The American mink (Mustela vison) is a member of the weasel familiy found throughout North America in semi-aquatic habitats. The mink is a mid-sized carnivore (30 cm body length, without tail), with an elongated body, short webbed toes and a long bushy tail. It has a flattened, pointed face and short, powerful jaws.
Mink are probably best known for their thick fur, which is usually dark brown to black in color and is a very popular item used to make fur coats. Because of this, they are harvested by trappers in late fall and winter when the fur is most prime, and sold mainly to European and Asian markets. The vast majority of the mink used in the fur industry, however, come from fur farms that operate across the United States and throughout the world.
There are 15 recognized subspecies of American mink across North America, but these are distinguished only by subtle differences in size and fur color/quality. In addition, feral populations of mink have been established in many areas after escaping or being released from fur farms. Feral mink tend to be larger than wild mink and have darker fur. Mink are generally a common species and are found in most aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats across their range. The only extinct subspecies is the sea mink, which was a large mink that once lived in coastal areas in New Brunswick, Canada and the state of Maine.
Diet & Habitat Requirements
Mink are semi-aquatic animals. More particularly, they are land animals that frequent the water. Mink are excellent swimmers and use water for shelter and to capture prey. While they are sometimes found in upland areas, mink tend to be most commonly found within a 100-200 meters of stream and river banks, or lake shores.
Mink typically require trees or rock crevices for use as denning sites, but sometimes use dens created by other animals like muskrats.
The diet of mink is highly variable. They commonly feed on fish, frogs, muskrats, and crayfish, as well as mice, rodents, birds, eggs, rabbits and hares.
Mink breed in early spring (January to April, depending on geographic location) and the female has a gestation period of 40-75 days. Litter size is highly variable, and can be as large as 17, but usually averages 4-6 kits. The young are born in the springtime and depend on the mother during the early weeks of life. Development over the summer period is quite rapid, and both males and females reach maturity during their first year of life.
TRAPPING THE MINK
Location and Sign
Mink spend a lot of time traveling along the water’s edge, which is a great place to look for sign in the mud.
Tracks are as shown above, with pointed, pear shaped toes and claw marks often visible. Mink tracks are similar to otter tracks but smaller, and could possible be mistaken for weasel tracks when in snow. Remember that male mink are larger than females, and this will be reflected in the track size.
Mink scat is cylindrical, 5-8 cm long and less than 1 cm in diameter, tapering toward the ends. Mink regularly deposit scats on prominent objects and features within their territory.
Traps to Use
Foothold traps commonly used for mink are the #1 jump trap, #1 longspring, and #1 and #1.5 coilspring trap. The #1.5 coilspring may seem oversized for mink, but it’s a popular mink trap because it is heavy enough to easily drown a mink when set near deep water.
Bodygripping Conibear traps have revolutionized trapping due to the fact that they instantly kill target animals. The #110 conibear is the most popular size conibear used to trap mink, but others will work in the right situation.
While there is plenty of variation in sets, mink trapping can be boiled down to two basic set types: the blind set and the pocket set.
Blind sets are simply traps placed in mink travelways or trails in order to capture mink as they travel through. Blind sets do not require the use of bait. The #110 conibear is placed in trails such that mink have to walk through the trap and set off the trigger while doing so. Foothold traps are usually somewhat disguised in trails and sticks or other debris is placed to force the animal to place its foot on the pan of the trap.
Below is a picture of a #110 conibear trap set in a mink travelway.
A pocket set is simply a hole dug into a river bank with a trap at the entrance of the hole. By nature, mink are curious critters and will investigate most every hole in a bank that they come across. Bait and a sprinkle of lure are placed near the back of the hole to lure the mink in, and a conibear or foothold trap is placed at the entrance. While mink feed on a variety of items, fish or fresh meat are popular bait items for pocket sets. Pocket sets with foothold traps should be rigged so that they instantly drown the captured animal. If the water is deep enough, wiring a trap to an anchor in deep water will often do the trick. However, these sets can also catch raccoons. The best when running a mink and coon ‘line is usually to set up drowning rigs. A drowning rig is an anchor system setup using a slide wire and drowning lock. The slide wire is anchored near the trap on one end and to the stream bottom on the other. The trap is attached to the wire with a drowning lock, which allows the trap chain to slide along the wire only one way: toward the anchor at the stream bottom. After being caught, an animal seeks safety in the water and is unable to return back to dry land. This results in a quick, humane kill.
Trappers pick up a lot of tips and tricks along the way, but mink trapping ultimately boils down to the simple pocket set and blind set. The most important thing, in my opinion, is finding mink. After that, mink trapping can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.