Mice! Terrible little creatures. Bane of my existence in the bush. There were many many parts of living and working in a camp that I love and can remember fondly. But those little critters drove me batty sometimes. And it’s not like I’m scared of them. No. It’s just that they are insidious and industrious and they can make cooking and sleeping in the bush a nightmare.
You think I’m being melodramatic?
Well you aren’t the one who woke up in the middle of the night to hear little gnawing teeth all around the bed of the holiday trailer I was sleeping in. Of course the outfitter I was working for thought the trailer was rodent proof and I had just arrived and been shown my sleeping quarters with no time to assess what was in the room and didn’t realized a lot was left in the open for a mouse attack. Needless to say a pack of industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper was in a mountain of fluff all around me when I ventured from my sleeping back early the next morning. And if that wasn’t bad enough, when I stuck my legs into my jeans . . . Oh the horror! They had nibbled the outside seam wide open the length of my leg!
After that incident of apparel “up-cycling” I have had a hard time sleeping when I hear the rustle and the crackle of the little rodents in my space.
Of course being cook in a trail riding camp or a hunting camp, often meant I was sharing the cooking quarters with my bed. Never thought about it till now, but I guess I was sleeping in the most dangerous place in camp, with all the smells of food and often with all the food itself. Hmmm, now I’m kind of suspicious of the reasons why . . .
Never bothered me at the time, except for when those mice came a visiting. And not just mice. Sometimes they brought their bigger friends: packrats, squirrels, pine martins and weasels and the occasional camp robber jay (who only robbed in the day light). Thankfully in all my times as a cook, I never had an issue with a bear visiting me. Never even really worried about it, though I would have had nothing better than a flashlight and a cast iron skillet to greet him with. Possibly an ax or my pocketknife, if I could find them quick enough.
Nope it was mice, not bears that kept me awake some nights. Possible after the jean gnawing incident, and maybe the story of the mouse in Pa Ingalls hair, chewing it off to make a nest, or the crumbs and crumpled foil leftover from the wonderful German chocolate I had stored in a crate under my dormitory bed while I was going to bible school in Sweden–the chocolate I had bought in Germany and was saving to take back to Canada as a gift for my family. Whichever it was, I’ve continued to have horrid imaginations in that semi-awake state when I’ve heard rustling around my bed. And I’ve waged bitter war against them. A war to the death!
I’m sorry to say, for those who advocate live trapping and relocation methods, it just doesn’t work with mice.
There are lots of ways to deal with mice and the larger rodents. Some of those ways are through prevention and some of them involve ingenious methods of entrapment.
Remember: You must be smarter than the mouse.
Here are a number of ways to hamper the mice from driving you crazy in camp:
- Be clean and leave little smell of food around. That means try very hard to keep your camp clean. Garbage must be covered, contained or burned. Food should not be left lying around or in the open. Bowls and dishes and cutlery should be upside down, contained or covered. Empty drink cans and bottles should be contained as well. (Mice like leftover tea with honey).
- Put all food in mouse proof containers. Not cardboard. Not plastic bags. Not paper. My favorite is Rubbermaid tubs. Not only are they mouse proof but water proof as well! Items that mice really really like are expensive German chocolate, smooth peanut butter, ritz crackers, bread, cake, and Nutella. They like to leave their droppings in empty but used cups. They like to leave footprints in spreadable things such as butter. They like fruit and will nibble on apples. In fact they will eat just about anything that could possible be deemed edible. Make doubly sure these items are stored properly!
- Empty pockets of jeans and shirts before bed. Don’t leave candy or gum or anything inside which might invite little teeth to chew through the clothing to find them. This also includes saddle bags. Even zippo firestarter, they like to chew into little bits! Ziploc baggies are not fail safe at keeping these little chewers out, though it can help in most cases to keep toilet paper in a ziploc baggie in your saddle bags or backpack, but sometimes there is an extreme mouse chewer champion that will not stop at plastic. Trust me, I’ve been the victim.
