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Packrat Wars

It is a beautiful spring morning. You take your coffee to your deck to see how the petunias and pansies you planted last afternoon look this morning. What you see is stumps of flower stems and not a deer print in sight. The first shot of the packrat wars has been fired.

Packrats—formally known as Bushy Tail Woodrats—look like squirrels and come in a range of colors from brown/tan to grey/blue. They are curious so they chew and taste almost everything they encounter and have the odiferous habit of marking paths and territories with a liquid that can harden and last decades.

When I was raising rabbits in the barn, the packrats would help themselves to tasty rabbit pellets. Rabbit feeders, which are metal, come with covers that the packrats just popped off. When I secured the outside feeders so that the feed was inaccessible, they joined the rabbits in their cages.

Passive-aggressive by nature, I thought I would make eating with the rabbits an uncomfortable experience for the rats so I unrolled fly paper tubes and attached them along the runs the rodents used and also over the feeders on the outside of the cage. One morning I went to the barn and found just a tail attached to the fly paper. To add to the guilt I felt, a no-longer-bushy-tailed woodrat ran to face me and it chewed me out. Yes, it is personal.

The next volley in the war was when I was driving back from a shopping trip to Hank’s on the back road. My car started smoking and I could see flames coming up from the hood. I rushed out of the car to the closest house to give them the ice cream I had bought and to ask to use the phone. The little darlings had made a nest in the engine compartment and it had caught fire. I could not help hoping that the critters had burned but no such luck and in this instance, the car was fine.

Our mechanic, Eric Kimball can attest to several incidents since then where cars had to be towed to Twisp because of chewed wires.

I have heard of more than one instance when someone caught a rat and with good intentions, drove the animal in a live trap to what looked like a wonderful new home only to have the animal race out of the trap and back to the vehicle. Sometimes they have chewed the wiring in the vehicle, since they were there with nothing to do but hold on. Bob tried to release one that ran out and tried to climb him for a ride home.

We’ve become expert packrat trappers and here is what we do:

Use a medium size Have-A-Heart live trap set in a cardboard box. That gives the rat a cozy feel and keeps the mess in the box in case you don’t find the trapped animal for several hours.

If the animals are difficult to catch (and some of them are pretty smart), bait the trap but don’t set it for a night or two so it feels as though you are a soft touch. Our rats are fond of peanut butter and chocolate and also like apples.

If your intention is to release it, take it at least five miles from your place and hopefully away from any one else’s house. They are supposed to live in rocks near woods and there are plenty of possible good homes for them nearby. Important—take it a long way from your vehicle before releasing it.


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