One way to deal with those pesky mice at camp

Posted Nov. 04, 2010, at 10:48 a.m.
(line drawing) An Allagash bucket trap. FOR STROUT
(line drawing) An Allagash bucket trap. FOR STROUT

When you live in the woods, you have to learn how to deal with vermin, such as mice, bats and squirrels. Most of the camps used by rangers in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) are virtually impossible to mouse proof. The best that we can hope for is to keep the pesky little rodents under control.

Just last week, I decided to head up to the Michaud Farm Ranger Station and stay overnight so we could get an early start the next morning. We were to assist the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) in assessing the possibility of non-native fish, such as muskie and bass, making it up over Allagash Falls. As it turned out, the only obstruction keeping these fish from ascending the falls and gaining access to the headwaters of the Allagash is a 10- to 12-foot drop on the back channel of the falls. AWW staff will monitor this barrier and report any changes to DIF&W.

Back to my night sleep — or lack thereof — at Michaud Farm. The bunk beds in the spare bedroom are in need of some new mattresses. So I tossed and turned most of the night trying to get comfortable, only to be kept awake by mice gnawing on something in the wall next to my bed.

I’d bang on the wall, and they would stop for a while. In a few minutes, they would start back at it again. At one point, I thought they were having a mouse rendezvous in the wall right next to my bunk.

Eventually I made it back to sleep. The next morning, I suggested that Ranger O’Leary do something to control the vermin living in his camp. He said there was no way to keep them out, and he couldn’t keep up with them using conventional mousetraps.

The bucket trap

I suggested that he make a bucket trap. By the look on his face, I could tell that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I went on to explain how to build one. All you need is a bucket, clothes hanger wire, flat stick, beverage can, and some peanut butter. You drill or punch two holes about 2 inches down from the rim on opposite sides of the bucket. Then make holes in the bottom and top of the beverage can. Stick the wire through one of the holes in the bucket, then through both ends of the can, and out the other hole in the bucket. I bend one end of the wire down to keep it from coming out when you don’t want it to. Now fill the bucket with about 3 inches of water.

Next, smear a generous amount of peanut butter on all sides of the can. This part is very important; you need to place the stick so that it doesn’t wiggle from a place that mice frequent to the edge of the bucket. The less amount of slope on the stick the better. Placing the bucket in a sink works well because this lowers the bucket and angle of the stick.

The mouse will smell the peanut butter, walk across the stick and put its front feet on the can as it licks the bait. The can will roll, and the mouse will fall into the bucket and quickly drown.

This trap will work for several days without tending. I find the bucket trap more humane than conventional traps, poison, or sticky traps that don’t always make a clean kill. I used the sticky traps only once and will never use one again. The poor little mouse gets stuck on the sticky paper; the more it struggles, the more stuck it gets. The directions actually tell you to throw the mouse away with the sticky paper without putting the little critter out of its misery. How cruel is that?

Mice are an important part of the food chain in northern Maine. Their populations are very cyclic. One year there will be very few around. The next year there will be a few more; then there will be a couple years that they seem to be everywhere. Then the population will crash and the cycle starts all over again.

Many small predators, such as weasels, pine martin, fox and fisher, are very dependent on mice for food. Consequently, these populations fluctuate with the mouse cycle.

The rangers on the AWW were having a little friendly competition this season to see who could trap the most mice at their camp. The last I knew, Assistant Ranger Matthew Gage had caught 100-plus mice at his camp on Churchill Lake.

It is all part of life in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Waterway notes

Cianbro Corp. volunteered to assist the AWW with the replacement of the gates at Telos Dam. They provided three men and a crane that installed the third new gate at the dam last month. Seasonal rangers have come to the end of their respective seasons. They are the backbone of operations and maintenance of the AWW. The ranger stations at Chamberlain Bridge and Churchill Dam are staffed year round.

For information on the AWW, go to: www.maine.gov/doc/parks/ or call 207-941-4014, email heidi.j.johnson@main.gov or write to the Bureau of Parks & Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor, ME 04401

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