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The Mink

In walking through the woods one day in early winter, we read upon the

newly fallen snow the record of a mink's fright the night before. The

mink had been traveling through the woods post-haste, not along the

watercourses where one sees them by day, but over ridges and across

valleys. We followed his track some distance to see what adventures he

had met with. We tracked him through a bushy swamp, and saw where he had

ft it to explore a pile of rocks, then where he had taken to the swamp

again, and where he had entered the more open woods. Presently the track

turned sharply about, and doubled upon itself in long hurried strides.

What had caused the mink to change his mind so suddenly? We explored a

few paces ahead, and came upon a fox track. The mink had probably seen

the fox stalking stealthily through the woods, and the sight had

doubtless brought his heart into his mouth. I think he climbed a tree,

and waited till the fox had passed. His track disappeared amid a clump

of hemlocks, and then reappeared again a little beyond them. It

described a big loop around, and then crossed the fox track only a few

yards from the point where its course was interrupted. Then it followed

a little watercourse, went under a rude bridge in a wood-road, then

mingled with squirrel tracks in a denser part of the thicket. If the

mink met a muskrat or a rabbit in his travels, or came upon a grouse, or

quail, or a farmer's henroost, he had the supper he was in quest of.

I followed a mink's track one morning upon the snow till I found where

the prowler had overtaken and killed a muskrat by a stone wall near a

little stream. The blood upon the snow and the half-devoured body of the

rat told the whole story. The mink is very fond of muskrats, and

trappers often use this flesh to bait their traps. I wonder if he has

learned to enter the under-water hole to the muskrat's den, and then

seek him in his chamber above, where the poor rat would have little

chance to escape.

The mink is only a larger weasel, and has much of the boldness and

bloodthirstiness of that animal. One summer day my dog Lark and I were

sitting beside a small watercourse in the woods, when I saw a mink

coming up the stream toward us. I sat motionless till the mink was

within a few feet of us, when the dog saw him. As the dog sprang, the

mink darted under a large flat stone. Lark was very fierce, and seemed

to say to me, "Just lift up that stone and I will show you my way with

minks." This I quickly did, and the dog sprang for the game, but he as

quickly withdrew with a cry of pain as if he had touched something

red-hot. The mink had got in the first blow or bite, and then effected

his escape between my feet and the dog's, as if he had vanished in the

air. Where he went to was a mystery. There was no hole; no depth of

water; no hiding-place anywhere that I could discover or that the dog

could discover, and yet the mink had disappeared. It was like some

conjurer's trick.

Minks are fond of fish, and can capture them in the water. This makes

them very destructive along small trout streams and ponds. I once saw a

trout with an ugly gash in its side, which was doubtless the work of a

mink. With a friend, I once had a camp by a trout stream in the

Catskills that we named "Mink Camp," by reason of the number of minks

that came every night as soon as it was dark, to devour the fish-heads

and entrails that we threw over on the opposite bank. We could often

hear them disputing over the spoils, and in the dim light of the

camp-fire could sometimes see them.

You may know the mink's track upon the snow from those of the squirrels

at once. In the squirrel-track the prints of the large hind feet are

ahead, with the prints of the smaller fore feet just behind them, as in

the case of the rabbit. The mink, in running, usually plants his hind

feet exactly upon the track of his fore feet, and closer together than

the squirrel, so that his trail upon the snow is something like this:--

The squirrel's track, as well as those of the rabbit and the

white-footed mouse, is in form like this:--

One winter day I had a good view of a mink running upon the snow and ice

along the edge of a stream. He had seen or heard me, and was making a

little extra speed. He bounded along with his back much arched, in a

curiously stiff and mechanical sort of way, with none of the grace and

ease of the squirrel. He leaped high, and cleared about two and a half

feet at a bound.