
Marten are territorial animals. Males occupy territories of about 1-3 square miles, which rarely overlap with other male territories. Female territories are usually smaller (0.5-1 square mile) and often overlap with those of males. In areas where fisher and marten are both present, their territories rarely overlap. Fisher often kill marten whenever they come in contact with each other.
Marten spend a lot of time pursuing prey on the forest floor, but they are also excellent climbers and often catch prey up in the trees as well. They eat a variety of prey items, including voles, mice, squirrels, hares, birds, fish, carrion, and sometimes fruit, nuts and other small items.
Marten usually start breeding at about 2 years old, during mid to late summer. Despite the summer breeding season, female marten exhibit a unique reproductive strategy called ‘delayed implantation’, where the eggs do not fasten to the wall of the uterus until January or February. Depending on the conditions of the female, this implantation may or may not occur. If the female is in good physical condition, implantation will usually happen, but reproduction will not be successful if she is unhealthy. This reproductive strategy allows marten populations to remain in balance with their environment. If the marten population is low and food availability is high, many females will implant, resulting in a large crop of marten the following season. In severe conditions, however, fewer females will implant, reducing the threat of overpopulation.
Females usually give birth to 2-4 kits, which are weaned at 6-7 weeks and full grown after about 3 months. Young disperse in the fall to find new territories.
TRAPPING THE MARTEN
In my opinion, marten are probably the most enjoyable animal to trap. I’ll go through a few basics on marten trapping, which is fairly simple and can be very rewarding.
Location and Sign
The most basic idea behind trapping marten is the understanding that they’re forest dwellers that require thick canopy cover and adequate woody debris. Find areas with these features, and it’s a safe bet that you’ll find marten.
When I’m scouting for marten, I usually scout for habitat as opposed to looking specifically for sign. The reason for this is that in the absence of snow to record their tracks, marten typically leave little sign. Also, marten are almost primarily nocturnal, so the odds of seeing them when scouting in the forest are pretty slim. The occasional scat and scratch marks on trees are about all you’ll find for marten sign. But with the right snow, you’ll be able to locate marten by their tracks, shown here:
The key to successfully trapping marten in large numbers is locating plenty of marten habitat prior to the trapping season. Remember, they have relatively large home ranges, so you’ll have to locate traplines where you’ll encounter lots of different home ranges. Since marten are at their highest densities in areas with extensive forests that are difficult to access, it may pay off to do some foot work and walk into areas where other trappers won’t go.
Traps to use
Marten are pretty small animals, and are caught humanely and effectively in small traps. Trappers use footholds, conibears, and sometimes even snares to capture marten, but nowadays the most popular marten traps are probably the 110 and 120 conibear. These are humane bodygripper traps that usually result in a quick, humane kill. Another popular marten trap is the #1 longspring, a foothold trap.
Unlike muskrats or mink, marten are not effectively trapped using blind sets because they don’t usually establish regular travel routes. The best way to catch marten is with a baited set. Baited sets include ground and tree sets.
The objective of a baited set is to provide bait for marten to pursue, and then capture them as they move to get the bait. This means making a set that requires the animal to step on a foothold trap or move through a body gripper trap prior to taking the bait. This is achieved using a cubby set, where the marten has encounters a trap at the mouth of a cubby, or a pole set, where the animal has to run up a pole and encounter the trap before reaching the bait. Examples of these sets are shown below. Be sure to check your state’s trapping laws to make sure each set you make is legal. Some states have changed their laws to prevent the incidental capture of lynx in these sets.
Marten sets come in all shapes and sizes. These are just a few basics to get you started. Feel free to experiment with different sets and find out which work best for you.
Also, see these additional articles on marten trapping: