How to Eat A MUSKRAT

The humble muskrat, is more tasteful in character and cuisine than their name implies. These fuzzy critters patrol the waters and wetlands in search of a clean, crisp vegetarian diet. It’s more fair to call them ‘marsh hare’. The small game of the water world, their abundance eat open water habitat for other organisms and feed predator populations, including ourselves. 


Muskrat are one of the few available sources or protein that can be legally harvested in the winter, when other small game are hidden in their burrows and you’ve had enough fish from below the ice. A successful trapline yields a pile of animals about a pound apiece, like fishing for red meat. 


For many Christian communities, the tradition of Lent is observed. This is a fasting period from guilty pleasures often including alcohol and red meat. For early settlers the menu would feature fish for the time, but in the early 1800s the Catholic Church exempted muskrats from the fast. The logic was, these mostly aquatic rodents could be considered a fish, and the hungry public could eat the widely available protein to their heart’s content, a custom that survives in Northeastern and Great Lakes community potluck rituals today. 

10/28/17 - 02/28/18

Harvest Season


1. Did You Harvest & Eat Muskrat?   #eatmnwild

The RecipeS:


You might be new to muskrat trapping. We've got the important questions covered.

An Introduction to Harvesting Muskrat

what do muskrat even do?


About 20 inches long, including their 9 inch hairless whip of tail, these 2-5 pound animals can be seen swimming low across the surface of open water and munching vegetation on the banks. Their upper body is reddish brown, with grayer brown undersides. Like beavers, but much smaller. 


Unlike their cousins, muskrats do not store a winter food supply. They dine on a smorgasbord of aquatic plant parts; cattails, wild rice, water lilies and the occasional clam, fish or snail. When the winter ice locks them underwater they continue to forage daily, navigating below the ice via an infrastructure of dome houses, pop up feeder huts and excavated trenches. 


what does muskrat taste like?

While their construction’s impact on local hydrology and habitat isn’t as obvious to the human observer as the beavers’, muskrats do play a significant role in engineering the wetland ecosystem. With sharp incisor teeth, muskrat communities do serious work felling cattail for the construction of their homes. This creates open water. A 50-50 balance of open water and vegetation is optimal for wetland habitat biodiversity, including waterfowl. They can overpopulate and over consume their welcome. 


Muskrats are prolific breeders. Large litters of up to six babies are had every year, sometimes twice or three times a year. Each spring they disperse into nearby waters. When populations are high they will even occupy the roadside ditches that harbor standing water. Like rabbits, their abundance provides meals for predator populations like mink, coyotes, fox, wolves, birds of prey and humans.

Gamey is a flavor profile that isn’t popular, but is often accepted. Muskrat is a step beyond. A wild flavor, for the more adventurous eaters. Their diet is clean and healthy but as they are prepared the musk of the marsh lingers. Prepared correctly, the funky and fishy brackishness can be processed out of the lean, dark meat. The result is a distinct meat - a tender beef consistency, where liver meets rabbit. This is one meat that doesn’t taste like chicken.


Purist recipes par-boil and fry the animals whole, served up with sauces and sides. Better recipes slow cook meat from the bone, the choice cuts coming from the backstops and hind leg hams. Serve it in stews, on sandwiches or in tacos and heartily fill a pot pie, meatloaf or casserole. Delicious dishes are aided with flavorful sauces; barbecue, curry, horseradish, hoisin, and additional fats to conduct flavor like butter, cheese, bacon or coconut milk.

can anyone do this?


Persons born after December 31, 1989, who have not been issued a trapping license in a previous license year may not obtain a trapping license without a trapper education certificate. The Minnesota Trappers Association conducts trapper education courses statewide, free of charge to participants, and issues the certificates. The typical format is a classroom or online course followed by a scheduled field training day with an instructor. Find available course information here.


After a valuable introduction to the characteristics of local furbearing animals, trapline equipment, techniques, safety and ethics you’ll become eligible to purchase a trapping license for $24. You will also need to hold a current small game hunting license, which would have cost an individual resident $22. 


