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His face bears the imprint of the long-past winters. Most say he has passed his prime. Although he is beyond middle age, a surgeon would envy his eye for detail and the sureness of his hands. Visions of wet fur glistening under windchilled sunrises continue to quicken his pace, and memories of $40 pelts are fresh in his mind. He is a veteran mink trapper.
Mink (Mustela vison) are about the size of a small house cat, but their bodies are considerably more elongate, and their legs are proportionately much shorter. Males are larger than females. Adult males average about two pounds and are from 24 to 27 inches in length. A few males may reach weights up to 4 pounds. Mature females are from 17 to 21 inches long and usually weigh about 1 1/2 to two pounds. In both sexes, the well-furred tail comprises about one-third of the animal's body length.
Mink pelts are composed of soft, silky, dense underfur, covered by long, glistening guard hairs. The fur is a rich brown which darkens along the back becoming almost black at the tip of the tail. There is usually a white spot under the chin, and there may be white spots on the chest and belly. The head is small with low rounded ears almost concealed in the dense fur. Small, black, beady eyes protrude from the skull. The neck of a mink is long and thick almost as big around as the slender elongated body.
Mink are found in all counties of Indiana, but are most numerous in the northeastern part of the state where many ponds, streams and lakes are located. Mink are adapted to do well on either land or in water, but usually make their homes near water’s edge. Because of their secretive habits, extensive information concerning their population densities is lacking: however, it is clear they are most numerous in areas of high-quality wetlands.
Throughout most of the year, the male mink is a solitary traveler. Mink breed during March, and the male takes no further part in reproductive affairs. Mink dens may be located in hollow logs, under stumps, bridge abutments, rock piles and in drain tiles. Sometimes mink kill a family of muskrats and take possession of the nest within the house. Young are born in late April or May, 42 days after conception. Newborns weigh only a quarter ounce and are helpless. If disturbed, the female may move her young to another home. Their eyes open, and they begin to take solid food at about 1 month of age. They begin hunting with their mother two months after birth. The five or six young in a litter break up from the family group during the autumn to begin life on their own.
Because mink are primarily aquatic and eat only flesh, small fish, frogs, crayfish and muskrats are high on their menu. They consume crippled or sick waterfowl, and they are skilled predators, taking small rodents or birds when the opportunity is presented. They avoid decomposed meat, but will store and feed on fresh carcasses.
Mink are, by nature, curious and at the same time, cautious. Successful mink trappers use the mink's curiosity to their advantage by use of bait hole sets. Mink will inspect holes, crevices and dens as they search for prey. If care is taken by the trapper to eliminate all traces of human scent, an effective bait set can be made by using an existing hole or digging a hole 4 or 5 inches in diameter into a bank. The entrance to this set should be an inch or two above the water line. Fresh fish or a muskrat carcass is often used as bait, placed well up into the excavation. If a leg hold trap is used, it must be placed just under the water with an attached drowning stake located in deeper water.
When soils are frozen, making bait hole set ineffective, the bait stake set may be used. Instead of placing bait in an excavation, the bait is secured to a strong stake run through the trap ring. The bait (a muskrat carcass) is wired to the stake and placed a few inches above the water and about a foot from the bank. A trap is placed just under the water surface between the stake and bank. A drowning stake is a must.
Trapping continues to be an important tool in mink management. The perpetuation of quality wetland habitats is vital to the maintenance of mink as well as other aquatic furbearers. The continual management of wetlands along with an adequate cropping of surplus populations by trapping are the major components for management of mink populations.