DISTRIBUTION: Found throughout North Dakota. Most abundant in the prairie pothole region, in the Turtle Mountains, and along the larger streams.
HABITAT: Generally associated with water, especially streams and potholes, but often wander long distances away from water in search of food.
LIFE HISTORY: Mating occurs during the period from late January to early March. The young are born in April or May following a gestation period of 45 to 50 days. Three to ten young may be born, the usual number is five or six. The young mink remain in the den (often an abandoned muskrat runway or badger hole) for four to six weeks at which time they begin to forage for themselves. They remain with the mother through the summer. Mink tagging studies in North Dakota indicate that the young mink move away from the home area during the fall. This movement is especially noticeable when water areas are drying up. North Dakota mink weigh up to three and one-half pounds. The females are generally smaller than the males and weigh from two to three pounds. Mink are active the year around. In the water they spend much of their time under the snow and ice. They are mostly nocturnal (active at night) although it is not unusual to see them during the day-time. They are very much at home in the water and are strong swimmers.
FOOD HABITS: Small mammals, muskrats, rabbits, fish, crayfish, insects, frogs, and birds are preferred food items for the mink. Mink prefer to kill their own food and often cache food in their dens. They often kill more food than they can eat, a habit which sometimes makes them very unpopular with poultry owners.
SUGGESTED TRAP SIZE: No. 1 1/2 coilspring, longspring, or jump trap; No. 2 longspring; No. 11 Victor; 110 Conibear.
SUGGESTED BAITS: Mink prefer to kill their own food so are not as attracted by bait as most species are. Fresh flesh (rabbits, muskrat carcasses, etc.), fresh fish, minnows, birds and feathers sometimes work as bait. Do not use tainted meat.
SUGGESTED LURES: Fish oil lure is sometimes quite effective in trapping mink. Gland lures are often used to attract the attention of a passing mink, and mink urine is recommended to destroy human odor around a set.
The goal of most beginning trappers is to catch a mink. Although somewhat harder to catch than most species, mink are not as difficult to trap as many trappers would have you believe. Mink have a very good sense of smell. It is necessary to take extreme care in setting mink traps so that you leave as little odor around the set as possible.
To become a good mink trapper, you have to learn their habits. Mink travel about more than do most forbearers and offen travel up to ten miles during a night. They usually follow a definite route. In fact, they will almost always visit or pass through certain spots on a particular water area every time they are around that area. This habit is what makes them vulnerable to the trapper.
Select a spot where you can see (from tracks, scats, etc.) that mink have traveled. Perhaps it will be along the edge of a slough, next to a bank, under a leaning log, or around a rock at the water's edge. Conceal a trap in this spot (water sets are best) where the mink will step into it the next time it makes its rounds. In setting traps under water for mink, the pan should not be more than two inches below the surface of the water. The trap can be lightly covered with vegetation from the bottom of the slough.
This type of set is called a "blind" set. Usually no bait or lure is used although a little lure often is good insurance. Blind sets can often be improved by the use of a few sticks or stones to narrow down the travel path of the mink and increase the chance of making it step into your trap.
Sometimes good blind set sites can be constructed on an area by using stumps, stones, etc. If this is necessary, construct the site well in advance of the trapping season so that the mink will have time to become accustomed to it. When the season opens, set your trap in the selected spot.
In making dry land blind sets, conceal the trap by placing it in a shallow hole and covering it lightly with leaves, cattail down, cut grass, or light sifted earth. A good place for a dry blind set is where mink have made an overland trail, perhaps across a point or from one slough to another. This trail will not be very plain to see but droppings, bent grass, mink smell, and tracks will show you where it goes. You need to be extremely careful to avoid leaving human odor at such a set. A few drops of mink urine sprinkled here will probably be very helpful. Blind sets should be made carefully. A blind set with the trap in place should look as though the area had not been disturbed at all.
Blind sets are the bread and butter sets for a good mink trapper. It does take practice and experience to recognize a good site for such a set and to learn how best to make them. As a companion to the blind sets, a mink trapper should know how to make various bait or lure sets. These sets rely on the bait attracting the mink to the trap area.
One of the easiest and most efficient mink bait sets is the "den" or "runway" set. Here the bait is placed in an abandoned muskrat run or animal den and a trap is concealed at the entrance. Many trappers dig artificial runways for this purpose, the set is then called a "pocket" set. A few drops of mink lure or urine sprinkled around this set will improve its efficiency.
Bait or lure sets can be made under a variety of conditions. Bait can be placed on a muskrat house and a trap concealed beneath it. Bait or lure sets should take advantage of natural obstacles so that the mink has to step on the concealed trap to get the bait.
The mink trapper should be able to devise a bait set for every type of trapping condition. The way to do this is to experiment and to make each set as good as possible. It is futile to put out a lot of poor sets and expect a mink to blunder into them.
Concealing your traps well in mink trapping has a double advantage. Not only will it increase your catch, but it also will make your traps harder for trap thieves to spot.
If possible, mink sets should be made so that the trapped animal will drown. This can often be done by using a wire extension on the trap chain and anchoring it in deep water. Or a drowning wire can be used as shown in the section on beaver trapping.
Mink (and other animals) caught alive can be killed by drowning or by stepping on the rib cage and stopping the heart. A rap on the end of the nose with a stick will stun the animal temporarily, making it easier to handle while killing.
Mink are handled as a cased pelt. Do not overstretch the pelt of a mink or any other furbearer as this cuts down on their value.
Most fur buyers prefer to buy mink "in the round" (unskinned). They have their own experienced skinners and use standard stretcher sizes. Thus they are assured of having well-handled, uniform pelts which are worth more money and they can afford to pay as much for a mink "in the round" as for a prepared pelt.