Memories Evoked by an Encounter with a Wild Mink

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

One of our most educational possessions of recent has been the trail camera. We continue to learn from photos taken with the technology. “Expect the Unexpected” proved true once again the week of January 10th, using that tool. Upon committing the ‘SD card’ to computer screen, we discovered that a wild mink had visited the suet offerings near the bird feeding stations. In-out-gone in five minutes. We had never experienced this species of furry mammal at this location before, but it took little guessing to decide who the intruder was, slithering in at 2:00 a.m. with a temperature of minus-two Fahrenheit. Yes, it was feeding upon a chunk of bloody suet, (the MNDNR calls them the “most common water mammal predator (carnivore) in Minnesota. They are found in nearly every wetland, lake and creek in the state.” (We would add, “pre-drought.) Problem is, the snow and ice lay deep upon the earth, with no marshes/open nor water/stream nearby. Oh, yes, plenty of food to be had…mice, voles, shrews, hibernating red squirrels, yet the suet was handy and dandy for the 16 inch, black/brown predator, small rounded ears and a white/yellow bib on its chest. As one can observe from the attached photo, the body is long and slinky, the pelt prized for glossy hair to make attractive clothing.

We believe that Henderson/LeSueur area mink pursuers spend little time with the discomfort of setting expensive snares or traps in bitter cold weather, skinning and tanning the furs. In addition, value of native mink fur is inconsequential currently, yet the country which still prizes the pelts is Greece. We digress. The mink photo unleashed vivid mink encounters from the past. Tales include a brother raising turkeys in an enclosed pen, finding all poults slaughtered of a summer morning, the culprits remaining in the turkey enclosure.
A tale of this writer. As a teenager, hearing the price per pelt of said quarry, I decided to embark on a mink-trapping expedition. At the time, in the 1940’s, $10 per pelt could purchase many a pleasure/treasure.

One simply would arise at 5:00 on a crisp autumn morning, walk a mile to and from the Minnesota River, set one’s trapping paraphernalia in the frigid waters of a rivulet, and prepare to ‘roll in the dough.’ On a particularly bone-rattling morning, as this teen checked his traps, he was distracted by the barking of his faithful dog, Blackie. The hound had ‘treed’ a raccoon. The mink traps being empty, said hunter dispatched the obese hairy beast, slung it over his shoulders, and began the long dark trek homeward through the foreboding forest. It was then that our courageous hunter felt warm moisture trickling down his shoulders. It was red and not sweat. At the same time, wee black insects departed the body of the quarry, and began to lodge themselves in the hunter’s hair.

After bathing, he rushed to the waiting rural bus. BUT! Not all of the fleas had disembarked his hair. He suffered through a day of wee strangers on his noggin, praying that the fleas stayed aboard the hairy express before a classmate might espy such critters on one’s crown. The trapping season ended with zero mink, but the odor of kerosene in one’s hair was a reminder that trapping was not a pleasant vocation. (Kerosene was used to dispatch unwelcome insects those days.)

Zip to January 10th, 2023. On an especially frigid day, our duo spied a lone gray squirrel high in the tallest branch of a maple tree, just a-nibbling away oblivious to auto traffic ‘neath its employment. We’ve observed this phenomena in the past, In late March, early April, when ‘sap’ rises through the phloem (inner bark) and is called to nourish sprouts, leaflets, and new growth. Why the nibbling in January? One reason given (MNDNR) is that squirrels need to periodically sharpen their teeth. Another is that squirrels ‘prune’ trees to bring about new growth. We are waiting to hear from readers as to an hypothesis. Subtle signs of Spring entice naturalists to spy furtive changes in the world about themselves. Please share your experiences with these Indy writers. Until then, beware the ice!