Dealing with Packrats

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture

Packrats Can Disable a Vehicle

Even though we live remotely in the mountains with bear, coyote, mountain lion, deer, elk, and bobcats, the lowly little packrat may be the most dangerous critter we face. Packrats, or also called woodrats, are numerous in our area with good habitat and, hence, we have to deal with them about this time each year.

The packrat seeks out nesting areas to raise its young and be safe throughout the winter during hibernation. They especially seem to like closed areas, like under the hood of vehicles. We, therefore, prop the hood up so it is somewhat open.

In the 20 years we have lived here, only once did I neglect to prop the hood up, and when I remembered the next morning and went to look under the hood, sure enough, there was a packrat nest under the hood with vacuum hoses chewed up and part of the nest. Most often, they will chew up wiring or the wiring harness which can be very costly to have repaired.

Using Live Traps

I prefer to trap them alive in a live trap similar to the one in the photo. We also have field mice and voles that can go into the live trap, eat all the bait and then slip out through the crack in the trap door. That makes catching rats more difficult and takes longer.

I do not like killing animals — even destructive ones like the packrat. Occasionally, I will have to utilize a snap trap when the packrat is skilled in raiding the live trap and keeps escaping successfully.

Be Proactive

Having this much experience, I have developed a technique that, once explained, may benefit others with packrat problems: We store our firewood 70 yards from the house, so they have to cross an open area and expose themselves to owls to access our home.

We are also on the lookout for packrat signs like scat and their urine residue which is brown and smells badly. When we see those signs, it it time to get the live trap out.

Modifying a Live Trap

Our live trap is in the photo with a modification I have used to make it more efficient. These small animals are smart and figure out how to wedge twigs, dried toad stools under the trip plate to rob the bait and leave without being caught. I, therefore, put a bait container in the trap that forces them to trip the plate.

In this photo, I have used an old 35mm film container that I had laying around. I cut a small piece of metal coat hanger and heated the end of the cut wire with a butane lighter and then ran the wire through the plastic cap at the bottom.

Then, I wire the cap to the top rear of the trap so it is hanging upside down (see photo). That forces the animal to stand on the trip plate to reach the peanut butter in the cap. Mice and voles can’t reach that high, so their tripping the trap is eliminated or greatly reduced.

Live Trap Bait

Before I go to bed, I’ll bait the trap with a gob of peanut butter pushed into the very bottom of the film canister. Almost any cap can be used from a paint spray can cap to a plastic bottle cap.

I try to keep the cap that holds the bait to no larger than 1-1/2 inches. The deeper the bait container, the better, as the animal gets so focused on getting the bait out of the bottom of the canister they forget about the trip plate.

Rats like to run along walls so placing it against the wall, making certain to have the arming wire where it can spring out and then placing the trap against the wall will generally produce results.

Relocating Packrats

The next morning, there will be a packrat in the trap in all likelihood. When you catch one, it is best to keep the trap baited and set for a few more days, because there is usually a mate nearby.

I have learned to release the rats far from our house. They seem to have an uncanny ability to find their way back again if they are not released far away. I had one rat with a deformed tail that I would take 300 yards from our home to release, and it appeared to me the rat was making a game of seeing who could get home first. After I caught and released the rat several times (deformed tail), I finally took it for a drive and let it out in a meadow where no other homes were located, and then I didn’t see it again.

Packrats are destructive, smelly and persistent. The good thing is they love peanut butter and are relatively easy to trap. I have found the film canister wired into the back of the trap improves the performance of the live trap considerably. While these little guys are cute, they can be very destructive and need to be relocated to areas where they can’t do damage.

The most I have caught and relocated was 27 packrats in one year. I strongly suspect that I was re-trapping rats that others had already caught and released near our home, because we usually average six to eight per year.

Perhaps this technique will assist others to successfully trap destructive rodents.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurrayand their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site. They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce’s remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.

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