Pack Rats – Mountain Living Reality

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray

Pack rats, the reason to worry if you live in the mountains.  These little creatures are about the size of a grey squirrel, and are very cute to look at.  Unfortunately they do not like to pose for photographs so I can’t furnish a photo of them.  They are mostly nocturnal.   They are also known as wood rats and frequent wood piles such as your firewood pile.  It is best to be prepared and learn to live with them.  Trying to eradicate them will wear you out, frustrate you, and it is doubtful you will succeed.

Pack rats can be  and are destructive.  They seem to like enclosed places like the engine compartment of your vehicles.   They will use your hoses, belts or wiring harness  to make a nest.  They are drawn to shiny objects or small objects. If small shiny objects start to disappear it is probably in a pack rat nest somewhere within 75 yards from where you last observed it.   So we leave our hood propped open a foot or more and they seem to avoid that semi open  area.  We are careful to bring in anything that they may be attracted to.  Last year they chewed off the stalks of my current bushes to make a nest in my wood mill. It took me a while to figure out where my current bushes were going, but then I noted the smell – the mystery was over.

We also try to store our firewood 60-75 yards away from the vehicles and house.  It is further to carry the firewood but it is better than having them around the house.  I tried catching them in live traps one year and  releasing them down the road from us.  They seem to have built in  GPS and therefore  like to make a game of it.  I believe they were going into the live traps just to have me relocate them so they could find their way back again.  Some appeared to be  so adept that they got back before I could.  I used that spray hair color kids use at Halloween and  noted I was constantly relocating green pack rats.

Even as destructive as they are it is hard to stay angry at them for long.  They have this cute face, big ears, furry body with this  pitiful way of looking at you.  Probably Mickey Mouse was created from their image.  They are cute and seem pretty intelligent.  You  can always tell when they are around because you will see the droppings and smell them.  They have this habit of urinating all over everything and it has a distinct smell.  When you smell that odor it is time to immediately  do something or suffer the consequences.  Those consequences can be expensive.  They like to eat the insulation on your exposed wiring, they snack on automotive hoses, belts, and parts.  We have known people who forgot to put their hood up at night and the next morning all their wiring, hoses and belts were chewed to pieces.  Therefore it is best not to have any exposed electrical wire if you can avoid it.  If you do have exposed wires put them in conduit or enclose them  with hardware cloth or chicken wire. Otherwise their chewing can result in a fire.

We have learned to deal with them and diligence will keep you in harmony with the pack rat.  If you end up missing a wrench, adaptor or some other small tool follow your nose to the nearest pack rat nest and you will most likely find it there.  They have no problem in letting you use it for a time because they know that sooner or later you’ll forget again and they’ll get it back.  Just remember where you found it last time and that’s a good initial place to look again.

These are one of the many circumstances that you need to be prepared to live with should you choose to live in the mountains and remotely as we do.   Let your guard down for a single moment and your vehicle will be on the back of a tow truck heading for some very expensive repairs.  By contrast if you live in a city you may come out one morning and your vehicle will be gone – thanks to some thief.  Live in the mountains and your vehicle will be there but those parts that make it run may be gnawed up into little pieces.  As for me I prefer the pack rats over the real two legged type of rat.  There is no reason to get angry at them as they do what pack rats do and that is chew things up.  If you just feel the need to get angry it is probably best to get angry at yourself for not paying better attention.

Let these little destroyers get in your tool shed or wood shed and they will leave it smelling so sour that it will need disinfecting.  It is a smell that you won’t quickly forget.  Just one of the many considerations that you need to be constantly aware of when living in the mountains.  We know on occasion we will encounter bears and mountain lions but when it comes to encountering pack rats; that is a certainty.