Muskrats are a great introduction to trapping, as the traps are smaller and easier to handle. The animals aren’t very trap shy so you’re also more likely to be rewarded earlier. The pelts are easier to handle than other animals, and selling the fur can pay back what you've spent on other harvest licenses. While earned income is the primary motivator for folks to run a trapline, muskrats and beavers are fur bearers that also make good eating. Even when market prices for fur are at historical lows, say $2 each, a few good weekends of muskrat trapping can earn you a check that pays back the license fees and gas money. Though it’s tasty, this is probably more muskrat than a person is interested in eating. 

sounds good. what do i need to trap them?

where do I go to trap muskrats?


Muskrats range across the entire state of Minnesota. 

They live and travel all water bodies but the best habitat to run a trapline is on ponds, small lakes and wetlands. A large cattail marsh can hold hundreds of muskrats. When populations are excessively large they will move into the tiniest farm ponds and flooded roadside ditches. 


Muskrats eat many parts of water plants like cat tails, water lilies, wild rice and reeds. They also eat clams, snails, small fish and turtles. They shelter in houses constructed from cat tail plants and mud. They dig into the shore to create bank dens. Optimal habitat is a mix of open water area and cattails, with soft mucky bottoms, elevated dirt banks and lots of aquatic vegetation.

where can I set traps?


Navigable waters are public in Minnesota. The general understanding; if you can enter a body of water from a public right of way - a park, road or watercraft landing - then you can travel a shoreline from the water and set traps along the way. In many counties there is a public right of way that extends ten feet from any road. You can drive along a series of ponds and ditches and set a trapline in this manner. Interpretation and enforcement of this access is determined at a county level Conservation Officer. Always best to check local regulations.

Public lands across the state will produce muskrat to trap. Always research the regulations and seasons for particular units, but generally muskrat trapping is allowed in the following places.

  • National forests (Superior and Chippewa) including the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area. 

  • National Wildlife Refuge System waterfowl production areas.

  • State forests, wildlife management areas, aquatic management areas.


Trapping is generally restricted, sometimes allowed with additional permits and permissions in National Wildlife Refuges.

Trapping is generally not allowed in national parks or state parks. 

Contact your local land managers to determine legal access and use regulations.  

what am I looking for?


Muskrats are industrious animals. Look for these common constructions.


House; conical domes rising 2 - 4 feet above the water. Made from vegetation and mud, often cattail stalks. 2 to 5 submerged entrances lead inside and where shallow are approached by trails; excavated channels in the substrate. 


Bank den; where shoreline topography allows, muskrat will burrow into a bank. The den entrances are 6”-8” wide and are near or at the bottom. 


Feeder house; or pop ups, are mud and vegetation domes smaller than houses. They provide enough space for one muskrat or two to emerge from below the frozen water surface and feed temporarily.


Feed bed; during open water, muskrats will tamp down a flat pad often at the base of cattails and feed their regularly. Look for cuttings, the chewed remains of bright white and yellow-green cattails and lilies. When the water freezes, you may see these pieces floating below the surface. 


Scent posts; similar in appearance to feed beds, but are instead used to excrete gland solutions to mark territory and attract mates. 


Slides; the trails left where muskrats enter and leave the water. Often onto feed beds.


Runways; are trail channels dug in the bottom of shallow waters. These protective passages connect bank den and house entrances to feeding stations and deeper water. Use these to locate den entrances and choke points to place traps in. When actively used, the bottoms will be “shined up”. The harder, brighter, sandier substrate beneath the mud and veg can be seen or felt. 


Any and all of these things are evidence of muskrats. Each feature can be set in several different ways with several different traps. These are the best starters. 

what kind of traps do I use?


Colony Traps;

rectangular, steel mesh boxes with one way doors at each end. When placed in regularly traveled runways, muskrats swim in and cannot exit, drowning. Multiple muskrats can be caught in one colony trap. They are lightweight and fairly inexpensive. 

