Wildlife Control Ideas to Cope With Critters

Because wild critters aren't very good at respecting boundaries when you establish yourself in their environment, here are a handful of wildlife control methods to help you keep them out of your garden, home and livestock.

| February/March 2009

wildlife control - bat exclusion

Where bats are concerned your wildlife control efforts needn't be lethal. Just seal cracks—they can get through even the tiniest opening—to keep them our of your home.


I’m a country person. Not a “40-acre homestead down a dirt road 10 miles from town” person but a “small town at the edge of the wilderness” person; I live on a half-acre homestead in a community of a few thousand people, adjacent to a national park. I built a home here in the early ’70s, and I’ve been reflecting lately on all the critters who’ve shared our homestead with us. I enjoy wildlife as much as the next guy, but like many things, only in moderation.

All around our place, fencing, netting, chicken wire, traps, potions, and tools are part and parcel of living at the edge of wilderness. We have to deter critters that want to eat our garden, kill our chickens, nest in the woodpile, burrow into our rafters, raid the pantry — you get the idea.

We’ve lived in northern California for 35 years and have many of the same animals found across the continent: rats, mice, skunks, raccoons, foxes, possums, bats, ants, termites, gophers, moles, hawks and others. They’re tolerable until they begin to pillage and destroy, and then we have to take action. In this ongoing dance, here are some effective methods of wildlife control for dealing with the invaders.

Rats and Mice

Oh yes! They have been part of the human equation from time immemorial and are survivors par excellence. (If we humans succeed in eliminating life on Earth, there’ll still be rats and cockroaches.) Rodents are immensely clever and adaptable, amazing in their ability to delicately remove food from a trap without springing it. We have chickens, with their feed spread on the ground, so rats relentlessly patrol the chicken coop and yard.

Maybe two or three times a year mice get into the pantry, where they’ll chew open packages of nuts or grains and leave tell-tale pellets.

I use standard traps, never poison; it makes an animal die from internal bleeding — cruel and unusual punishment. I generally have three to five traps set, either on vertical walls or horizontal passages (after a while you figure out their routes).

4/1/2016 8:51:07 AM

Whatever you do, if you want rodent control please don't think "cat." I saw a young cat attempting to get a rat to play with it last autumn. Chicago Animal Care and Control told me years ago (when I was researching a pamphlet about why cats should not be outside unattended) that cats are NOT effective predators of rats. Cats kill an estimated billion birds a year in the US, even belled, declawed, and/or well-fed cats. 80% of the feral cats in Ohio were recently found to have Toxoplasma gondii, their gut parasite that will "happily" and asexually reproduce in dogs, mice, and humans. 60% of the white-tail deer had it too, and Toxo is the second leading cause of foodborne-illness deaths in the country - something for hunters to soberly consider. These are just a few of the scientifically sound reasons unattended cats should be extirpated!

kevin kanarek
8/20/2012 6:08:13 PM

Got rid of squirrels in the attic by laying out lots of mothballs. Once I was sure they were GONE, sealed up all the holes. No dead squirrels either. Humane, So far, so good.

sandy p
9/28/2010 12:41:33 PM

Although I don't have much ground to care for (townhouse), I still get my share of critters. My inside cats patrol and take care of any varmints that dare to enter the house. Outside and in various corners of the house such as doorways, between windows, attic, etc., I use mothballs. A couple of them down tunnels and the critter is gone. A few spread around the shed or garden barn and even the grasshoppers take leave. A few in the garden and any potential snackers disappear for less smelly food. Even roaches hate going into walls with mothballs in them.

