Outdoors Column: Muskrat Hunters

During the winter, at times, the biggest challenge for wildlife is to find water. If it is extremely cold and there is no snow on the ground, winter can be a lot like living in the desert. We are fortunate to have the lake. It drains year round, no matter how cold or dry it is. When I first noticed this, I thought the dam was leaking. The engineers that designed the dam told me a series of drains exited the dam near the overflow tube, keeping the interior dry and solid. This means, fifty-five degree water streams out year around to be enjoyed by anything needing a drink.


This stream provides a unique ecosystem between open pasture and timber. The lake is frozen over but the stream flows freely. An eagle spends much of his time in a branch in a large cottonwood tree near the stream. From there, he can swoop down and catch a fish occasionally. Deer, turkey, raccoons, and most every other species native to the area can be seen taking advantage of the stream by getting a drink of fresh water.


Apparently, a muskrat is one of the native species taking advantage of the consistently open water. We discovered this during the past few days. Friday was unseasonably warm. Louie, the boxer, who is a house dog wanted to go outside and play with his buddy, Jag, the terrier. I think both dogs had cabin fever from being inside during the long cold spell. My wife did not think much of it when she went out later to check on them and they were not around. They will not run off but do, at times, venture into the nearby timber to chase squirrels. It seems to be a good source of entertainment for the dogs and the squirrels.


Hours past and the dogs still did not return. My wife was beginning to get concerned when a dog looked in the window. It looked a lot like Louie, but was an entirely different color. Louie had mud caked over his entire body. When she went out to check, Jag was also muddy, but not nearly as bad. He is somewhat self-cleaning from running through the tall grass. Since Louie has always lived inside, ignoring him and leaving him out was not an option. Letting a seventy pound dog with forty pounds of mud inside was also not an option. Much to his chagrin, my wife gave him a shower.


Saturday morning, I let the dogs out and they again promptly disappeared. A few hours later, it was my turn to give Louie a shower when he returned looking much as he had the day before. I went down to the overflow to see what was their great attraction. I could see a muskrat run was well underway of being excavated.


Sunday, we slept in so when I let the dogs out, they were in a hurry and I was not awake. My wife happened to look out the window while making coffee and saw the dogs heading for the open water of the overflow. She was able to call them back before another shower was necessary. Hopefully, Louie will start to make the connection between attempting to dig muskrats out of their dens and having to have a shower. Until that time or they lose interest in their project, they will be watched closely when they go outside.