I live in an old farm house. The lot is surrounded by pasture, fruit trees and piles of construction surplus. It's rodent Utopia!
This last fall brought an early cold snap that drove the mice into our home all at once, and I'm sure the neighbors' saw some too. The infestation was so great that I saw a mouse or two every evening! We also heard them rustling and gnawing all over the house.
Being a vegetarian (with vegan leanings), I'm reluctant to set out poison or death traps like our landlord did when we moved in. I am willing to trap and relocate the mice to the wild. Yes, I know they are not well adapted out there, but at least they have a fighting chance and I don't have to end their lives directly!
As a boy, I made a live trap to trap barn mice eating holes in our grain bags. My trap captured over 20 mice in a few weeks. I determined to make another one (or more) and remove these cute invaders.
I made three traps for about $1, total. They all worked well, capturing four mice in one night, with two false triggers (or maybe escaped mice).
Here's how I did it, and what I learned.
- 1 standard mouse trap (spring-loaded bar type)
- 1 15oz tin can
- 1 small paperclip
- 16 inches of duct tape
- 1.5" x 4" square of corrugated cardboard
- needle-nosed pliers
- heavy-duty scissors or diagonal cutting pliers
- sharp knife
Preparing the Materials
Make sure the trigger works. Set and trigger the trap a few times to understand its sensitivity and working angles. Very sensitive triggers are harder to set and may go off pre-maturely, harming the mouse. But insensitive triggers wont trap a mouse.
If the trigger needs adjusting, use the needle-nosed pliers to adjust the metal pieces of the trigger. It's much easier to adjust now than after assembly.
Most traps are fine, so don't fret too much.
The Tin Can
Any standard 15oz food can will do. Taller cans are safer for the mouse (placing them further from the door and trigger), but harder to bait and clean.
Open the can normally and empty (eat?) the contents. Cut the lid cleanly, leaving no sharp pieces or hanging fragments that might cut you as you work.
Clean & dry the can and lid thoroughly, particularly of oils, so the tape can stick.
Open and straighten the paperclip.
The Duct Tape
Cut the duct tape into two pieces, measuring four and 12 inches respectively. Depending on the stickiness of your tape, you may need more, so keep the roll handy!
Choose your cardboard carefully. Flimsy board will bend, tear, or not last long. Test the strength of the layers by pulling apart a small piece. Is the glue strong?
Cut the cardboard with the corrugation, so that the four inch sides run the length of the corrugation, the one and a half inch sides cutting across the corrugation. This provides strength and enables the board to slide onto the trigger later.
- Make a spring-loaded door.
- Prepare a trigger platform
- Mount the Door and Trigger to the Can
- Test and adjust the new live trap
Step 1 - Make the Spring-loaded Door
We make the door by attaching the lid to the spring-loaded bar.
1.1 — First off, release the springs from the bar while you shape and align the lid. This will also prevent bruised fingers. Put at least one spring back on before you tape the door on later.
1.2 — Open the spring bar into the cocked (open) position.
1.3 — Lay the lid squarely on the bar with one edge covering the hinges. Then move the bar to a vertical position (a 90 degree angle from the base) and observe what changes (if anything).
1.4 — You will likely need to cut and bend the lid to pass around the trigger and hinge, enough for the bar to rotate from fully open to vertical without displacing the lid from the bar. Be spare with your cuts and bends, avoiding large gaps that the mouse could escape through (anything larger than a quarter of an inch). Keep the lid square with the bar and trap body!
1.5 — The trap trigger wire also needs a cut or hole to pass through to reach the trigger. I tried both and prefer the hole.
1.6 — To make a hole for the trigger wire, open the bar and position the lid. Note where the lid needs a hole for the trigger wire. It's usually just above the bar's center point, where the lid touches the trigger wire hinge. Remove the lid and punch a hole at the noted location. I use the needle-nosed pliers to make the hole by pressing hard on the location while the lid was on carpet.
1.7 — Enlarge and shape this hole to fit the trigger wire comfortably.
1.8 — Now re-attach the spring to the bar. If your trap has two springs, leave one off if you can. The trap doesn't need that much force to close and lock the mouse in and the trap is easier to set and move later with less tension.
1.9 — Now position the lid on the bar, in the vertical position, and tape the lid to the bar with the four inch segment of duct tape. Check the adhesive strength and look for better tape if the lid comes loose easily.
1.10 — Test the trigger to make sure it still works. But prevent the bar from closing all the way. It might bend or tear away the lid.
Step 2 - Prepare a Trigger Platform
Trigger mechanisms vary greatly. You may need to improvise if your mousetrap differs from mine.
2.1 — First, open the trap door fully. If you have a heavy-duty rubber band, close the trigger wire over the door and secure it all with the rubber band. Or, release the springs when you don't need them. I just held the trap door open while I worked. Ri
2.2 — Next, attach the paperclip to the trigger bait tray, thus lengthening it to increase leverage.
