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Outdoors

Trapper Ken Szabo shows a rookie the ropes

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    Ken Szabo sets a mink trap.

    BRAD ZAHAR / CHRONICLE

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    Ken Szabo checks his mink traps near a local stream.

    BRAD ZAHAR / CHRONICLE

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    A mink.

    ODNR PHOTO

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader, Ken Szabo. He extended me an invite to check his mink traps with him one day in December.

Having little experience and knowledge with trapping, I was eager to learn more, especially from someone like Szabo, who has spent decades trapping.

At 78 years old, Szabo still has plenty of energy and passion for mink trapping, making his rounds to set and check his traps across the area on a daily basis.

About a week ago we met up and set out across Lorain County with the hope of finding mink. We spent a few hours driving from trap to trap, as all traps and snares by law must be checked daily. Szabo talked of a few larger adult male minks he had been trying to get for a few days but had been unsuccessful so far. Would today be the day the luck changed?

December is the best time for mink trapping as the bigger males begin to actively move and start the breeding season. Szabo only sets out to trap mink, and trapping in December, you won’t find raccoons or other unwanted game in your traps.

Mink live in and around water, snacking on minnows, crayfish and other aquatic baitfish. Sections of the water with the most current and flow are the last to freeze. When setting traps, placing them in the faster water and near structure will increase your chances of finding a mink in your trap.

After striking out with the first few traps coming up empty, I wasn’t sure if the onset of cold weather that hit the area last week played any role in it. But we kept on with the thought that our luck would have to change.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we did find one, but at our fifth stop I found out when we walked down to the trap. Szabo gave me a big grin and said “we’ve got one.”

We found several more successful traps throughout the day, including the mink Szabo had been after for almost two weeks. It was a successful and educational day on my end, learning about an entirely new outdoor pursuit available in Lorain County and Northeast Ohio.

When Szabo began trapping years ago, he used to get over $30 for a mink cape. Now, fur prices have dropped and he says he only gets between $10 and $15 per mink. His drive and enjoyment of the sport and the tactical element of it outweighs the money.

What I realized throughout the process is how technical and informed you must be for successful trapping. Learning the water, habitat and the mink’s routines are crucial. Mink have very small feet, so your trap must be precise in order to capture them.

Just like stalking a deer or finding water where the fish are biting, setting traps for an animal as elusive as a mink involves time and effort. But like anything in the outdoors, the effort and time spent among nature is a reward like none other.

Contact Brad Zahar at bzaharoutdoors@gmail.com.

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