Years ago, shortly after I’d first moved to Kansas, I stored my boat for the winter in an airy old shed at my dad’s farm. To help keep it clean inside and to keep out the moisture, I wrapped it with a tarp. When I pulled it out the following spring, I found corn stalks, milo stalks, (some with heads still attached) and wads of various other crop residue stuffed into every imaginable nook and cranny inside the boat. Dad took one look at the mess and nonchalantly mused “Packrats huh.” I think I replied “Pack what?”
I don’t know about present day, but as a kid growing up in Ohio, we knew nothing of packrats. But in this part of the country, they seem to have been the bane of every farmer and rancher for generations. They build nests around the bases of trees and in old farm machinery in tree rows, and also under the hoods or inside of any vehicles they can get into. That in itself is bad enough, but they also have a love for electrical wiring and seem to feel it’s their life’s purpose to chew any and all they can reach, often causing hundreds of dollars worth of damage and requiring extensive repairs.
Also known as eastern wood rats, packrats get that nickname because of their habit of “collecting” interesting and often shiny objects and storing them in their nests. Some years ago, Joyce and I stumbled upon a packrat “commune” a few miles away. There were dozens of nests four or five feet off the ground in scrubby thorn trees in the midst of a low swampy thicket. I picked up a good sturdy stick and began poking and tearing apart nests to see what I could find. What looked like a slipshod, willy-nilly mess of bark and limbs on the outside became a snug almost cocoon-like nest lined with fur, grass and even tufts of wool on the inside. In the nests I found yellow plastic trash bag ties, pieces of a plastic 1-gallon anti-freeze container (which I spotted nearby,) freshly chewed sticks, fresh green plant leaves, a large bone of some description and what appeared to be coyote droppings, but no shiny trinkets of any sort. Evidently those particular pack rats were of a more frugal persuasion and no longer saw the value of wasting time collecting shiny baubles. Or maybe they just don’t want to lug them up the tree.
A couple years ago, a local farmer whose land I trap for coyotes called me about exterminating some packrats that had become a problem. They had gotten into a small barn and built a nest under the hood of an old classic grain truck he still liked to use, causing it to catch fire in the driveway. The last straw was when they recently chewed wires under the hood of his semi tractor parked in the farmyard, making expensive repairs necessary. I had never dealt with packrats, so I contacted two trapper friends who both do nuisance control trapping. The first friend runs a large pest control company with his family; his advice was to forget trapping them and use potent poison bait he recommended. The second friend, who has been my coyote trapping mentor whenever I need advice, told me that in his experience, poisoned bait just ends up carried back to packrat nests as nesting material, so he gave me suggestions for trapping them using sardines for bait. He said packrats love sardines and find the shiny lid of the can attractive. I had the traps and not the poison, so I built small enclosures (cubbies) from empty one-gallon tin cans with the labels removed to make them shiny, and from short pieces of galvanized furnace pipe. I stapled small pieces of 2×4 in one end of each furnace pipe so the rats could only gain entry from one end and fastened a short piece of old vinyl flooring on the end of each to hold a weight. I smashed the one-gallon tin cans partially shut and fastened a 2×4 down one side to keep the can from rolling around. One small jaw trap was fastened to each cubby. In the small barn I placed 3 cubbies and baited them with sardines of different varieties and with peanut butter which I also read to be good packrat bait. There was a long notch cut out of the foundation in the back of the barn that was obviously letting the rats in, but I left it open to start. In another big shed I placed two more cubbies with the same baits and weighted them all down with bricks.
The next morning two possums awaited me in the barn and had pulled the traps and cubbies around, entangling them in stuff setting along the wall, but nothing was caught in the shed. I partially blocked the notch in the barn foundation to exclude any animal bigger than a rat, but caught nothing more all week. The owner then called me and said he was ready to order some of the bait recommended by my other friend.
A tree row a couple hundred yards long runs just behind all his buildings, and like most tree rows here in Kansas, is full of dandy places for packrat nests. I’m afraid that like coyotes, roaches and possums, packrats are here to stay and will still be here when mankind is long gone. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]