The Muskrat

Sitting at MySideOfTheBar last weekend and chatting with fellow imbibers, the talk of the winter was in the air. This led to a chat on hunting and reminded me of this story of my youth.

The Muskrat

With still ten minutes left in the day, I could not wait for school to dismiss so I could go hunting. I never knew for sure if it was the hunting I relished so much or just the fact I was out of school and outdoors. It was a rare occasion indeed when I actually brought home any game. When I did manage to shoot a rabbit or pheasant I kept telling myself that it was because my Dad really enjoyed eating the wild game. Deep down inside I also knew that being able to carry a gun and to go hunting was also a right of passage into adulthood. By going hunting I could prove to myself that I was a man even if it would be several more years until the rest of the world would acknowledge the fact.

This was a particularly warm late fall afternoon as the final bell rang I sprinted for the door of the school. It took me no time at all to ride my bike the two miles home and change into my Levi’s and hunting jacket, grab my .22 caliber rifle and start my afternoon ritual.

As I was hunting along the creek just over the hill from my house, I happened upon a trap that had a muskrat clinched firmly in its iron grasp. The muskrat was not dead; he was just caught by one foot. The muskrat was a sad sight as his foot was broken and mangled; his fur was dried and matted. The trap held him fast, just short of the water’s edge. I tried several times to release the muskrat from the trap, however each time the frightened hiss and sharp teeth of the muskrat met me. I decided after a long deliberation that it would be best to put the muskrat out of its misery.

“Mr. Rat”, I said, “Forgive me, but you and the person that belongs to this trap leave me few options”.

I took careful aim and a small crack from my rifle rang out. The tiny, timid, former inhabitant of the shallow creek lay dead from a bullet in the head.

Tears filled my eyes. There was no elation of a big game hunter who had just bagged a trophy animal and no thrill of being a man, able to hunt and provide for his family. There was just the sob of a young boy who had taken a helpless life. The life of a muskrat that’s only crime had been to live by this creek and make one false step into the trap.

I removed the lifeless corpse from the cold steel jaws of the trap and buried the muskrat in a shallow grave in the sand on the bank of the creek. I reached into the icy stream and pulled the trap and examined the rusty steel of Mr. Rat’s demise. The first thing I noticed was there was no identification tag on the death trap. Being the experienced outdoorsman I had become at the age of twelve, I knew that it was a violation of state trapping laws to trap without proper identification firmly attached to the trap. Upon a more thorough search of the creek I discovered several more traps (all empty) all without identification tags. I pulled the other jaws of death from the water and tossed them up on the bank next to my little friend’s grave and slowly walked home.

I would continue to hunt off and on for a couple more years, but never with the same enthusiasm that I had before the muskrat incident and I finally gave up hunting for good later on.

Many years later, while hiking along the creek as an adult I discovered the traps in the same location hidden under some long dry swamp grass where I had left them when I was a boy. I had apparently threw the traps up on the bank harder than I remembered because the traps were never discovered by the unknown trapper or anyone else and had become as much of a permanent fixture of the sandy graveyard as the little muskrat.

This was a story from the book "National Fishing Day and Other Stories from my Youth", by Randy Weidman


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