2.3 — Bend the bait tray about 20 degrees up, away from the base. This slants the platform and increases its travel. Be careful not to deform the base of the trigger bait tray where the trigger wire connects. That is sensitive to change and may require fine-tuning later.
2.4 — Slide the cardboard over the paperclip and bait tray. The fit should be snug, effectively lengthening and expanding the surface area of the bait tray into an angled platform. Later, bait will be placed at the end of the cardboard, deep in the can.
If the cardboard has really narrow corrugation, you may need to cut the corrugations enough to fit snugly over the bait tray.
2.5 — Test this trigger setup to ensure that everything still works properly. Again, prevent the door from over-extending and deforming anything.
Step 3 - Mount the Door and Trigger to the Can
3.1 — First, we prepare the can by straightening one quarter of the can edge, flattening that side of the can a little. This helps the mousetrap base mount flush, and it decreases the diameter of the can opening for the lid to cover it, without entering the opening. I originally squared the entire opening, but that was overkill.
3.2 — Next, slide the can between the base of the trap and the trigger platform. The flat side of the can should rest on the base.
Some mouse traps use a staple to hinge the trigger bait tray. This prevents the can from sliding up to the spring bar hinges and may leave a gap for mice to escape. In that case, cut away a section of the can to fit around that trigger hinge. My mousetraps use the trigger bar as the hinge. This made me cut more of the door to fit, instead of the can.
3.3 — Tape the base of the mousetrap to the can using the twelve inches of duct tape. Make sure this connection is secure and tight. The force of the closing door can separate the can from the base and let the mouse escape.
On one trap, I added another piece of tape lengthwise to absorb the force of the door closing. That worked very well!
3.4 — Check the alignment of the door over the doorway. Square it off to limit the size of any holes or gaps. If necessary, you can skew the doorway (can mouth) to fit better. The door is rather immovable.
Step 4 - Test the Live Trap!
Set the trigger and use the scissors to reach in one corner and activate the trap.
- How sensitive is the trigger? Would the weight of a mouse activate it?
- Did the door close squarely and tightly?
- Is the door hard to open?
And there you go! Now you have a vegan mouse trap to trap your mice alive and well.
Using the Completed Trap
Bait the Trap
I tried lots of baits. The best by far was peanut butter, the smellier the better!
Use a table knife to position a small dab (less than a dime size) on the highest, farthest end of the trigger platform. You want the mouse to enter the trap completely to start snacking.
Then set the trap.
Position the Trap
Where to place the trap makes all the difference! Bait is important, but, like a restaurant, "location, location, location".
Look for mouse runs, heavy dropping areas, or stronger smells (if your infestation is heavy). Mice typically travel along edges and corners, by the baseboards.
If possible, try to place the trap in a quiet, isolated place, hidden from open view, but within the rodent's high traffic area. As the mice are typically caught at night, while you sleep, this isn't as important.
Release the Mouse
Once you have caught a mouse, try not to wait too long (a few hours, or first thing in the morning) to release it. The longer the mouse stays in the can, the worse it smells. However, I found that traps became more effective with some lingering odor. I suspect that the mice feel more comfortable with the familiar smells of friends.
Release the mice at great distance—a mile or more, maybe? I need to research that. Rodents do have a strong homing instinct and their range is actually pretty large.
Don't release them near other habitations, please. That's just wrong, on several levels.
Oh, and be sure to wash your hands when you finish working with a used trap, at every stage!
A Word of Caution
And finally, a word of caution. In some parts of the world, mice carry dangerous diseases. Please, limit your contact. Take some time to learn about the dangers in your area. And, most of all, don't keep wild mice as pets!
Tips and Notes
Trigger Wire Hole vs. Slot
The trigger wire passes over the spring bar and latches with the trigger bait tray, holding the trap door open. When we add the lid for a door, it is larger than the spring bar and it blocks the wire. One solution is to cut a slot for the wire. Another is to punch a hole.
After trying both, I like the hole better, for several reasons:
- a slot weakens the lid, which bends or warps and encourages the mouse to try to escape.
- the hole is easier to make than cutting a slot, and safer to handle too.
- a hole prevents the wire from flying away from the closing lid wildly, possibly injuring other mice, or my furniture.
- with a hole, the wire will occasionally fall back against the lid, like an added brace, holding the door shut.
Handy Door Opener (for emptying the trap)
Before taping the lid down as a door, tie some string to center of the spring bar, run it through the hinge of the trigger wire and under the mouse trap to the back end of the can. Leave enough slack for the door to close. Now when you have a mouse trapped, you can up-end the can (door down), pull the string to open the door, and the mouse will drop out and run for its life!
By the way, I suggest opening the can away from you so that the mouse can see where to run before leaving the can. I had one run over my foot, which was startling.