Some friends recently asked me to help them figure out what was messing with some mouse and rat bait stations they had around the outside of their shop. These are boxes about half the size of a shoe box that contain rat poison and have a small door in one side just big enough for a large field mouse to crawl through. Most mornings they were finding one or more of the boxes tossed out into the yard, evidently by something searching for a midnight snack because of the smell of mice inside them. I put up a trail camera to try to catch a glimpse of the marauder. My nieces also asked me to put up a trail camera overlooking their garden to try to see what has been nibbling off their young cantaloupe plants during the night. All that, and the pesky robins have been going berserk here this week dive bombing anything that moves, evidently in support of fledging chicks. It all takes me back to my high school FFA days when we had pest hunts.
The pest hunting game plan was fairly straightforward. We were all farm kids so mice and rats were killed as we saw them around the barn. We were also hunters and trappers so possums were found squashed along the road or caught in our coon’ traps. We saved the tails from possums, skunks, rats and mice and the heads from pigeons and starlings, and each carried a certain amount of points. At the end of the two or three month contest, the team with the most points won. Bird hunting gigs were the trickiest. Most barns where I grew up were three or four stories tall with hay lofts on each end. There was always a window high in each end of the barn with a ladder running up the inside wall to the window. One hunter would climb each ladder up to the window, turn around and prepare to swat birds as they headed toward the window, all the while somehow holding onto the ladder for dear life. Clubs ranged from badminton rackets to scrap boards with handles nailed to them. And if that wasn’t already hazardous enough, it was all done in the dead of night.
We’d all converge on an old barn well after ten o’clock or so, and since it was winter everyone was dressed in old army jackets and mud boots, except the designated “swatters” at the top of the ladders, who had to dress warmly but in clothing that fit loosely around the shoulders so as not to impede their swing. Once the climbing swatters were in place, the rest of the group on the floor would turn on lights and make as much noise as possible, attempting to roust any birds roosted inside, which would inevitably head for the windows, now guarded by the “swatters.” Snipers (with pellet guns) would begin picking off any drowsy birds still clinging to their perches after the melee began.
Meanwhile, at the tops of the ladders, the action could be fast and furious as startled pigeons and starlings tried to fly out the windows. For starters you only had one hand available to swat as the other was rather busy holding onto a rickety old ladder that you just hoped would not crumble into pieces and dump you into the hay below. These were still the days of small square bales of hay and straw which might have been only a few feet below you, or twenty feet below you depending on how much the farmer had used already. It was pretty dark up there, and with birds often coming at you several at a time, it was impossible to swat them all. The ones you missed either flew around, coming back for a second try, or just hit you in the face from the get-go. In the midst of the assault it could be raining dead pigeon and starling carcasses down on the floor and it wasn’t out of the question to get whacked up side the noggin with one if you were down there. We always tried to make sure the guys on the ground with the pellet guns were the most even-tempered of the group, thereby lessening the chance that one of the guys on the ladders would get shot in the butt for inadvertently beaning someone with a dead bird.
After all the pests were vanquished from a barn, out came the flashlights and it was time to collect the spoils. We’d collect all the bird’s heads, stuff em’ into a bag and go on down the road to the next barn, leaving the neighborhood barn cats quite a feast indeed for allowing us to invade their territory.
How many times have you looked back upon crazy things you did as a kid and wondered how in blazes you ever survived past the age of nine? Every time I drive past a tall barn with windows in each end I stare up at the windows and ask myself “Did we really used to do that?” Well, I’ve lived well past the age of nine and another part of me has to wonder if the world would be a better place today if we just had more pest hunts. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.