Column by Hal Walter
Wildlife – March 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
I HAD SHOT PLENTY OF MICE in the house before. But this one was different.
From my office I heard the snap of the trap in the utility room, and then some struggling. You never want to go look immediately. Even when the bar strikes the mouse right behind the neck, sometimes it takes a little while for it to die. But this time the scuffling in the utility room didn’t stop. I knew the mouse trap had not sprung cleanly.
When I finally went to look I saw that the mouse had been caught sideways in the trap. This was a new one for me. I’d seen them caught by their tails and legs before, but this was actually across one side of the body. The mouse was still very much alive, struggling with its two free feet to get away.
Just the night before, this mouse — well, probably this mouse — had amused my wife and myself with its antics in the kitchen. The mouse bravely would run out from under the dishwasher and then duck back under.
My wife said he had a cute face, but she wanted him gone. I decided I could catch him by placing a bit of cheese in a coffee can, waiting for him to go in for the bait, and then tipping it upright. But the mouse was quicker than I thought and he actually stole the cheese without my ever knowing he’d been in the can.
I decided to improvise a live-trap with the coffee can and some more cheese. But that didn’t work either. By the end of the evening it was clear that I’d have to set the better mouse trap. After all, mice are dirty creatures and a high percentage of the variety of mice common to this area — deer mice — are known to carry the deadly hantavirus.
Actually we always keep a mouse trap set so all I’d have to do was rebait it with some fresh peanut butter. But I secretly hoped that this mouse was too smart for the trap, or didn’t like peanut butter. The next morning I was actually relieved to not see his stiffened brown-gray body in the trap. But it was early that evening when I heard the fateful snap, and the ensuing struggle.
After checking out the scene, I went back to my office and got my Daisy Powerline pump air rifle. I worked the little bolt to chamber a BB and then pumped the airgun three times while heading back to the utility room. About halfway there I stopped and went back to my office, found a pair of safety glasses and put them on before heading back to the utility room. I put on the glasses because the utility room has a tile floor and BBs tend to ricochet off hard, smooth surfaces like this.
Last summer in my barn I reached down into the plastic garbage can I use to store grain and yanked my hand back out when I realized that there were mice — three of them — crawling around in the feed. It’s tough to figure how they can get in that thing. First they have to climb up the slick side of the can at an overhanging angle. Then they have to get in under the lid. If they can get in there it seems like they ought to be able to get out. I hauled the plastic can out of the barn and across the driveway. Then I tilted it over, being careful not to pin the mice under an avalanche of grain, and let them loose.
The next day when I reached in for grain there were three mice in the can again. Tell me they weren’t the same three. So I went into the house and got the Daisy. Then I hauled the can out across the driveway.
This time when they ran out I was ready, and I shot them all.
After that we got three cats to live in the barn. One got lost in the food chain the first couple of weeks, probably ending up as coyote or owl fodder. But the other two went to work on the mice. I once watched as one of the cats chased a mouse out of a pile of empty grain bags while the other waited on the opposite side with its tail wiggling excitedly in the air before it pounced on the unsuspecting mouse when it ran out.
That seemed a lot more honorable than what was happening to the mouse caught sideways in the trap and looking up at me in my utility room.
The first BB missed clean, bounced off the floor, and then clanged loudly off the washing machine, and then the water heater, and then who knows where. Still I thought three pumps to be about the right power and took aim again.
I saw a bit of fur fly after the second shot but it seemed to only make the mouse more frantic. I was really starting to feel remorseful now and took very careful aim with the third shot, which quieted the mouse almost immediately.
The golden eagle was little more than a blur in its low-angle stoop, and when it hit its prey on the edge of the little ravine, there was a splash of snow, but no hair flew and there was no struggle. Almost immediately the ravens started to swoop over the scene, cawing wildly. Then a second eagle swooped, got into a tangle with the ravens, and they all flew away except for the eagle on the ground, guarding its catch. What did it have? Probably a rabbit, I thought. But as I drew close, the eagle lay sprawled flat over its catch, and I could see the black feathers of the freshly killed raven sticking out from under the predator’s own bronze plumage. The eagle lifted off heavily, dragging the limp raven to the edge of the ravine and then gliding down with it into the bottom. Once again it sprawled flat over the dead bird.
In my dream I saw a coal-black mouse as I approached the small creek with my fishing rod. It was standing on a gravel shoal and lapping water from the stream. Then, sensing something watching it, it looked back over its shoulder and saw me. The mouse ran one direction, and finding no escape it ran the other way. Finally it jumped into the water, dove deep and headed for an undercut bank. A huge cutthroat trout swam out lazily and snatched up the mouse as casually as it would a dead-drifted bug.
It’s difficult to say what effect certain events can have on a person’s emotions at any given time. If you live in a rural area such as Central Colorado, you probably have mice. And if you have mice, you’re probably trying your best to eradicate them. Mice get into and spoil food.
They chew leather, and even the wiring in homes and vehicles. They are known to carry a deadly disease. So I trap them with spring devices and keep cats around. Some people use sticky paper or resort to poison. Some Native-American spiritualists believe the hantavirus epidemic is actually a punishment of sorts for this indiscriminate way in which we try to annihilate these creatures.
I don’t know what’s right or wrong. But I do know that killing mice is too easy until you find one sideways in a trap. And then it’s too late.
Writer Hal Walter claims to have once shot a mouse with his BB gun as it was perched upon the base of an upside-down wine glass nibbling on a corn chip.