- Keep toilet paper and paper towel in mouse proof containers as well. Especially overnight. Coffee Tins are great for storing TP in the outhouse. When leaving camp make sure all paper products, cloths, leather and foam mattresses are stored in mouse proof containers. (Or in the case of foam mattresses, store high off the ground, but I’ve seen even that method not work, especially if a squirrel or a martin gets in).
- When throwing out the dishwater, try to throw it at least ten feet away from the tent or cabin you are staying in. The food scraps left in the water can be a real attraction for the rodents and the wildlife. Though I must commend the little guys for cleaning up the scraps quickly so that larger wildlife aren’t attracted. Some places I worked dug a hole with a grate over top for such purposes as tossing the dishwater. If you are in a permanent place, this is a good approach. However, if you are just passing through, do not wash dishes in streams or lakes unless you are going soap free, be careful of the type of dish soap you are using. You want to take care of the country you are in!
- Plug holes. Won’t work in a tent, but in some cabins this is a good method: Steel wool shoved in holes, works well to keep mice from chewing back through the hole. Cardboard doesn’t work. Sometimes even wood doesn’t do the trick.
If after all precautions you still have a mouse problem, here are some of the methods I’ve used or seen implemented over the years to terminate them:
- Mouse traps: Easy enough. Effective. I don’t personally like the little wire and wooden traps as I have to look at the mouse when I’m disposing of it and it’s usually crushed with a tongue sticking out. I like the ones where you can’t see the mouse and it’s just a squeeze to release the mouse when you want to dump it, such as the Victor Better Mousetrap. Sometimes the downfall for traps is that if it doesn’t outright kill the mouse, then you have to listen to it all night, dragging itself around and possible gnawing it’s leg off or something. It’s enough to keep me awake at night! This happened most recently, while I was cooking for a fishing lodge south of Atlin, BC as you can read about here.
- Poison: I’ve used it, but I don’t like to as it often ends up getting eaten by a camp dog or something. It’s not my preferred method. But I did use it in my house when I first moved onto our acreage and I was trapping 4-5 mice a day and I was tired of it, so I set out the poison. It’s advantage is that they supposedly return to the outside to die. The disadvantage is that often they are consumed by birds or dogs and in effect you are poisoning them in smaller amounts, which I’m told won’t kill them, but still I don’t like it.
- Cats: It’s not often you see a cat at a camp, but if it’s a location that you are at for a while, they sure can be useful in reducing mice populations. Worked for me at my house, once I got my dogs to stop killing them. I’ve had maybe 3 mice in my house since the cats showed up and stayed. And in five years, they got rid of the mole and vole problem in my yard. The dogs helped in that regard as well.
- Drowning: Now this method can include various ways of entrapping the mice that concludes with them drowning usually in a 5 gallon pail half filled with water. This way works well if you don’t have traps on hand, or you need to catch numerous mice fast. One way is to fill a deep bucket a third full of water and sprinkle oats on top to just cover the surface of the water, so it looks solid. But when the mouse jumps down to eat the oats, surprise! It falls through the layer of oats and it drowns. The other way is to half fill the bucket with water. Get a long fairly substantial stick that can be braced to lean over the bucket. Tie some fishing line or butchers twine to the top and tie that to a smaller stick that you will coat in peanut butter and dangle over the middle of the bucket. The mouse will scamper up the stick, creep down the twine and dandle from the peanut butter bait and then tire out and drop into the pail to drown. This is how we dealt with the problem at the fishing lodge this summer. The grain way is how I dealt with it at a couple of my horse camps where oats were readily available. Both methods worked wonderfully and reduced the camp pillaging nearly 100% in a couple nights!
Well that’s my say in the matter, but I would definitely love to hear if anyone else has a mouse horror story or an effective way to eliminate mice from camp or their houses. I must stay on top of my game. Sometimes those little rodents can be game changers!