War on the Rodents

Tuesday, May 01, 2012 | By John R. Erickson

The rat

In the fall of 1998, mice began showing up in the bunkhouse, the old shack I went every morning at 5:30 to do my writing.  I didn’t mind sharing my office space with mice who behave themselves, but these got out of hand.

They were chewing up papers and envelopes on my desk.  I began finding stashes of dog food kernels in odd places, and found a mouse nest in the left eye socket of a cow skull that hung on the wall. 

While I was working on a Hank the Cowdog book, I could hear mice slithering around in the next room. Then one ran right over the top of my foot.  Okay, that did it.  This meant war.

I baited two mouse traps with cheese and ran my trap-line every morning.  I snagged at least one mouse a day for five days, as well as a bullsnake and a bat.  Then one of my traps disappeared.  That seemed odd, but I set the other one.  The next day, it too was gone.  What was this?

I went to the feed store and bought some mouse bait, which came in the form of a cube.  The next day, the cubes were gone, along with a ballpoint pen and other items from my desk. Gee, these were some healthy mice.  They were carrying off some big stuff.

Then tools disappeared: a socket wrench, a screwdriver, a pair of pliers.  In our family, when things disappeared, we had a short list of suspects: Mark and Scot, our two sons. Any time one of them showed up, tools began walking away. 

The only trouble was that neither boy had been close to the bunkhouse in the past week.  For the first time in recent memory, I was forced to conclude that they were innocent of all charges.

Then it occurred to me that the bunkhouse had been invaded by a packrat, also known as the Norway rat.  They’re gray in color and as big as a squirrel.  They are famous for stealing things and hiding them in a nest made of dried cow chips, weeds, and cactus.  The presence of cactus discourages humans from snooping around.

I found more evidence of the packrat in the barn.  The rat had chewed on a 2 x 6 wall joist and the shavings were big enough to have been made by a beaver.  He had chewed holes in fifteen paper sacks and had built a nest in the northeast corner of the barn.  Stirring the nest with a shovel, I found the mouse traps he had stolen, and the missing tools.

When you have a mouse, you set a mouse trap. When you have a rat, you move to heavy equipment.  I went to the store and bought a big rat trap.  I set it in the barn, taking great care not to get a finger snapped off. 

The rat stole the trap.  I bought another and he stole that one too.

At that point, I considered using dynamite or burning down the barn, but decided that it would be cheaper to figure out a way of sharing my world with a pack rat.  It worked out okay.  I started putting my tools away in the tool box and the rat quit stealing them. Eventually, he died of old age and I didn’t.


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Tags: Hank the Cowdog books, Writing, Ranching
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