A group of mice the author easily captured one night in his live mouse trap.
PHOTO: JOHN KRILL
Now, I don't have much against common field mice—as rodents go, they're timid, relatively harmless, and even quite cute—but my wife Della finds them somewhat unnerving ... ever since a pair of the pests scampered across her feet as she picked potatoes from our patch.
In fact, that particular summer, during which a drought prevented new mouse-sheltering growth in the hayfield, we found our thickly mulched orchard and straw-covered spud patch infested with those pesky varmints.
I'm sure the little animals had a grand time tunneling intricate mazes of mouse highways in our mulch, gnawing the bark off our young saplings, and taking nibbles out of each potato they ran across. My wife, however, adamantly refused to cook spuds that sported even the slightest tiny tooth scar. I tried to explain that she merely had to trim around the bite and the potato would be good as new ... but the argument failed to convince her. I reasoned again, "None of our cats ever got sick from eating mice, so how can a mouse-chewed spud hurt anybody?"
She didn't go for that piece of logic, either. "I'm not a cat," was her only reply.
Now Della and I aren't fond of killing animals, but the potato problem soon reached the point where something had to be done. I tried ordinary mousetraps ... but managed only to bruise the noses of several neighborhood dogs and cats, and the surprised pets howled their indignation day and night.
There must be a way, I decided, to catch my mice without disturbing other critters. Then I recalled a live mouse trap setup I'd used as a child on my family's farm in Illinois. The device consisted of little more than one of the copper tubs that were commonly employed—in those days—to launder clothes.
So I took an old boiler I had on the place (any deep bucket or tub would have done the job) and sank it part way in the ground. Next I situated a board so that it formed a gentle incline from the ground to the lip of the tub, and then scattered cornmeal and whole grains on the bottom of the boiler and along the length of the board. Past experience told me the mice would readily climb the board and leap into the container after the bait, never thinking that they wouldn't be able to climb back out!
The morning after I "set" my trap, I was tickled to find ten fat and saucy field mice caught in the simple contrivance. I merely placed the boiler—captives and all—in my car and drove to an unpopulated wooded area some distance away, where I released them ... something I continued to do with each succeeding batch.
One word of caution: Users of "kettle" traps will find that an occasional skunk, opossum, or woodchuck will find its way into the pan. It's always best to approach the trap carefully ... and, if you find an unwanted prisoner, simply slide a short board into the tub to make a ramp, and then walk away. The "outsider" will quickly take advantage of its newfound escape route, and you can then rebait the setup for continuing mouse collection.