Clicking on a critter that refuses to be caught

Clicking on a critter that refuses to be caught
John C. Lorson

Likely a female with young in the den, this American mink hurries back toward her kits with the catch of the day: an adult red squirrel caught by springing into the underbrush from the pavement along the Holmes County Trail.


Carrying a camera while bicycling is easy. As a matter of fact, most anyone that travels with a smartphone in their pocket already has it figured out.

But having a camera along only gets you part of the way if you’re looking to capture images of wildlife. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve come face to face with some interesting critter along the trail, only to have it scurry off before I could click the shutter, I could probably hire a film crew to just follow along beside me and the problem would be solved. One animal in particular vexed me for years in that regard — the American mink.

I can honestly say I’d never seen a live mink in the wild until I started riding the Holmes County Trail back and forth each day several years ago. Frequently bordered by streams, wetlands or drainage ditches, the trail is perfect habitat for the small but mighty carnivore.

With my travels frequently taking place around both dawn and dusk, I began spotting mink, if not regularly, then at least frequently enough to nickname a portion of the trail “Mink Alley.” Still, despite a known active range, a seemingly thriving population and my own strong desire to grab a photo of the wily critters, I was thwarted in every attempt to photograph them.

Once, while stopped along the trail to photograph a pair of frighteningly large snapping turtles engaged in the business of, well, making more snapping turtles, I heard something coming through the weeds behind me and out popped a mink not 10 feet away. It was dragging a 3-foot-long black rat snake by the head and never even paused to look up at me before it waddled into the brush at the other side of the trail. I was so thoroughly shocked by the entire scene that I never even lifted the camera, which was not only in my hand, but also turned on and ready to shoot.

An interesting bit of family trivia is my wife, Kristin, actually spent the earliest of her childhood years on a mink farm. My father-in-law, Joe, had grown a boyhood hobby of raising a litter or two of mink a year into a world-class operation with thousands of animals by the time he’d finished college.

When Kristin was born in the mid-1960s, Joe was making a full-time living in the fur trade and winning international competitions along the way. Then, almost overnight, the double-whammy of increasing competition and changing tastes in fashion caused the market to crash. Within a few years he’d lost it all.

When I’d tell Joe about “Mink Alley” and my various sightings, he would invariably wax nostalgic about the mink farm. Then he’d playfully mock me for not getting a shot of one. “What a disappointment you are as a son-in-law,” he would laugh.

Joe has been gone for a few years now, and each time I see a mink along the trail I imagine he’s up there, somehow pulling the cosmic strings to put the critter out there in front of me and just as often (perfectly consistent with his sense of humor) pulling the varmint back out of view before I can grab a photo of it.

I’m willing to give him full credit for the spectacular scene that unfolded in front of me just a few weeks ago when, for once, I was ready with camera in hand.

Rolling along slowly after snapping a few bird shots, I saw an adult mink several hundred yards ahead slinking across the trail. Raising my camera quickly, I snapped a shot as the animal crouched like a cat about 2 feet from the brushy edge. One click of the shutter and it was gone. I held steady for a moment or two but then decided the excitement had passed, and I was ready to pack up when the critter popped back onto the trail to run straight toward me carrying something in its jaws.

Raising the camera again, I clicked off two more frames before the mink dodged back into the thicket, more than likely to deliver the full-grown red squirrel to her kits in the den. Finally, a shot of a wild mink with a wonderful bonus as well. It seemed as if Joe was willing to give me the last laugh for once.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load