1/28/2010 6:43:00 PM

Great article. I try the humane way first and then escalate. Every spring a new woodchuck comes to my place looking for a home. I have put a firecracker down his hole to get him to relocate. He moved far enough away I cant find his hole. Recently he came back to raid the garden with broccoli that has a 2 ft fence. Dog pee around the garden did not deter him once he had a taste of the broccoli. Put the have-a-hart trap out and he wouldnt go in. Got up early one morning with a gun but he never showed. So for the next year I built a 6 ft chicken wire fence (1 inch mesh because baby chucks can get through 2in mesh) around my other garden and put the crops woodchucks like in there. Eventually I will have 6 ft chicken wire around everything. The squirrels are unresolved. I tried firecrackers and they stay away for a day or two and come back. One year I had a fox family on property and had no problem. Last year I used have-a-heart traps. This year there is a feral cat so when they moved in from the forest they disappeared in 1-2 days. I plan to get chickens and never thought about the feral cat eating my chickens, Or about cyotes jumping my fence in the daytime. This article has saved my chickens.

darrell gilliam_2
5/5/2009 12:45:54 PM

I use a standard mouse trap, with a sure-fire twist. I bait it with a sunflower seed, which is glued to the bait tray. Mouse bites seed, pulls, and then off to mouse heaven. Works every time, and I've had the same mouse trap for years.

3/16/2009 5:14:18 AM

Several years ago I moved into an old home that had not been occupied for a couple years except for mice. I was painting prior to the move and forgot about needing to set traps. So I went out to my vehicle to try and see what I could use. I had some caramels. I devided 1 caramel up onto 4 traps and went into the other room to paint. Within minutes I heard the snap. Went out and emptied the trap, reset it.(using the same caramel) Soon there were a couple more snaps. At the end of the day I had caught 12 mice on just one caramel. The mice bite down and their teeth stick to the caramel and set off the trap.

gordon henry
3/12/2009 4:00:14 PM

For the skunks, don't just throw the blanket over then. Hold it out in front of you, with your arms spread high and wide with the bottom of the blanket on the ground. The skunk will see a wall coming at them not an attacker. Then walk up to the live trap and lay the blanket forward across the trap. Now you can pick up the trap and blanket by the trap handle and place in the back of the truck. I have never tried to release my problem (skunk) on someone else. Instead I tie a rope to the trap, Hold the other end of the rope and corner of the blanket in one hand. Pick up the trap and blanket with the other hand and toss into a stream or off a dock. In 30 seconds or less you will see a lot of air bubbles come up, wait another 30 seconds and pull the trap out and empty it. PLEASE bury the skunk. I have done this 5 times and not been sprayed yet. A friend even transports the covered trap in her station wagon. Gordy

2/27/2009 10:04:31 PM

With seven rescue dogs roaming our ten acres we seem to have little trouble with critters. The dogs love nothing better than treeing a squirrel. They never catch them but get a great deal of entertainment for an hour or so and the squirrels stay around the perimeter. The donkeys keep the coyotes out of the pasture and the dogs exercise the donkeys. Not one of the dogs has ever been kicked. The two barn cats keep my grain free and clear of any rodents. My problem is in the house, dogs just can't be bothered with mice. I'm very short on rabbits... the dogs again. The racoon leaves my chickens alone because his stomach is full of kitty kibble. The skunks don't want to bother with the dogs, and I think the dogs have finally determined that black and white is not a cat. The deer stay far down in the woods, too many dogs. Gophers and moles are kept at bay because the dogs love to snuffle after them. These very spoiled indoor/outdoor dogs live in complete peace and harmony with the chickens, the cats, the donkeys and the wildlife. They haven't killed or hurt anything they are just entertained and entertaining. Get a some dogs, rescue a few, feed them well and love them and you won't be disappointed.

scott supak
2/19/2009 11:44:33 AM

We just moved to the country in time to have a fall garden last year (which is still there, full of spinach, covered in plastic, buckling under snow, but ready to start growing in the spring, when I'll have lots of early spinach). To prepare, I'm feeding birds that will eat insects this summer. Over 22 species out the back window now, most notably the black-capped chickadees, which I understand are voracious insect eaters. I grew up in the country, so I have a lot of Critter Tricks, which I occasionally mention on my organic gardening blog (which you can find via supak.com). Around here, rabbits and deer are a real problem. I plan to try an old trick we used when I was growing up on a farm, and plant clover in a wide patch around the garden. The theory being that the rabbits and deer will like it so much, they'll just stop and eat that, then leave, never making it to the garden. I don't know. Maybe these north eastern rabbits and deer are too smart for this trick!