Body Grip Traps;

small or medium, single or double spring Conibear body-gripping traps, in sizes #110, #120 or #150. #220 These sets are likely to kill instantly but are still used in water deep enough to drown. 

Foot Holds or Coil Spring traps;

sizes #1.5 are great. These traps capture and hold a foot or leg. When frightened, muskrats dive into the water. When staked 12” or deeper, these traps will hold them underwater until drowning. These catches don’t always make it under water are more likely to bite themselves free, be taken by predators or require you to dispatch them when tending.

All of these traps are accompanied by a stake to secure them firmly to hard ground, often in deep water. Branches can be cut and ends sharpened. Steel and plastic yard and garden stakes are portable and easy to manage. 


By law, if being set anywhere besides your own property, you need to have a personal identification tag on every trap with choice of 1) your driver’s license state and number, or 2) your Minnesota identification card number, or 3) your name and mailing address, or 4) your MNDNR number. Trap supply companies sell metal trapper ID tags and will stamp them before shipping. 

how do i operate these traps?

when to go muskrat trapping?


Minnesota furbearer trapping for muskrat season opens October 27th and ends February 28th. 


There seems to be three phases in how I approach my trapline, depending on distinct characteristics of local weather conditions as the season progresses. There is open water trapping, frozen water that is transparent, and frozen water that is not. During each of these times I take advantage of different sets.



When the legal harvest season opens in late October, water will be unfrozen and dynamic. One must consider how rising or lowering water levels and the potential for freezing might affect the trap set. 


The open water will float a boat. One can paddle but more often wades, pulling the boat of gear alongside from one set to another; the houses, feeder huts, feed beds, sign posts and slides being frequent and not far between. 


The swampy substrate will slow your pace but it can pay off to be the early bird in the marsh. 



  1. Identify a heavily trafficked trench or run. This could be at an entrance to a bank den or a choke point between two water bodies. It could even be a culvert beneath a road. The run needs to be deep enough to completely submerge the trap so the animals drown.

  2. Push the trap down into the run, firmly against the bottom. Secure the trap by running stakes through the corners and into the substrate. 

  3. If necessary, use place sticks on the outside of the entrance or across the surface, directing the animals to dive and enter the colony trap.

  1. Identify the slide, or most heavily trafficked entrance and exit to the water, along a stream bank or onto a marsh feed bed or sign post. If it helps, place sticks or debris to narrow and funnel the approach. 

  2. Set a foot hold trap. Place it on the slide in two or three inches of water. You might even dig a depression in the slide to place your foot hold and lie a little vegetation across the pan and jaws as camouflage. 

  3. Wire the trap to a stake with proper identification. Stake in water deep enough for the animal to drown. 


You’ll now need a hatchet and the extra elbow grease to set your trapline, but when these conditions occur, muskrat trapping is at it’s most enjoyable. They aren’t guaranteed to last. They aren’t guaranteed to occur every season. When the cold arrives calmly to freeze pond surfaces, without wind and precipitation to cloud it up and cover a window into the underwater world, take full advantage of it. 


Frozen water grants easier access to the farther shorelines than wading, especially in habitat with thick vegetation and soggy bottoms. You’re still in hip boots or waders but it has become easier to maneuver your haul of gear in a sled than in a boat. 


The ability to stand directly above the still, transparent water is optimal for scouting submerged features and sign that guarantees muskrats are active in particular areas. It’s easier to find trenches, runs, feeding areas and their exact paths of travel. When swimming underwater air bubbles are released from their hydrophobic hair and create bubble trails trapped under the ice. Traps can be placed along the trail and can be followed to the entrance of an active house, feeder or bank den. 


Even if you don’t have traps to set at this moment, now is a good time to scout and place stakes to identify the exact placements of where to set after the snow falls and obscures these tell tale signs. 



  1. Where the bubble trail ends, next to the shoreline, chop a hole in the ice. 

  2. Sometimes the entrance is visible. If not, reach down and feel for it near the bottom. Feel along the runway trail until it enters the 6” to 8” hole entrance.

