Looking Back 7, Part One:Nuisance Animals We’ve Had to Deal With Over the Years

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Our homestead adventure began with a war on pack rats and expanded from there. The property we purchased had a couple of existing buildings and after humans had abandoned them they became home for local wildlife. The most tenacious of these were the pack rats.

We used standard .22 cal. cartridges (on the right) when shooting outside but switched to .22 cal. shot-shells for indoor shooting (on the left with crimped tops).

I’d seen pack rats and knew their propensity to defile everything that they came into contact with. We had no traps at the time so we used .22 caliber, rim fire shot-shells. The shot shells are loaded with a small amount of number 12 shot. The good things about them are that they have very little penetration and a very low chance of ricocheting so we felt safe firing them inside sheds and other places. The bad things about them are that they are close range only and they do not extract well from most 22 rifles. Thus we had to do some creative planning to hunt them.

I already mentioned a couple of the pack rats in the first installment of this series. Now I want to tell of our continuing efforts to eradicate these pests.

First we pulled all of the drywall and insulation from the shack on our property. This denied the pack rats places to hide and build nests. We had a few “shootouts” while working at the shack involving moving pack rats and handguns. One time a rat began running along the upper wall of the shack. Every time it got to a rafter it would duck under and around it then run over the wall’s top plate to the next rafter. Each time it ran across a top plate my wife would fire at it with her .357 Magnum. After five shots she was out of ammo so I began shooting at it with my .44 Magnum. It made the mistake of stopping, and I got it with my second shot. Of course the sound was deafening inside the building and it took three days for the ringing to subside in my ears, but the rat was dead.

Our real pack rat problem was across the road. It too was an abandoned property that had two old mobile homes on it. We called them pack rat hotels. No matter how many we killed on our property the rats from across the road just moved in to take their place. Our nightly entertainment became pack rat hunting across the road.

Because the shot shells would not extract easily after being shot we went out by threes. One held the flashlight and looked for the pack rats. One shooter was stationed on each side of the light holder. When a rat was spotted the right shooter took the first shot. It was fast shooting and often the rat was just knocked off its perch. It would them scamper to safety. So the second shooter’s job was to shoot it while it was momentarily stunned on the floor. Then we had to dig the empty shell casings out of the rifles so that we could reload and continue the hunt.

We lost count of the number of rats we killed that way but eventually we diminished their numbers enough that they were no longer a problem at our cabin. The best thing was when the property was sold and the new owner removed the old mobile homes.

In my experience, live traps work best for pack rats. They seem to have no fear of them. Of course you still have to get rid of the rat. I kill them by shooting them with shot shells, drowning them or I let the dog have it. It sounds harsh but if you’ve ever had one move in you’ll know how much damage they can cause.

Another option is to purchase rat traps from your local hardware or farm supply store. You’ll want to fasten them to a heavy board or tie them to something solid (drill a hole in the wood base and wire the trap to an anchor of some sort). If you don’t they’ll take off with the trap.

Once we finished the roof and had sealed up the cabin there were times we shot the pack rats off the roof. We’d hear them scurrying along and load up a rifle, grab a flashlight and go looking for them. It was usually a short hunt, a single shot and then disposing of the body. One, however, had become quite a challenge.

I worked nights in our early days on the homestead, and my wife and the children had been plagued by one rat that made it a point to be on the opposite side of the roof from the shooter. This required precision shooting at night and none of the youngsters could do it. Finally my “weekend” arrived and the rat showed up on schedule. My wife went around one side of the cabin and I waited on the opposite corner. Sure enough the rat came scampering over to my side. One shot ended his nightly excursions forever.

In Part Two we’ll look at some of the other pests we’ve had to deal with. I’ll continue our story in future posts.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead(available in the GRIT Bookstore). It’s filled with homesteading advice you won’t find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient Montana Homestead Life.