The Other Masked Bandit: The Badger
I was sitting on the phones at work one day getting bored with no one answering the phone and having read every trapper magazine and book I could get my hands on, I got to thinking about writing some kind of article. But what could I write about that already hasn’t been written in the countless magazines, books, and Internet sites? Then it hit me, when was the last time I had seen an article about catching badgers and actually targeting them? I couldn’t remember. So here is the outcome of that thought.
The badger is usually an animal in the fur trade that isn’t highly targeted but usually ends up in trapper’s sets by “accident”. I have never seen a book written or video made of how to catch badgers consistently or how to set for them. “A good coyote/fox set is a good badger, opossum, or skunk set” you will often hear trappers say. Or you will hear, “I couldn’t believe it, I caught a badger in my 220 set on a coon trail or I snared a badger today in a coon/coyote trail.” Badgers are to coyote/fox trappers like muskrats are to mink trappers and otter are to beaver trappers. They are loved when caught but are not the targeted animals. So, essentially, the badger is a bonus on any trapline. But the question still remains, what if a trapper wanted to target the badger?
Traps and equipment is an easy thing to figure out when going after badgers. I am guessing most of you already have what is needed to successfully catch one. First, I will list the stakes. If you prefer to use an earth anchor type stake or you like using steel rebar, make sure they will go in the ground far enough so that if the badger digs straight down he can’t dig the stake out. I remember catching a badger one time that dug under the stake so that the point of the rebar was sticking out in his new “den”.
Since that occurrence, I make sure all stakes I use for catching a badger are at least two feet long and a foot longer than the chain on the trap. Second are traps. #2 or bigger…although I have caught them in 1.5’s, however I would not recommend them as a trap of choice for a badger. I had a badger ruin a 160 conibear once and although the animal was there in the morning, I never set another for one. The 220 conibear is a good trap for badger in their trails. Snares can be 5/64 or 3/32 like for coon size. I have never tried the 1×19 strands so I can’t say yes or no on that size. With snares, make sure you stake the snare good and solid with at least a two-foot stake, I use three feet just to make sure. Other equipment would include what a fox/coyote trapper would have for trapping those animals. Lures and baits I use include meat based baits, very little lure is used. I have found when targeting badgers that fresh meat bait tends to work better although I (and many of you) have caught them “accidentally” in coyote/fox sets using tainted meat bait. With badgers it is more important to be on location than it is with the bait/lure combination.
Location for badgers is easier to pick up on than you might think. They leave their tell tale signs of dirt mounds and big holes as they are digging for mice, rabbits, etc in fields, ditches, terraces, timber edges, pastures, etc. Setting on location for coyote/fox will produce the “accidental” badger so one would assume these are good locations for them as well. Me, personally, I look for fresh activity or den sites on tops of hills, terraces in fields, on pond dams, and in road ditches close to fields/fence rows. A den site will have a hole that is well worn from the badger spending a lot of time going in and out and if there is grass nearby you will find the trails they use as they go on their hunts.
Badgers in the fall and winter will den up in areas where there is a good prey population. Otherwise they will be in search of those areas and this is why many trappers “accidentally” catch a badger in their coyote/fox locations.
I have heard that any set you make for coyote/fox will work for badgers and opossums. I agree with that although when I am setting specifically to catch a badger I only use one dirt set and then I will set the trails with 220’s or snares if those are close to the fresh activity. Once I find where fresh badger diggings are, I will make a big dirthole about 12” in diameter slanted at an angle. It will look like an animal actually dug it and not a trapper. At the botton of the hole I will make a mouse size hole and that is where the bait will go. Fresh or frozen mice work great for bait as this is one of their targeted prey as they hunt.
I have not yet found a trap shy badger. If that badger is nearby, I will likely catch him/her in a couple days or less. Set the trap and cover it up with dirt like you would for coyote/fox sets but don’t put any gland lure or any odors that smell of other animals around the set unless you are on location for the canines as well. I am targeting specifically the badger and nothing else in this set but I have caught fox, coyotes, and coons in this set as well as opossums and skunks.
When you catch a badger it is very likely you will know, even from a distance. Dirt will be piled up everywhere where your “neat” set was and sometimes walking/driving up you will see dirt flying as the badger is still trying to “dig” his way out of the mess he is in. There are exceptions to this rule, however. Let me explain. I remember driving to a gate on a property I was trapping in southern iowa when I spotted a big mound of dirt on a pond dam that wasn’t there the day before just on the other side of a fence. I opened the gate, drove through, and closed the gate (as that is what you do with a gate you just opened) and drove to the south side of the pond near the dam. I went over to check out the mound of dirt and found it to be a fresh badger digging. I went to the truck and got a #2 Montgomery Dogless trap on a short chain and two 24” rebar stakes to cross stake with. I made my big dirt hole set as described above about one foot to the side of the new mound/hole in the pond dam and went on my way to check the other traps I had set. The next day as I rolled by I was excited to check the set and what I saw was weird. Nothing, no mound of dirt, no dirt scattered, nothing. I felt like I was in the twilight zone.
I went through the gate and closed it, then drove to the end of the pond dam. As I walked up to the set location I was telling myself I didn’t dream about that location, I know I was here yesterday. I got to the area and seen the dirt all flat and I started to look closer. Then I seen it, a small mouse sized hole where the set should have been. The badger after being caught had been so close to the other hole that he literally filled it up and dug himself down underground and that one small hole was what he was breathing through. It took me all of 20 minutes to get him dug out of there and dispatched. Normally though, a trapped badger will make a mess comparable to a small crater on the moon which I then utilize to trap coyote/fox because of the eye appeal.
The market on badgers is really good right now. The last fur sale at NAFA in Feb. 2012 had 2,372 badgers on it, 100% of them sold at an average of $38.61 with a top of $210.00. That is not too shabby for an animal that for the most part is considered a bonus on the trapline. The taxidermy trade is not too shabby either. A badger in the round (whole frozen) that is top quality with guard hairs that are silver tipped can fetch around $75 to $125 when sold on the taxidermy market. (Make sure it is legal in your state to sell to a taxidermist if that business does not have a fur buyer’s license…protect yourself) Even the badgers that don’t have any guard hairs can be worth $30 to $50 in the round as on the fur market they will only get a couple of bucks. A note on the dispatch of a badger, many trappers use a .22 to the head for a quick dispatch however doing that to a badger will destroy the skull and the skull can be worth as much as $15 to $30 depending on its size. To dispatch a badger try to shoot through the heart/lung, I try to get him to roll over and shoot through the chest for a quick kill. Also the claws on the animal if skinning for fur market can be sold as well for the making of necklaces and other decorative items.
The badger is an animal that is fun to catch and usually a memorable catch at that. I have not caught near the amount of badgers that some of the big canine/cat trappers in this country have but I have caught my fair share of them. Targeting badgers to some may be a waste of time, but to me, it can have its rewards. It is one thing to catch a bonus badger at a coyote/fox/coon set, but to actually be successful catching the animal you are after takes you to another level of being a trapper. Good luck on the “badger” line this year.