Minkenry is the art of hunting or fishing with a trained mink. When most people are first introduced to minkenry, they typically think of ferrets and ferreting. Though it is true that ferreting and minkenry do have some things in common, and mink and ferrets are both Mustelids (members of the weasel family), their are also some very significant differences.
First off, mink and ferrets are actually two very different animals. Ferrets were domesticated well over 1,000 years ago, and have been carefully selected for tameness and ease of handling. Mink, on the other hand, are still wild animals and have been selected by nature for survival. Even when bred on fur farms, mink have not typically been selected for docile temperaments the way ferrets have, and so most mink from farms are just as wild and stubborn as a mink from the wild. Because of their wild natures, mink are much more difficult to handle and train than ferrets are, and it takes a lot of time, patience, and know how to be successful with a mink. On the other hand, ferrets are naturally tame and easy to handle, thanks to their more than 1,000 years of careful breeding to make them that way.
Ferrets were originally domesticated from the European polecat, to be used for flushing animals out of holes. Now days most ferreters exclusively hunt European rabbits, who dig very extensive burrow systems called warrens. The purpose of the ferret, is for the ferret to flush rabbits from their warrens so that the hunter can capture the rabbits using various methods. Everything from nets, to dogs, to birds of prey, to firearms have been used by ferreters to harvest the bolting rabbits. A ferret who often catches the rabbits itself is typically regarded as a nuisance by most ferreters, because the ferreter must then dig down to retrieve the ferret on its kill. Because of this, more slow and docile ferrets are preferred. After over 1,000 years of breeding for slow moving ferrets with docile temperaments, they have become a very different animal from their original ancestor the polecat.
Since mink are still wild animals, they have been selected by survival of the fittest. Slow and docile mink don’t survive very well in nature, and so have little chance of passing on these traits to their offspring. Because of this, mink are much more athletic, powerful, and have a significantly higher prey drive than ferrets do. Mink are far more likely to capture prey underground, and so are a very poor candidate for traditional ferreting. In the sport of minkenry, it is typically the goal for the mink to capture, rather than flush the quarry being hunted.
Due to their athletic bodies and highly driven nature, mink are very efficient hunters. They are also quite skilled at hunting a surprisingly diverse range of prey. Unlike many other members of the weasel family who specialize in hunting one or two types of animals, mink are generalists who hunt a wide range of prey, in a wide variety of habitats. Otters specialize at fishing in the water, and rarely venture onto the land to hunt mammals. Polecats specialize in hunting land mammals like rodents and rabbits, and rarely venture into the water or climb trees to search for prey. Mink are able to both dive under the water to capture fish and crabs, as well as successfully hunt rabbits and rodents on land, and even occasionally climb trees to capture squirrels or roosting birds. Mink are what I like to call, “Jack of all trades, master of one.” The one trade they are masters of, is hunting muskrats.
In the art of minkenry, mink can be used to hunt a much wider variety of quarry than ferrets, who are typically only used for hunting rabbits and occasionally brown rats. In minkenry, muskrats, kangaroo rats, ground squirrels, rock squirrels, tree squirrels, crayfish, crabs, frogs, and fish, in addition to rabbits and brown rats, are all potential quarry. Also, mink will on special occasions catch birds like ducks, geese, coots, pheasants, and quail.