It’s four in the morning, the room is dark and quiet as I lie still in my bed. I am in a cabin in the wilderness and in complete silence except that I can hear scurrying and scratching in the walls. The sounds move from the ceiling to my right, then shuffle overhead and disappear off to my left. A mouse or wahpookoosheesh has made his home in the crudely built plywood and insulated walls of the cabin I have rented. There are more than enough cracks, holes and broken boards in the building to allow a tiny mouse to crawl through these spaces.
This is a familiar situation for me in that I have had to deal with mice infestations many times before. I have stayed in all sorts of little cabins in the wilderness over the years and some were better than others. They ranged in quality from the regularly used hut that was comfortable for a week-long stay to an old shanty abandoned shack that had been more or less abandoned for years.
Wilderness camps are rarely sealed shut from the outdoors. These places are built out on the land without power tools and usually with less than ideal lumber, nails or fasteners. They are constructed to provide a shelter from the elements rather than serve as a proper house. Some of the shacks I have visited in the remote wilderness along the James Bay coast, had questionable construction due to the amount of rot and deterioration from decades of cool wet summers and then frigid winters. They were more or less open to all types of animals.
I recall staying in a two-storey building with my dad and my brothers one winter to set up our spring goose hunting grounds. The shack we settled into must have been 50 years old. The wooden main floor was well on its way to becoming part of the earth and the second storey where we slept was so fragile and flimsy that it actually swayed in the wind which rocked us to sleep. Animals of all kinds had made their home there at one point or another including our friends the chipmunks, mice, squirrels, foxes and bears.
You can always count on a wilderness cabin to have a mice problem. No matter where you go camping in northern regions, chances are if you are not careful and very clean, mice are going to share your trip with you. It is very difficult to close a space off to them once they decide to join you.
These little rodents are crafty and intelligent creatures. They are survivors and they need to be as careful and cautious
as possible in order to live alongside humans. I have set so many mousetraps over the years to try to keep the populations down so that I could get a decent night sleep in a camp. I have discovered that it normally takes me several tries before I figure out how to stay one step ahead of wahpookoosheesh.
A few weeks ago, I laid out some traps at the northern cabin I rented. I used peanut butter on the tongue of the trap thinking it would be an irresistible treat for the mouse. In the morning, my traps had not sprung but the peanut butter had been carefully licked clean from the metal triggers.
I then pulled a page from my dad’s many hunting tips he had taught us about trapping animals. I carefully and as delicately as possible set the triggers to sit at the very edge of letting go. Dad explained that animal traps had to work at the slightest touch so that they would spring the first time. There were no second chances in the wilderness when trapping meant food for the family or an income from the harvested furs.
I adjusted my mousetraps with a pair of pliers so that they would spring at the slightest feather touch. I laid out my peanut butter again and waited that night. In the morning I discovered that wahpookoosheesh had outsmarted me again by stealing the food and cleverly not springing the traps. Well, it was time to get creative. I added a modern twist to dad’s trapping lesson and super-glued peanuts to the tongues of the traps. This time, wahpookoosheesh had no chance of avoiding the hunt and the two traps I laid out yielded two catches. My mouse problem was diminished and the scamper of mice in my room died down. In a way I also felt bad for mister mouse.
Mice were never really a huge problem for my family of hunters and gatherers up north. Mom was vigilant in monitoring and cleaning the kitchen, which meant it was very uncomfortable for any mouse to hang around. Whenever we discovered these uninvited guests in our home, an army of would-be young hunters led by a veteran trapper took little time in removing them. It was much the same in our camps in the wilderness. When we Kataquapit kids ran into a situation in a camp where there were mice it became a source of excitement for us and another test to apply what we were learning from our dad, the professional trapper. The mice were in big trouble.