2/19/2009 9:00:13 AM

Being a former city girl, I always loved the wildlife in my yard. But now that I'm living on our 1.5 acre and growing all of our fruit and veggies, it really is a struggle. When we moved here, we were surprised to see all of the fences around gardens. My new hubby had lived the last 25 years on 40 acres and never had problems with deer or other critters in his garden. We found out that the deer will eat and rub on anything including our bb bushes and cherry trees. We ended up putting deer fencing around our garden and tomato cages around the bushes, trees and any flowers I want to save. But even with that we have problems with the rabbits, groundhogs and possoms. My friend who lives in the city and buys all of her food from the store says that we have enough food for all of them. I haven't told her about how in the community garden we work, that the ground hogs ate 200 cabbages that were to go to the local food bank. I know there needs to be some balance but when it comes to us eating or them eating, I'm going to choose us.

gulie molkenthin_2
2/18/2009 10:01:49 PM

For many years I have chosen to live in the country on 25-30 acres as I do now. When I plant a garden there is always enough for me and for the critters. By the end of the season I always have to throw food away. As for chickens, we bought "car lot flags" to string over the chickens' area. Works well so far, but if we lose one or two, the hawk eats that day. As did others, I found the skunk killing method extremely cruel, not to mention senseless. Skunks destroy very little. They usually eat our fallen apples, and if you move very slowly you can walk very close to them. I have encountered them several times. They are truly not aggressive at all. The only time we ever had a skunk problem was when one of our dogs mistook a skunk for a kitty and gave chase. Our forebears lived in harmony with nature except for what they killed to eat. That still works for us. As for termites, I use diatomaceous earth. For grubs and other pests I use food grade diatomaceous earth and buy predator nematodes from arbico-organics.com. My bats and barn swallows and bluebirds take care of mosquitoes and other bugs. What on earth is the concern? Live in peace. You'll still die but chances are not of hypertension. GM

gary morris
2/18/2009 8:41:02 PM

I just dispatched three squirrels in two days. They have been eating my chicken feed like it is going out of style. They usually stay away from us but for some reason they showed up two days in a row. I thought nothing of it and if I had known I was going to end up with three of them I would have dressed (not in clothes mind you) them for the freezer. Later today I found out that a neighbor had been feeding them and her brother was VERY upset that I had taken the action I had. I felt really bad that they had been feeding them and they probably feel like they were their pets. Though not bad enough that I wish I wouldn't have done what I did. I really don't want to have this (what I feel like is a normal action) turn into the Hatfields and McCoys but I will not let them have at my house wiring and my feed. I sure wish there would have been some kind of advice on squirrels. They can destroy your house wiring and even create a fire hazard if they get in your attic (which they will if left alone.) I tried to reason with the brother that if they had a mouse eating into their cereal/food would they just let it keep eating. This logic went nowhere. So I guess I better find some other way to dispatch these nuisance animals before it turns into a family feud.

2/18/2009 8:23:13 PM

I hope the author and the editor keep publishing practical material and disregard the PC crowd.

2/18/2009 6:22:42 PM

This was a very good article. It lacked sentimentality and came at the issue of pest control in a direct helpful way, that also advocated the most humane options. I really liked and respected the author's tone and experience. This is the kind of practical information I've come to expect from Mother Earth News. Keep up the excellent work - there are other places to argue philosophical differences. Oh ! - and Thanks for encouraging me in this past few issues to going back to keeping chickens again ! I have Dominiques coming in a couple weeks and I'm little kid hand-clapping squealing excited. It's become my son and my project and we're busy revamping a shed with recycled building material, I wish my H was a little happier about it.

