Ah, hell, it’s winter again—the time of year where we partake in the seasonal ritual of hunkering down, getting fat, and birthing our blind young into piles of stolen stove insulation. Okay, that last thing might only be for the mice. They’re in your house now, too, by the way. And while I bear no ill will towards any of God’s creatures, mice are a particular exception. The tiny critters like to eat your food, shit on your counter, and chew on your wiring. They’re freeloaders that pay no rent and still have the audacity to creepily scratch at you from within your bedroom walls. They’re cute until they decide to move in.
Consider the common house mouse, the excellently named Mus Musculus. Averaging 3-4 inches in length and usually weighing less than an ounce, these guys are surprisingly quick—you could probably outrun one in a straight line, but rid yourself right now of any notions of trapping one under a bucket. More importantly, mice can put out a litter of 6-8 offspring 5-10 times a year, and gestate for three weeks. This means that those two mice in your house on Christmas can easily be sixty by Valentine’s Day. That will not do. This is how you kill them.
Do you find your food packages chewed through? Are there tiny cumin-seed sized poops everywhere? Does your home smell like mouse urine? Do you sometimes see small rodents skittering about your baseboards? If you answered yes to any of the above, the answer is either mice or some crippling addiction to a horrible drug.
It is at this point that you must decide your relationship with mice in your living space. A wise man once told me that he didn’t mind a few mice in his barn, because where there are mice, there are no rats. Whether you want to cohabitate with them is something else entirely. You can hire an exterminator, or have your landlord do so—which, frankly, isn’t a bad deal for serious infestations—or you can roll your sleeves up and handle it on your own.
Alright, so let’s say you want to do something yourself, but you don’t necessarily want to kill anything. There are non-lethal traps that you can use to catch and release mice. The most common two non-lethal traps for mice are the Havahart Xtra Small and the Victor Tin Cat. You can also DIY with varying results by creating a pitfall into a bucket using a ruler and beer can covered in peanut butter or even a toilet paper roll.
Humane traps are not without their drawbacks, though. For one, you’ve got to release that mouse somewhere. Too close to home and they’ll find their way back, too far and in the middle of winter and you’re setting them up for certain death. Worse, and more importantly, once you trap a mouse, it’s in your care. When your “humane” mousetrap ends up a cannibal hellscape of starving mice eating each other because you forgot to check your bucket, well, that’s not very humane, is it?
And you are nothing if not humane. When you were young, and—as Wings, best put it in their 1973 hit “Live and Let Die”—your heart was an open book, you used to say live and let live. But the sad truth is the easiest, surest and cleanest way to rid your home of a mouse infestation is through the strategic deployment of extreme violence.
There are two lethal methods you absolutely don’t want to use—Poison and Glue. The problem with poison is that the mouse eats it, goes about its business and then throws up all its internal organs and dies a violent, gratuitous death somewhere in the wall behind your headboard. Aside from the fact that inducing a creature to regurgitate its vital organs is most definitely not what a compassionate person would do, this also leaves your house full of dead mice in hard to reach places, which is little to no improvement over live ones. Also, leaving poison lying around is bad for pets and wildlife and children and pretty much everything.
Similarly, glue traps are a similarly horrifying way to leave the job half done. Mice are known for getting half-stuck on glue traps and dragging them all over the house; getting so agitated they rip their epoxied limbs off and die, or just starve to death on the trap.
This is bad for obvious reasons. A wounded animal is no small psychological burden, and puts you in the unpleasant position of having to either heal it or finish the job personally. Some people have no qualms about flipping the trap over and giving it a quick stomp, others will try to drive a house mouse to a vet. If you’ve got a wounded mouse on your hands, the best way is probably to put baking soda in a mason jar, drop in the trap, pour on some vinegar and seal the lid quick. Carbon dioxide asphyxiation is no picnic, but it’s fairly quick, better than being crushed, and you can toss out the jar.
The best way to kill mice is snap traps. They’re ubiquitous for a reason; the spring-loaded bar mousetrap is cheap, simple, and kills mice fucking dead. The principle is simple, take a spring-loaded bar the width of a piece of wood, and set it up to be triggered by a slight touch to the bait trigger. When our furry antagonist attempts to claim his free lunch—WHAM. The poor little bastard never knew what hit him.
There are a couple of things that make this process even more simple and streamlined. The first thing is the bait. Cheese is great for the movies, but what you really want is peanut butter. A ball of cheese, or even a lump of PB can be plucked off the trap without triggering it, leaving you in the position of abetting your enemy and having to re-set your traps. What you want is a schmear, a light coating, of peanut butter. As it dries and becomes crusty, it will require gnawing to get it all eaten. The more you can make that wee scoundrel work the trigger, the shorter his life expectancy.
You’ll also need a bag. Put the trap in a grocery bag and put that bag in the corner or along a wall where the mouse likes to scurry and wait. Spring traps are the best traps, but nothing is perfect. Having the trap in a bag keeps the mouse from having its lower back broken and guts blown out and extricating itself from the trap only to slither under your stove and die and you only find its shriveled and desiccated corpse when you catch a second mouse in the same trap and then you and your roommate have to drink a bunch of whiskey and put on gloves and argue who works the broom and who holds the dustpan. A bag is key.
You know what? Maybe you should get a cat.
Samuel Wadhams grew up hard in Vermont and now grows soft in New York. He is not an expert on anything. Occasionally, he tweets here.
Image by Jim Cooke.
Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.