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Trap That Squirrel!
Surrounded by Supercilious Squirrels?
Here's How to Trap The Tree Rats!

Question. Dear Mike: Last spring you gave me some excellent advice, urging me to deal with mice as the vermin they are. I dutifully steeled myself, went to the hardware store, bought plain old spring-type mousetraps, learned to set them with peanut butter while wearing gloves and bagged 30 before the campaign was over.

Now, this may sound as if Oklahoma is overrun with vermin (and maybe it is!), but this time my problem is squirrels. My neighbors have oak and pecan trees, and my maples are a glorious jungle gym. They come in droves and seem to delight in driving our dogs utterly "squirrelly" (pun intended), dancing along fences and phone lines and flaunting their aerial skills from tree to tree. When they get tired of active teasing, they cluster on the other side of the fence and chatter to one another, which is equally maddening.

I MUST find a way to get rid of these pestiferous critters before our pups are fitted for four-sleeved white coats! To date, we've given up the birdfeeder and nailed extra boards to the top of our six-foot high cedar fence to stop pursuit/escapes by our very athletic canines. But the only real peace is going to come when the wretched rodents leave. I've learned to dispatch mice without turning a hair -- must I now stoop to a BB gun? There's something pretty incongruous about a 74-year-old Peace Activist Grandma carryin' heat, but I'll do it if there's no other way to preserve our dogs' peace of mind. All suggestions gratefully received. At our wits' end,
    ---Joyce in Oklahoma City
Answer. Well, hello, Joyce! I remember your call to our show, requesting non-lethal ways to get rid of mice in your home. And although I did describe a few, I also urged you to think more like Darwin and less like Disney and dispatch the vermin for what they are—the modern equivalent of the little mammals that helped show the dinosaurs the door to extinction. Congratulations on your coming around!

But mice are petty criminals; squirrels are super-villains! Fiendishly clever, inherently evil and relentlessly acrobatic, they only need about twenty minutes a day for food gathering and other survival chores, leaving them with a lot of time on their hands…eh, paws…to annoy us. Their tormenting your dogs is simply the equivalent of squirrel TV. Those ones on the power lines are sitting ringside, where they can see all the action.

In earlier Questions of the Week, we have detailed strategies to try and stop them from digging up Spring bulbs (xarticle.asp?ai=1130) and stripping fruit and nut trees. Just click on those links if that's the advice you need.

On the outdoor aggravation front, you are on the right track removing bird feeders and other unnatural food sources. Make sure your neighbors do the same; if someone a few houses down is feeding the tree rats, you have no hope of escaping the arboreal army.

But alas, there are those nut-bearing trees nearby. And your dogs provide great entertainment. So trapping is probably your best hope. Luckily, the website "Squirrels dot org" suggested an expert to advise us in this adventure: "Trapper Jim, The Critter Gitter", who has been imprisoning unwanted rodents in the Minneapolis area for decades.Here's the page that led us to Jim: http://www.squirrels.org/trapping.html. (But don't use that phone number; if you live in the Minneapolis area and wish to hire Jim, call his office: 651-456-9495. Otherwise, contact him at critter-gitter@msn.com.)

Jim tells me he trapped his first squirrel when he was seven years old, making this his Golden Anniversary. (He has been doing it professionally for as long as he can remember, and incorporated the business a decade ago.) And although most of his work consists of evicting bushy-tailed bandits from attics they've burrowed into, he occasionally does face the kind of problem you describe. Squirrels love to tease dogs.

Jim suggests using multiple 'live capture' traps, baited with a mixture he discovered when he was nine years old and has used ever since: "crunchy peanut butter mixed with raw oatmeal and some honey". Spread this delicious bait liberally on the spring pans of the traps, with little trails of it leading up to the entrances. But do NOT set the traps.

Instead, Jim says to gain the trust of these wary reprobates by wiring the cages open for three days and replacing the bait daily so that the squirrels get used to feeding within. Then remove the wire to make the traps real. Says he's caught three squirrels in one trap the first day it was set.

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