2/18/2009 3:12:38 PM

As a small farmer I don't mind critters as long as they leave my chickens and garden alone. Here we shoot dogs that run cattle or deer. Feral cats eat young turkeys and quail (and chickens) Oppossum and racoon kill and eat full grown chickens and ducks as do coyotes. When I can I shoot them, they don't return. And yes I have caught them in the act. I have also caught black snakes killing my chickens. Again shooting may seem cruel but no more cruel than seeing a chicken with its ribs crushed or a duckling half eaten from the rear end and all its insides gone. Or the coon that killed 16 chickens in one night and only ate most of one. As for hawks I have hung up those DVD and CD discs that you get in the mail that you didn't order. The flash of the light as they spin seems to deter hawks and doesn't seem to bother the little birds that I feed.

2/18/2009 3:03:46 PM

In our state we have the right to protect our livestock. That includes chicken and ducks that free range. In the case of endangered species we have to notify fish and game. It does not have to be a specified hunting season. Some animals are very cute in a picture book but are not so cute while they are killing your chickens, or eating one bite out of every ear of corn or every tomatoe.

2/18/2009 3:02:46 PM

I agree with Kathy. I was expecting this article to suggest more humane ways of dealing with critters, but shooting them is never an option for me. They are other solutions. We need to learn to cohabitate with the critters. This is their planet too. And Brian, you're a doofus.

2/18/2009 2:33:54 PM

Does anyone have a suggestion to get rid of squirrels ? They do alot of damage in my vegtable garden ! They also destroy all the fruit on my trees before they ripon !

2/18/2009 1:56:37 PM

I am guessing some of you haven't had a red fox kill off 1/2 of your flock of chickens, or have skunks nesting under your building. Mating season is pretty stinky! I would like to see advice about foxes, the ones that killed my chickens were bold and nasty, coming right up to the henhouse. The only way my 14 survived is I put them in a closed building, the foxes were too smart to trap. As for trapping skunks, in Ohio it is angainst the law to trap and release them somewhere else. They are a nusance animal and carry rabies, my Jack Russel hunts them and has the scars to prove it. My sister has a "disney mentality" with animals, she has raccoons in her attic..I bet she changes her tune if her dogs catch one! The problem today is not reality, humans and animals live and die, it's a fact of life! I am an animal lover, but within the reality of life.

katherine walters
2/18/2009 1:12:51 PM

I have to agree with Lars. Our personal ethics are a combination of a great many factor at work. I winced as I read the description of the skunk's demise; however, the author does not strike me as a cruel or insensitive person. Once I unsuccessfully tried to kill a mouse that my cat had let loose in the house. I only succeeded in injuring it and the cat then pounced and finished it off. Several years later, I rescued a mouse from the same cat by taking advantage of a moment of distraction and scooping it up in my denim skirt and releasing it in the nearby bushes. The mouse in the last instance was no less terrified of me and the cat than was the first one, but it got a second chance. Same person involved, two different situations, two different responses. If the author was my neighbour and the disposal of the skunk bothered me, I would offer to take it out and release it for him while also thanking him for catching a neighbourhood "prowler." Given what was in the article, I would expect he wouldn't have a problem with my offer. In dealing with ants...I once lived in an apartment building that became infested with ants one summer. The unit was on the third floor. The first time the ants came over the edge of the balcony, I squashed them with a shoe and scraped their bodies back to the edge. If an ant came in through a window, it was not allowed to leave and its remains were smeared on the outside edge of the window. Food stuff of course was placed in secure containers as a precaution and pet food on the floor monitored closely. Within a week, I watched as ants came up to the line of bodies on the balcony's edge and turned around and retreated. I had hoped the colony would get the message that my apartment was off limits and a bad choice and they did. Might sound a little "tough", but I didn't have to use any sprays which might have killed "helpful" insects or threatened my pets or my health.

