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Whether you are trapping beaver or raccoon during the established season or doing nuisance wildlife control work under a Department of Natural Resources-issued nuisance animal control permit, you will want to employ all the tactics you can to avoid catching an otter.
River otters were reintroduced to Indiana by the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife in cooperation with many partners, including the Indiana State Trappers Association. The North American river otter once inhabited waterways throughout Indiana. By the mid to late 1800s, unregulated taking and loss of habitat resulted in widespread population declines. By 1942, breeding populations of river otter had disappeared from the state. The Indiana DNR upgraded the otter's status to endangered in 1994 in preparation for this project.
Otters were released in the northern and southern third of Indiana. Although otters were only released in these areas, you should always assume that an otter may encounter your traps. Otter are highly mobile and potentially can be found in any waterway in the state.
Beaver, raccoon and otter share similar habitats, so many trap sets that are traditionally successful for beaver and raccoon are also effective for trapping otter. As a responsible trapper, you should learn the differences in behavior and activity patterns between the three animals. This knowledge will help you better create species-specific traps. This page describes a few key tactics that you can use to avoid otter without significantly reducing your effectiveness in trapping beaver and raccoon. None of these tactics is completely otter-proof, but they can help minimize your chances of catching an otter.
Bounding Tracks, Hind Foot, Front Foot
Otter inhabit rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and ponds. Avoid trapping where otter sign is evident. Look for tracks and scat while scouting or setting an area. Otter scat is usually greenish black, contains fish scales, and smells like musk mixed with fish. Otter often use latrines where scat is concentrated. You may notice a thick, yellowish deposit near latrines. Also, look for slides on steep, snow-covered banks. Otter slides are narrower than beaver slides, but aren't common unless an area is heavily used by otter.
Use sweet lures for raccoon and castor lures for beaver. Do not use lures that contain fish oils, which will readily attract otter.
Where you place a trap can greatly affect what type of animal is likely to be caught. When placing any kind of trap along a beaver pond, avoid putting sets near the dam crossover or near the inlet of the pond. Although these are productive areas for beaver, they are also excellent travel lanes for otter. Instead, focus your trap setting away from the pond where beaver leave the water in search of food. Although otter may also use these areas, they are less likely to use them than the crossover or inlet. One relatively otter-safe set utilizes a castor mound on the edge of a pond. The castor scent will attract beaver while otter will generally be uninterested. Also, avoid setting near abandoned beaver lodges and bank dens. These sets are not productive for beaver, and otter will readily use them. Otter generally avoid areas where beaver are active, so make sets as close as possible to active lodges.
Raccoon sets along water edges are dangerous to otters. Place the trap away from the water's edge. Place sets well into feeding areas such as a cornfield or woodlot.
Trails leading between waterways are potential otter travel lanes. Although raccoon also use these trails, avoid them completely or use foothold sets on dry ground.
When placing bodygrip traps or snares under water, place the trap near the bottom and place a large dry pole about 10 to 12 inches above the trap. Beaver tend to dive toward the bottom when they encounter a barrier. Otter are not inclined to dive as deep to avoid a barrier, so they often will swim between the pole and the trap.
Foothold traps were used to trap the otter that were reintroduced in Indiana. The Louisiana trapper who captured the animals for the Indiana DNR used a modified #11 Victor double longspring to trap otter for release. The traps do little or no damage to a captured otter.
If you use foothold traps to capture beaver, do not use them on dam crossovers, since otter often use these same areas. Castor mound sets with the trap set fairly deep are less likely to catch otter.
By setting snares with the proper opening, these inexpensive traps can capture beaver while leaving passing otter untouched. If you are setting a snare on land (such as on a beaver slide or path), set your snare to a diameter of 9-10 inches with the loop 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches off the ground. This relatively large loop will typically snare beaver while passing otter will slide right through. If you are setting under water (such as in an underwater run or an approach to a castor mound), use the same 9-10 inch diameter snare loop. You can make snares nearly otter-proof by using a stop that allows the loop diameter to close to not less than 5-6 inches. Otter will easily escape from a six-inch loop whereas most beaver will be held firmly when caught behind the front legs. Remember that it is only legal to use a snare on land owned by you or with written permission of a landowner. The maximum legal circumference (not diameter) for snare loops is 15 inches, unless at least half of the snare loop is covered by water or if the snare uses a relaxing snare lock.
Size 330 body-grip traps (Conibears) are one of the most commonly used beaver traps. The trap is also very effective for otter. With some minor alterations the 330 can be set to minimize accidental otter captures. First, move the trigger as far as you can to one side of the trap and bend the trigger wires close together. You can also shorten the trigger length to four to five inches by cutting or bending the wires. Since otter are more slender than beaver, otter often glide through the trap without tripping the trigger. Beaver, which tend to be larger and slightly less agile, will likely hit the release trigger while plowing through the trap. Second, put additional tension on the trigger. You can do this by purchasing a special tensioning trigger that allows you to closely control the release pressure. By increasing trigger tension, you require an animal to swim through with more force to trip the trap. Again, otter will tend to glide through the trap barely touching the trigger wires while beaver will often bump the wires when paddling through.
Another approach utilizes two triggers. The triggers are placed on each side of the trap. An animal swimming through the trap must strike both triggers in order for the trap to fire.
Remember that Indiana regulations require that 330 body grip traps must be completely covered by water.
Several otter have been lost in 220 bodygrip traps set for raccoons. Avoid blind sets along stream edges. Also, do not place cubby sets with 220 bodygrips or use foothold bank sets on drowners near areas where there may be otter present.
Information provided by trappers is an important means of determining the status and distribution of endangered species in Indiana. If you accidently trap an otter, you must report the incident to a conservation officer as soon as possible. If the animal is alive and uninjured, safely release it as quickly as you can, then report the incident to a conservation officer. There is no penalty for reporting an accidental capture of an otter, but it is illegal to take or possess this furbearer. If the animal is dead, leave it in place and contact a conservation officer as soon as possible. The carcass must be surrendered to a conservation officer, and the officer will assist you.