Thursday, March 25, 2010

Control of the Packrat

(From a school paper, written 1961)

The various species of rats included in the genus Neatoma are interesting, and some of them are quite handsome, but their business operations are usually one-sided. Their nuisance rating is high when a hunter misses his wrist watch or eye glasses, and discovers sign pointing to a "packrat", or "woodrat", as the thief.

As long as the woodrat dwells at a distance from human habitation, he is an innocuous and interesting animal. When he favors a ranch cabin with his presence, he can contaminate grain and other foods, especially if they are carelessly stored, in such containers as burlap bags. His habit of collecting such interesting objects as jewelry, silverware, and socks causes many humans to develop a definite antipathy toward him.

This rodent may be easily captured by taking advantage of his natural habits, such as his custom of traveling close to walls, and running behind objects where possible, due to his protective instinct for remaining near to cover. A length of stove-pipe laid parallel to the wall, with a size 0 or 1 steel trap set inside, is almost certain to result in a catch the first night.

Another effective location for a trap is in a flat cake pan, with rolled barley or oats completely covering the trap. The constantly-roving rat is easily caught here, also.

A different method of control is with the use of a flashlight and firearm. This can best be illustrated by relating the following anecdote.

Wes Darling is a cattle rancher in central California. On roundup one fall, he and his brother slept in the cabin which Wes maintains on his summer range. Their slumbers had been disturbed by the gnawing and rustlings of a pack rat which had his homestead under the cabin.

The second night, Wes bedded down with a flashlight and a loaded 12-gauge shotgun nearby. When the rodent entered the cabin and began its nightly investigation of the kindling pile, Wes snapped on the light and fired as he caught the rat in the beam. The rat and the charge of shot left the cabin together, boring a new hole as they went. The event was somewhat complicated by the sudden awakening of Wes' brother (who is a detective sergeant). He leaped from his bed, stumbled over the bed where Wes slept, and turned the stove over as he fell to the floor. Apart from such domestic perils, this method has more disagreable and lasting effects, if there is a woman dwelling in the building who dislikes holes in the walls of her home.

If the house is built with log walls, and replacement panes are readily available for the windows, the preceding method may be varied, as was once done on the Gros Ventres range in Wyoming. Ralph Lerocq and five other punchers were on fall roundup, and had just moved into the cabin which had been built for such use. A bushy-tailed woodrat attracted their attention through most of the night, and they decided to rid the premises of his presence. Since each carried a pistol for romantic reasons (they were no more efficient with a handgun than most other cowboys), they planned to use these to solve their rat problem. The end of a wooden apple crate was propped in such a position that it would fall and block the entrance to the rathole when the supporting stick was jerked away by means of a string, the other end of which was taken to bed by Ralph.

The "boys" retired in good spirits, having packed in enough food and drink to keep them this way. The principal actor in the scene made his entrance soon, and when assured of this by the direction of the sounds, Ralph jerked the string, and the intrepid punchers, reckless of any danger from their prey, left their beds with drawn six-shooters. They lit the lanterns and began the execution. After some near misses, the rat realized his unpopularity, and began an earnest search for exit holes. He forsook the floor in favor of the ceiling joists. Splinters flew, and shooters were more in danger than the target, because of their larger size and greater numbers.

Having found no way of leaving through the roof, the woodrat dropped to the floor once more, the jumped onto a chair and ran across the table. A full gallon can of syrup was resting there, and was centered by a .38 special slug. The eventual demise of the prey was anti-climactic. Perhaps the most important qualifications for this technique would be a fairly high intellect and a masterly skill in handgunnery.

Slowly, humanity is accepting the fact that the most efficient way to control woodrats (and all our other animal neighbors) is to use preventative measures, such as properly-constructed buildings, and vermin-proof storage. If such natural controls as gopher and bull snakes, screech and barn owls, and weasels are allowed to live in some measure of security, they are quite willing, even eager, to control rodents.

Since woodrats have proven to be adaptable to general laboratory use, and may assume great importance some day soon, it behooves mankind to act in a mature way in his "packrat" control. They may be means of conquering some vicious disease, some day very soon.

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful post! I happen to love rats~just not in my house or barn or chicken house!(I used to have a pet rat ~ a couple of them in fact. They are quite charming!) The second photo is adorable ~ just look at those big eyes!
    Oh, I had to laugh, a couple of times, at the stories. I am just glad I wasn't there for the demise of the creatures or the blasts from the gunfire!
    Joy can be found in the humblest of creatures!