2/18/2009 12:59:07 PM

most skunks, raccoon, opossums, are night animals. I I see them in the day, I'm sure there is something wrong with them and I would definitely DISPOSE of them for no other reason then my health and the health of my family.

2/18/2009 12:23:06 PM

We all draw out ethical lines in different places and learn from different experiences...no need to pull flamethrowers on people with different beliefs... A great solution for ground nesting wasps - Invert a clear glass bowl over the hole. In three days or so the group will die off (they apparently don't understand the clear barrier. No gasoline or toxic sprays needed.

rik brooks
2/18/2009 12:20:17 PM

A lot of people don't know that the favorite food of possums is the cockroach. That's a good enough reason for me.

rachel weaver_1
2/18/2009 11:34:05 AM

Hmmm... Killing any animal should never be done thoughtlessly, true. But there is a fine balance between the needs of the various animals on this planet. A lion does not moralize when it kills to eat. Perhaps humans only do it because we kill what destoys our property, which is once removed from actually killing to eat. I am not of the camp that believes any human life is worth more than all of the life in the natural world (yes, I personally know someone who thinks that!). But, as part of nature, which arguably those who "homestead" are more a part of nature than most, humans have as much a right to defend their life and food sources as any other animal. The fact that we can do so much more effectively than other animals obligates us to exercise caution when doing so. Fending off predators and pests from what you have delineated as yours is different from whole-sale slaughter of all inconvenient creatures. Joel Salatin talks about this issue in one of his books. He said that he only has to kill the raccoons who will not respect the boundaries he sets. I also have to wonder about the effects of lifestyle on the natural world. People who live more naturally often create or preserve habitat for wild animals. While those living in cities or suburbs have destroyed it in order to have their homes. Yet they never see or interact with all the animals that were killed in the construction and maintenance of their communities. Are they any less complicit? Furthermore, who would not trap and kill a mouse that set-up shop inside their house? But we don't set traps all over outside just to kill them. The author here mostly set-up deterrents to pests, and only in a few instances actually kills the animal. All animals kill to live, that's a fact, even vegetarians. If you do not wish to be a part of this natural world, best do one last killing: yourself. The best we can do is to respect life and only take what we need. And not torture animals while they are al

2/18/2009 11:28:49 AM

I am just amazed at the posters who thought it was terrible that we might actually KILL a pest! Would you kill a fly or a mosquito? The fact that they got upset that Mother Earth News would run such an article also shows where this magazine is coming from. I am getting so disgusted at this liberal idiotic mindset that I am about to cancel all Mother Earth News stuff. For example: their blatant disregard of the other side of the debate on global warming for one thing really irritated me. And how they tried to imply no REAL scientist is on the other side of the debate. Oh what, you think Al Gore was telling the truth when he said we would have a 20' rise in the oceans! LOL!!! Come on, has all America gone just totally wacko. Shoot the squirrels, kill the coons, stab the gophers. They are pests, they are not endangered, they destroy things. Get over it!

2/18/2009 11:28:38 AM

Kathy, you should stick with Disney world. In the real world, there is competition between the animals and humans. Where I live in Canada there is lots of room in the forest for the animals and they do not need to live inside our homes. There is times when we need to say, live outside not in our houses, sheds, coups and barns. To deal with coons, and for Kathy, raccoons. Place a small radio inside a tin can, I used one that popcorn comes in, then inside a garbage bag with the opening facing down and the cord hanging out. Not sure if the coons enjoy the music and dancing so much or they hate the music, but the corn survives till it is ripe for picking. Nothing in the article about squirrels. They can be pests too. Nice in the trees but not inside.