  3. Set and place a body grip trap in the entrance hole, flush against the bottom of the runway. 

  4. Stake the trap chain, wire it secure and ensure required identification is affixed. 

1.   Chisel a hole in the ice above where you want to set the runway. 

2.   Set and place a body grip trap or a colony trap in the runway. Make sure to sink deep enough to avoid the refrozen surface.  

3.   Apply any necessary camouflage. Stake your cage or chain into the bottom and wire it secure. Ensure required identification is affixed.


The ice will thicken until it becomes too much work to set a bank den. It might even freeze too close to the bottom to allow the trap to function. Then it will snow, covering most of the sign. The strategy now turns to setting traps in the houses. 


These sets provide opportunities to harvest through the winter, but are not my preference. First, opening the house and not getting it properly re-sealed can expose the other animals using it to the cold. Second, this particular set doesn’t guarantee a quick drowning. You may be confronted with the task of dispatching the animal yourself. It’s still a worthwhile and honest way to acquire wild food in the dead of winter when few other opportunities exist. 


Ensure no other trapper has set the house. First come, first set. 

  1. With your chisel tool, chop a hole on the side of the house, six inches in diameter or just enough to fit an already set jaw trap. The wall should be between 1-2 feet thick.

  2. Set your foot hold trap. Place it on the floor of the house, preferably adjacent the entrance tunnel hole if you can locate it. 

  3. For however thick the house wall is, you’ll want an extra foot of chain or wire.  Enough for the animal to get down the hole and drown, but not enough to get tangled below. 

  4. Stake the exposed end of your chain/wire and ensure required identification information is affixed. Fill the hole back in with mud and material you removed to gain access.

how many traps should i set?

Minnesota furbearer trapping for muskrat season opens October 27th and ends February 28th. 


There seems to be three phases in how I approach my trapline, depending on distinct characteristics of local weather conditions as the season progresses. There is open water trapping, frozen water that is transparent, and frozen water that is not. During each of these times I take advantage of different sets.


when do i go back to check them?

It’s best if you can check the trapline every day. This reduces the risk of losing a catch to predation. 


All of the sets I’ve introduced here are body-gripping traps or sets designed and capable of drowning the animal. By law, these need to be checked and tended at least every three days. This does allow one to set a trapline on the way to a weekend destination, then check it on their return. 


If you're traps have been hit and you don't see them where you set them, reach to the bottom of your stake, grab ahold of the chain and retrieve your catch. 

Open the trap by the same mechanism you would set it. Remove your catch. 

Proper fur handling begins at the trap site. The animal should be rinsed clean of any mud or vegetation, then be dried of excess water as much as possible. Hold them by the head and shake out water, squeegee them with a squeezing grip or brush them with handfuls of dry snow. 

what if it's in the trap and it's still alive?


Muskrats don't always dive into the water when caught in foot hold traps. This is more likely to occur when trapping houses. Be extremely careful in this situation. Muskrats have incredibly sharp teeth and can bite through your gloves. Use a stick or your ice chipping tool to force the trap and chain into deeper water, including the diving holes inside the muskrat houses. You will have to wait up to 15 minutes for them to drown. One can also try clubbing the animals on the head but drowning may be less difficult. 

I've caught some rats. how do I make these into food?


The sooner you skin and clean your muskrats, the easier it will be. If you really have to save this task for 

later, there are some best practices for storing carcass fur (whole animals). 

1. Dry them off as best you can.

2. Remove the feet with a clippers. When these freeze the stiff legs and sharp feet will grab and tear at things. 3. Individually wrap animals in newspaper or wrap in a plastic bag only two or three at a time. Reduce contact to avoid animals freezing together. If none of these materials are available, lay them out in a freezer on their backs. Stack rows, backs down and try to avoid stacking wet animals that may freeze together. 


Kept this way you can buy yourself two or three weeks, before removing, thawing and proceeding.

how do I remove the pelt?

