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Catching weasels
By Mel Liston*

To the best of my knowledge there are three types of weasels to be found in the New Hampshire habitat. The largest is the so-called New York weasel at 13 to 20 inches long and 6 to 10 ounces. The New York weasel is brown on top with a white belly and a 4 to 7 inch tail having a black tip. The Bonaparte's weasel, which is often referred to as the long tailed weasel, is only slightly smaller than the New York and almost indistinguishable for most of the year. The upper side of all four paws on the New York weasel is brown whereas it is white on the Bonaparte. The New York weasel stays brown all year and therefore has no fur market value. The Bonaparte goes through a transition to pure white for the winter season. During this white phase the weasel is referred to as Ermine, and now has value in the garment industry primarily as trim. The Queen of England is a major buyer of Ermine as it is used exclusively to make the distinctive headgear for her Majesty's Palace Guard. A third weasel common in New Hampshire is the short tailed weasel, 8 to 13 inches long with a 2-1/4 to 4 inch tail, its appearance is the same as the Bonaparte, it also becomes ermine in the winter. Another type of weasel, the so-called least weasel is not found within New Hampshire as far as I know.

The weasel is a fearless predator, some might say a bloodthirsty little monster. Mice, rats, squirrels, rodents, small animals, birds, and larger game such as rabbits are all in jeopardy. Farm animals such as chickens or ducks are often on the menu of the weasel. For many trappers, initial interest in catching weasels will come about when a farmer asks assistance to trap the mystery animal that is destroying poultry. It might seem that the weasel kills just for sport, or that it had gone crazy when confronted with so much live game, drinking up all the blood and leaving the dead animals scattered. If immediate action is not taken the weasel shall return and continue destroying poultry. Obviously this problem weasel (or weasels) will best be trapped at locations around the farm buildings and will be taken at whatever time in the year the damage is occurring. In the state of New Hampshire there is no closed season for the trapping of weasels.

Should the trapper' s interest in weasels progress, and a desire to pursue them bubbles to the surface, then they should be targeted in the winter months. Here in New Hampshire the long tailed and short tailed weasel should have completed the transition from brown to white in late November or early December. During the transition period it would be possible to take furs with spots or bands of white or brown, and although these furs will make interesting specimens for the trapper's personal collection, they will have little market value. The trapper would be safe to collect ermine from December through the middle of March. Without a doubt, weasels are plentiful in the New Hampshire habitat. In recent years the interest in trapping weasels has not been significant, most likely due to low fur prices.

Generally speaking, trappers do not take very many weasels as an unintended catch, and few individual trappers target them. Three seasons ago (in New Hampshire) 83 weasels were taken, two seasons ago only 15, but last season there were 110 taken. Of those taken last season, the author trapped 23. Since I only targeted weasel occasionally on a very limited portion of my trapping territory, I suspect the numbers of weasels available are significant. I have read articles about trappers who specialize in weasel trapping catching 200 or more per season. Even though this size of catch is possible in New Hampshire I suspect that any trapper who made it his goal to target weasel to that extent would come up short with the rest of his mixed bag catch. There are only so many hours in the trapper's day.

Some places are better to catch weasels than others. Some of the best places are around swamps or ditches with tall grass and brush. Another exceptional place to catch weasels is along rock walls, especially where two or more walls come together. A steep ledge area with lots of crevices around large rocks would also be another place worth setting up. You could tend these traps with a vehicle from the road, or utilize an ATV or snowmobile to run the line off-road. Make sure you get landowner permission before utilizing a recreational vehicle for trapping on private property. In my case I tend to set my weasel traps in appropriate places where I am already targeting other species. This past season I had hoped to run a dedicated weasel line from my snowmobile, however the snow cover was not adequate to have traps out for more than two weeks. Should we get a lot of snow this year, as the farmer's almanac predicts, I will attempt to catch more weasels.


There are a lot of different ways to catch weasels; to cover them all would require a fairly lengthy article. During the 2002 season I used only one method, the so-called weasel box or cubby. This weasel box can be made from scrap lumber approximately 12 inches long, 6 inches wide and 6 inches high. A 2-inch entrance hole would be cut in one end with a nail driven through the other end to hold bait. The box would have either a removable top or would be made without a bottom. A foothold trap size No. 1 or No. 1 1/2 would be placed inside the box below the entrance hole. The weasel is captured when entering the box to get at the bait on the nail in the rear. The trap chain should be anchored with a little loop of soft wire through two small holes drilled in the back of the box. Another piece of stout wire should be run from the loop to something solid such as a tree, this will prevent loss of the trap and box should a non-target species such as fisher or raccoon reach inside the entrance hole attempting to get the bait. When the fisher and raccoon are in season and you wish to hold them, utilize a strong coil spring trap. During the winter months when the season on fisher and raccoon is closed, utilize the old-style jump trap. These old jump traps have weak springs and therefore the non-target fisher and raccoon can easily pull out and get away while the weasel will be held. Once you have all your boxes constructed it would be wise to dip them in logwood dye or paint them with mud to camouflage the bright finish of new lumber.

The best bait to catch weasels is fresh bloody meat. When trapping on snow, dab the bloody meat in front of the box to add eye appeal. There are gland lures available from trapping suppliers which might help to attract the weasel but I don't think they're worth the money. The best attractant for weasels would be blood.

Trapping weasels can be fun for all trappers and it's a great way for the new young trapper to get started. Three or four cubby boxes can be easily checked while waiting for the school bus. Weasels are relatively easy to skin and stretch. A small collection of furs will look good hanging from the young trapper's wall. Assistance from a parent to construct the weasel boxes is quality time. GOOD LUCK!

*Mel Liston, from Strafford, New Hampshire is a freelance writer, Trapper Education Instructor, Director for the New Hampshire Trappers Association and a member of the National Trappers Association and the Fur Takers of America.

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