2/18/2009 11:18:28 AM

Coping with Critters was a good read. Cathy, go watch disney world and leave home steading to the real world. There is a way to get control coons, opps raccoons. When the corn comes into ears, I place a portable radio in a tin can then inside a garbage bag to keep the rain out and it plays music all night to the coons. I do not know if they dance to much and forget about the corn or if they do not like the stations I choose but the corn goes untouched. Does anyone know how to control the squirrels. They are fun to watch leaping from treat to tree but how does one keep them out of the sheds and attic. They seem to find the smallest places to get in.

2/16/2009 12:54:24 PM

I think these methods all sound perfectly fine, given they were in any normal Gardening or Country Living magazine. But I must say that I would not expect this article to have appeared in Mother Earth News! Ultimately the title of this article is highly misleading in that many of these options are run of the mill pest-control, thereby meaning KILLING the critters that are bothering you, not COPING with them. I'm sad to see these inhumane techniques listed in a magazine which around every corner emphasizes limiting our impact on this earth that is provided for our MUTUAL existence.

denise swift_1
2/10/2009 11:28:28 AM

As a woman who has lived on my own land in the Cascades and Sierras (no less than 35 acres) for over 30 years, helped build homes, built my own home, raised two boys, had large gardens and put up my own food for my family I have and continue to have daily contact with all these animals. We live together. I'm glad they accept us. Most of these methods Mr. Kahn uses must work for him. The problem I have with Mr. Kahn is his skunk removal method. If no one else sees a deeply heartless act here, then you should re-read it and think about it. This is very disturbing to me and really makes me want to cry. 1. "A PRE-DUG GRAVE"...!!!! (That's messed up) 2. Shoots ('disposes of') the skunks with a .22 WHILE IN THE CAGE! That, to me is murder. No chance. No fairness in that. He's not going to 'risk' getting his camping gear all skunked by doing like his AWESOME NEIGHBOR who drives them four miles away and lets them go. So, BLAM BLAM, into the pre-dug grave you go. I have every issue on MENews since No. 1, and am very blown away that someone who would do this would be writing about it in my country bible.

george johnson_1
2/6/2009 8:39:02 PM

To Kathy's comment on this article; What do you think homesteading is? Many people turn to it because they love nature and care about the environment. However we are part of that environment as well. There is no point in trying to avoid store bought foods if you let animals destroy what you produce. To an extent you have to take active measures to protect what you have built. Its called entropy. Nature tries to return any system to state it was before it was changed. Just as you try to survive, other animals try to survive by eating the same things you are growing/raising. Neither has a moral superiority over the other. You seem indignant that he was protecting his chickens from the hawk. The guy put a net over his chicken coop so hawks wouldnt get his chickens. He didnt kill them or do anything other than passive measures...so what? Sure the hawk wanted a meal, so did the author.The author seemed very interested in not killing more than he had to. That is life. I suggest you try to live in that environment. Try to produce 100% of your food off the land, no runs to the store. When the hawk eats the chicken you just go hungry. I imagine your attitude would change.

kathy stelford_2
2/3/2009 11:31:00 AM

I'm wondering if the editors actually read this article? I'm really disappointed in MEN for publishing an article like this that I had hoped would have some REAL, humane ways of dealing with these animals. Did anyone check to see if the killing methods that Mr. Kahn suggests others employ are even legal? It's good to know that the wild, wild, west is still alive and well on half-acre homesteads in weel-developed small communities. Most states REQUIRE a permit to trap and relocate any furbearing mammal - raccoons, skunks, opossums, ets. Shooting a wild mammal that poses no public health threat and without a permit is usually illegal also. And, "possum" is a contraction since the species is 'opossum." Small detail, but when you're writing an article as an expert, please at least give these "critters" their proper names before you dispose of them. The hawk that is "picking off your chickens" is actually being an opportunistic hunter in his quest for survival. And, no, you cannot shoot any migratory bird whenever you please. Yes, there just 'may be stiff fines for shooting endangered species." I can't wait to see the sharing of more "tricks" that the author asked for at the end of the article. He's right about one thing, we ARE just temporary inhabitants. Too bad we can't act like welcome guests.

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