1. Slice a shallow incision around the circumference of the tail, where it joins the body and pelt. 

2. With a sharp pointed knife, puncture the heel near the hind legs and cut to the incision on the base of the tail. Repeat on the other hind leg.

3. Remove with a knife or clippers all paws and the tail. 

4. Peeling back the skin from the base of the tail, work the skin off along the belly, using the knife as little as possible. Do the same on the back. When the pelt is hung up by the hind legs, pinch the flesh with your fingers and slice it away with the blade. 

5. Continue to work the pelt off, pulling it down over the head and front legs. When you are hung up on the front legs, don’t use your blade, just punch your finger through, get a good grip and pull the pelt off the front paws.

6. Continue slicing just above where the pelt peels away from the animal, taking special care when skinning around the eyes and lips. 

7. Past the facial features, pull until the only remaining connection is the nose. Slice free while keeping the nose. 

how do I remove the edible meat?


Turn your attention to the meat and the carcass. 

1. Peel and cut away all of the organs. 

2. Remove the head, legs and tail from the carcass. 

3. Cut out the musk glands from inside the legs, any excess fat and white tissuey skin. 

4. Wash the muskrat thoroughly with warm salted water.

5. Soak the meat for two or three hours in a weak brine solution (1 tbsp. salt to 1 quart water) to draw out the blood, then drain and pat dry. 

The meat is now ready for the kitchen, storage or preservation.

how long can i keep this for?


Muskrat hams can be vacuum sealed and kept frozen for up to a year. Pay close attention that sharp ends of the leg bones do not puncture the bag while sealing. 

Like any meat, muskrat can be dried on a food dehydrator. Large slices for jerky are more difficult to produce but many small pieces dried can be used in a pemmican recipe or rehydrated in a soup or stew. 

Meats are low acid and if canned, must be done in a pressure canner.

Find more information and instruction at this university extension.

what do I do with these pelts?

With your pelts removed from the animal carcass you can continue along the hide processing progression. In their current state, these pelts are considered 'green',  the removed hide that has not been fleshed, stretched or dried. These furs can be sold for a lower price. When storing, attempt to eliminate contact with air. Vacuum sealing individual pelts is excellent. Jumbo zip-loc bags with as much air forced out as possible are fine. Kept in a freezer, green fur can be stored for long periods of time - many months or a couple of years.


Raw fur (after fleshing, stretching and drying) is the usual state in which fur is sold to auction. 


For this process you’ll need a wooden fleshing board, a dull scraper and some wire or board stretchers.



Pull the skin over the stretching board. 


With a dull scraper, there are a few spots where excess flesh and fat need to be removed; usually at the ears, the eyes, undersides of the legs and belly. Pinch or grab the fat deposits, pull up from the skin and taking care not to cut the fur, scrape off the fat. Do not remove the red membrane covering the leather. This membrane protects the hair roots and keeps the leather pliable.

Stretching or Boarding


Once the skin is fleshed, it is stretched over a wire stretcher or a special board and left to dry at room temperature for a day or two.

Muskrats are boarded leather out. There are standard board patterns, determined by North American Fur Auctions that when followed will ensure your pelts are dried to the proper size.

From the NAFA pelt handling manual:


When using wire, be sure the Muskrat is centered on the form.

Pin the nose with a clothespin to keep it from sliding over the form. Pull the sides down making sure they are even and hook the tail by placing the hook in the piece of tail leather that was left on the pelt. Use care not to overstretch the pelt.

Pin both sides with clothespins. This keeps the sides from sliding up the form. This is important because the Muskrat will be measured for size from the nose to the shortest side. This is where a wooden form can give the trapper a larger size because on wood the sides are pinned and cannot slide up the form.


The best method for putting a muskrat on a wooden form is to, center the Muskrat on the form.

Pin the nose. Pull the sides down evenly and pin them and pin the tail last.


Hang to dry away from direct heat with good air flow.

Under proper conditions, drying will take two or three days.

