How to kill a mouse

Deer mouse -- Image by: John Good - NPS Photo

Deer mouse -- Image by: John Good - NPS Photo

I know some vegetarians, and, even if Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian, I don’t hold that against them.

Personally, I’m OK with being an omnivore. But I do not believe in undue cruelty to any living animal. Which presents a small dilemma when presented with the annual Iowa mouse problem.

My solution? Kill them without mercy, as quickly as possible. Mice are dangerous disease-carrying rodents. True, they are cute. But they are invaders, not guests.

Two days ago, I found an immature mouse in my garage. It was not a happy day for either me, or the mouse. When I find an injured mouse, I will bonk it over the head with a handy shovel, to quickly end its pain and dispatch it as kindly as possible.

But I didn’t have the heart to bonk an apparently healthy but obviously immature rodent. Rather than smacking it with a shovel, I carried it via shovel into the woods behind the house.

Where, probably that night, it became lunch for the owl that lives there.

Where you find a young mouse, there are likely to be adult mice, so the next step was to set traps in my garage.

Now, there are lots of ways to deal with mice. At the store, you can purchase glue traps, spring traps, non-lethal traps and poisons. Which to choose?

· The poisons. My father used these when I was young. I don’t, for various reasons. For one thing, when you poison an animal, it doesn’t die right away. I have no desire to torture mice, I just want them dead. For another thing, a sick animal may go anywhere. Poison is a good way to get a stinking, decaying rodent corpse somewhere in a mystery location in your home. Who wants that? No, no poisons.
· The non-lethal trap. OK, this is, to me, a silly option on several levels. If you catch a live mouse, what in the heck are you going to do with it? If you take it somewhere and release it, there is a pretty good chance you’re sharing the mouse infestation with neighbors. Plus, you have the time to take the mouse somewhere, and you have the proximity to a freaky live wild animal. Granted, mice can’t really do anything to you personally but freak you out, but let’s not forget their droppings and saliva are dangerous to humans. I don’t want to torture mice, but I don’t want to consort with live ones, either. I just want them dead. (I know, I violated this line of logic with baby Mickey, but give me a break—given that I’ve been killing mice for 30 years and probably average 5 or so a year, I’ve slain 150 mice compared to one I released.)
· The glue trap. See poisons. Granted, the mouse won’t crawl somewhere and decay, but I would not want to encounter a still-live rodent stuck somewhere, slowly dying of stress and dehydration. I want the moue dead, but I want it dead as quickly and painlessly as possible.
· The traditional spring-loaded mousetrap. The downside is that you find the dead mouse and have to dispose of the cadaver. The upside is a fairly quick end to the mouse—a snap, a few broken vertebrae, a constricted airway and you have a dead rodent in plain sight, easy to remove. (I know some people recycle these traps, they will take the body out and re-bait the device, but ewwww. The trap is cheap, I toss it with the cadaver and buy a new one, when needed.)

Trust me, the traditional lethal trap is your best option. I actually saw a mouse die in one once—I had just set some traps in our house in Early and was in the next room when I heard a distinctive “snap.” A few seconds later, I saw little hind legs kicking in the air behind an overturned trap. One kick, two kicks, three kicks—then nothing. It took me a few seconds to go from one room to the next, and even reflexive death kicks of a mouse are pretty quick. The tiny life was snuffed out in less than 5 seconds—not something that I needed or wanted to see, but it reassured me that the spring trap indeed dispatches its victims quickly. It’s got to be a better end then chocking on poison.

I live in Iowa in a house that is reasonably sealed and reasonably clean, but mice often take up residence in the garage and usually get in the house every year when the weather turns from cool to cold. I try to stay alert for the signs, and when necessary, set traps.

In case you’re still with me and not too grossed out, some other mice killing notes. Both peanut butter and cheese work as bait in the traditional trap, but there are strengths and weaknesses to each. Upside of the cheese—you can stick a chunk of hard cheese securely in the trap and the mouse won’t be able to grab it without triggering the spring. The downside is that the bait isn’t very stable—cheese deteriorates quickly and is yucky to clean up when you’re re-baiting and resetting the trips. Peanut butter is just as attractive to mice and lasts longer. But the downside is that some mice can delicately lick the peanut butter without triggering the trap.

All in all, I’ve found cheese to be the most effective bait. Use a butter knife to spring and clean the traps and re-bait them when the cheese gets so dry and disgusting even a mouse wouldn’t want it. Flavor doesn’t seem to matter; I’ve used Swiss, cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan with equal results—just any firm cheese that can be adhered to the trap.

The string traps are deadly and effective, but not 100 percent effective. I have had the disgusting experience of finding a mouse who almost, but not quite, got away. That’s where the bonking comes in. I will scoop the injured rodent up with a shovel, take her to the back yard and quickly smack her over the head with the shovel.

Yuck. But I know form experience that “clean” kills, where the head gets stuck and the mouse dies quickly, are far more common—I have probably killed hundreds of mice and have dealt with only 4 live ones.

One was the toddler mouse that I didn’t have the heart to bonk, so it was placed for convenient owl use. One was a mouse that our cat “Rascal” had caught, but not killed (at least I think it was Rascal, it could have been Zonker). That was my first shovel bonking experience, somehow my sister Anne, who found the cat and mouse, knew what needed to be done and nominated me to do it. Number three was an infamous dinner-time incident in my kitchen that involved a shoe and the family at the table listening to “thump-thump-thump,” not my finest hour and why a shovel has been my instrument of choice in all other rodent executions. Four was last year in my garage, a leg catch that was a nasty business, but the mouse did not suffer long after I found it.

Anyway, if you find you must deal with a mouse in your living space, get the spring-loaded traps. The all-metal ones are better than the ones with plastic parts, but the plastic ones work and are easier to find. Have Ziploc bags on hand to dispose of the corpses. Always set more than one trap—if you see one mouse, there is a good chance that there are more than one around.  This morning I disposed of two clearly and cleanly dead adult rodent remains.

And screw your courage to the sticking point—there is a less than 1 percent chance you may have to bonk a mouse. However, most likely you’ll find Mickey the way you want him.




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4 responses to “How to kill a mouse

  1. Pat

    If I ever have to, I’ll go with the snap-trap. Meanwhile, my house is inhabited by two four-footed mouse-and-cricket traps.

  2. Anne

    It was Woodstock who caught that mouse. The first, possibly the only, mouse that we knew he caught. Rascal would have killed and eaten it promptly; he was an efficient little predator. Woody just was happy with his new toy. we took it away from him when we realized it was alive; we might have let it go since it was outside, but its back was broken.

    You omitted the part about me kneeling on the sidewalk to line the edge of the shovel up precisely over the mouse’s neck, and you somehow thrusting forwards instead of straight down, with the result that you sliced the top of its head off and popped its brain onto the sidewalk. That’s where Rascal came in; he gobbled up that little hors d’ouevre. We gave the rest of the mouse back to Woody, who got really happy when he realized his toy was made of meat.

  3. crgardenjoe

    Anne is right–Woodstock was a large, loveable totally cluesless bundle of “huh,” while Rascal was small, muscular and very toothy. Rascal would have dispatched and eaten a mouse before anyone was the wiser.

  4. Jen Hyde

    Hi Joe,

    I spent a summer renting a room Les Schimelpfenig’s house in which the critters included mice, pigeons, and roaches. I came home once to find a baby mouse on top a pile of clean laundry and quickly plopped a 7-Eleven cup over it. Now what to do. Bonking never entered my mind. I knew if I let it out in the yard it would be right back. So I drove down to the levee and dumped it right in the river. I knew it would be dead before it got to Muscatine.

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