Trapline Tales

By , July 2, 2011

As summer continues, so do the “varmint wars” as we fight the local rodents over our garden produce. A neighbor recently asked about traps, which got me kind of long winded in the comment section. That’s impetus enough for me to expand on the topic here.

We set standard household mousetraps for voles and field mice. They’re inexpensive and cheaply made, so they tend to fall apart quickly. The staples holding down the spring seems to be the weakest point. On some, the pressure from the spring pulls them right out. Using them outside does nothing to extend their life, either. However, we’ve used some of them for years, and when they work, the do the job well.

We bait them with peanut butter. When we moved here, we found a #10 can of the stuff left behind by the previous owners. Its seal had failed, so we wouldn’t eat it, but we have no compunction against feeding it to critters we’re intent on killing anyway. They love it, but we have to be careful in applying it, or they’ll sneak up and lick the pressure plate clean without ever setting it off. Most of the plates are plastic panels shaped and colored (ridiculously) as a piece of Swiss cheese. Mice don’t actually like cheese, it turns out, but they love peanut butter. We goosh the spread down into the holes of the faux fromage to make it a little harder for the rodents to get a consequence-free meal.

Michelle used to stake the traps into the soil with a stick and a seine twine lanyard to keep injured animals from dragging the trap off. She stopped that after a weird incident in the strawberry patch last year. A vole got trapped by the hind quarters, but didn’t die. Instead, it circled around on the stake, chewing plant stems through the arc (maybe grasping at them for purchase? It looked like revenge to us). It literally mowed a crop circle into our patch before expiring, causing more damage than if we’d just let him have a few berries.

The worst incident came when a song bird got caught in one of the traps. We were so horrified, Michelle actually stopped setting traps in the garden for a while. The bird got caught by the leg. We managed to free it, but it was crippled. However, for the rest of that summer, we saw it in the dooryard, foraging on one leg as happily and successfully as any other bird. The resiliency of nature is truly amazing. It reminds us that our pathetic attempts to stem the rodent tide will ultimately fail.

6 Responses to “Trapline Tales”

  1. I hate voles with a passion…the way they sneak up and totally obliterate a plant (with no root you really can’t save the plant!). It makes me especially mad when it’s a plant I’ve carefully grown from seed.

  2. Neighbors says:

    (i appreciate your long-windedness, thank you)

  3. Nelson says:

    Hi from north of Nelson. I have a small log cabin. For my mousetrap, I use a bucket trap. 5 gal pail, 1 string to go across pail, 1 pop type can. Poke holes in pail oppisite each other just under the rim, poke hole in can (bottom) and make a small flat spot in can side for peanut butter, thread string thru hole in pail and can and then other hole in pail. can should spin and put a little water in bottom of pail a couple inches. I also lean a piece of wood against pail for easier mouse access. Works great, multiple catches I find.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    I’ve heard of this method before, and have always wanted to try it. We would have to “import” a pop can, or maybe just use a food can instead.

    We’re discovering, though, that the peanut butter is attracting more shrews than anything else. Since they’re largely insectivores, we think they’re beneficial, so we regret them getting caught in the traps. We’ll have to proceed with caution.

    Thanks for the tip!

  5. Kent Rollins says:

    Here in Oklahoma and Texas, we had big rats my dad called them blue rats. The were nearly as big as a opposum. We used a 20 gallon barrel, ran a stiff wire through a coffee can and greased it up all over. Had a ramp that was a 1 by 4 leaned up it against the barrel. The barrel was about 1/2 full of water. There not good swimmers

  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Kent,

    We recently had a mouse outbreak in the shed, where a lot of our food was stored. We planned to make a trap like you describe, which we’ve often heard about but have never built. We caught one mouse in a regular trap, but never saw any others. We suspect that’s because they got into some packets of dehydrated mashed potatoes. Our theory is that they went out looking for drinking water, and when they found it, they burst!

    We lived in Texas for a while in the late ’80s, but never heard of blue rats. Sounds like a very unpleasant visitor . . . .

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