After drying remove the pelts from the forms, wipe the leather down with an old towel or burlap to remove oils or grease, and store in a cool dark place until ready to ship to NAFA.


If you need to keep your pelts for an extended period of time they can be stored in the freezer. Place the pelts in a plastic bag (multiple pelts can be stored in the same bag) and remove as much air as possible. They should be removed from the freezer a few days before shipping and hung to remove any excess moisture


Trappers typically process their fur to 'raw' state - fleshing, stretching and drying. Then they are sold on consignment basis to large auction houses, the largest being NAFA, North American Fur Auction. The furs are graded, sorted and combined into lots and sold at one of four annual auctions, often to international tanneries and garment manufacturers.

sent in or dropped off

receive a commission after sale 

The RecipeS:






Conibears, or body gripping traps. They come in three sizes; 110s smaller, 220s and 330s the largest. Use smaller traps for muskrats. These are typically used under water and placed in runs. You can also bait apple or carrot right on the trigger. 


Coil spring foothold traps are compact and great for placing sets inside muskrat houses. 


A waist high, sturdy ice chisel picks and pierces openings through the frozen surfaces separating you from the muskrats. 


A package of plastic garden plant stakes are rigid enough to sink into the ground and secure your sets.


A roll of 11 or 12 gauge wire and some clippers allow you to secure the traps to stakes outside of the houses. 


A versatile trapping knife includes a sharp, clip point for penetration and detail work and a spey blade for general skinning. Stainless steel blades are highly resistant to rusting.


A strong scissors makes quick work of breaking leg bones, leaving only skin for your knife blade to separate.


Compact expedition sleds are deep enough to cradle your gear, scooped in the front and scoured with runners to glide effortlessly behind you. If you don't go for a sled/harness combo, it is fairly easy to DIY attach to a skijoring or climbing harness with rope or cord.


A pair of classic-style backcountry nordic skis, 70 to 90 mm wide under foot are the right choice to haul extra weight across the variable snow conditions of a Minnesota winter. Waxless is lower maintenance and sufficient for workhorse skiing.


Be sure to match your boot and ski binding system. The most common backcountry binding will be a 75mm 3-pin. Look for a rugged sole, reliable insulation and stabilizing heel cuffs.


When carrying the extra weight of the line through soft and deep snow, you’ll want to choose snowshoes with greater surface area to achieve greater floatation.


Trapper hats on the trapline...


A pair of specialized nordic skiing gloves will offer ample insulation while remaining low profile enough to slip into rubber gauntlets and interact most comfortably with ski poles.


Full length, insulated, PVC-coated gauntlet gloves will keep you warm, clean and dry when digging arm’s length deep into mucky muskrat houses or into freezing open water. 


Wear wool or synthetics next to skin. These fabrics transfer moisture, manage odor and continue to insulate after wet from a sweaty tree stand approach. 


Get hotter and heavier with a fleece or pile sweatshirt.


To protect your insulating layers from wind and precipitation, put on a hard shell jacket made from durable, waterproof, breathable fabrics.


Ex Officio, always. Wear one pair all weekend with the most comfortable, breathable, quick drying briefs.


Lightweight/midweight, wool or synthetic thermal “long johns” will trap heat right against the skin and wick away any moisture during periods of overheating.


A synthetic fleece or pile pant maximizes the trapped and toasty dead air space, but sweatpants will work too. 


To protect your insulating layers from wind and precipitation, put on a hard shell bottoms made from durable, waterproof, breathable fabrics.


Ultralight synthetic liner socks will transfer any moisture to a lightweight/midweight merino wool. Adhere a full foot length heat pad then layer on a heavyweight and expedition weight sock. 


These are an added layer of protection from moisture and debris entering your boots while you post-hole your way around a snow laden swamp.


A winter-weather-weight pair of snow boots has taller cuffs, a Thinsulate liner wrapped in a waterproof/breathable membrane and will insulate you to -30/-40 degrees F. 



Get oot and after it.

You are how you eat.