This is the story of my battle with the raccoon.
In the back of my parents’ house there is a screened in porch and a cat. The cat has a door to get in and out and do whatever it is cats do during the day and hang out at night by the house.
Lately a raccoon has been sneaking every night, washing its hands in the cat’s water, and eating all the cat’s food. The cat kinda tries to avoid the raccoon, so there haven’t been any cat-raccoon fights. Even still, the raccoon had to go. I was back home for a while, and decided to try and help my mom out.
We have a livetrap from trapping other critters in the past, so I found that. I tested the trap. It worked. If you pressed on the plate through the cage, the front door would slam shut. This was going to be easy.
I set it up with some cat food as bait and waited.
The next day the food was gone, and the trap had not gone off. Thinking this was just due to bad luck, I repeated the setup. But the next morning, again the food was gone and the trap had not gone off.
It’s important to understand how these livetraps work. They are a rectangle cage with a plate 3/4 of the way through. When the plate is stepped on, it pulls a rod which then unhooks the front door. Without the hook, the spring pushes the front door down. Once it’s down all the way, a latch prevents opening the front door again from the inside. The back opens completely to load with bait or release the animal. Got it? Good.
So I figured that the raccoon had long enough arms that it was able to just reach over the plate and eat the cat food. I decided to concoct a bait that would require the raccoon to get all the way into the trap. So I made balls of bread and peanut butter, and hung them from two zipties put together so that one would hold the ball and the other would be woven into the cage, allowing the balls to hang down in the air.
I also put the trap between two coolers and a chair so that the raccoon only had one way to get the bait. Clearly this would work.
I left the trap out that night.
The next morning the food was gone, and the trap had not gone off.
Clearly something was going wrong, because you could see clearly though the trap. That wouldn’t work if it was full of raccoon.
I knew the trap worked from when I originally tested it, but I took a closer look. This time I found out that if you pressed on the plate slowly, the latch would stay up just enough to so that the trap wouldn’t go off, whereas a quick press was enough force to make it get completely out of the way and set off the trap.
I found two pairs of pilers and began to tune the trap by bending the hook. At first I went too far so that the door couldn’t stay up at all, but after two or three adjustments, I had a pretty good trigger. Any sort of pressure set it off right away.
The peanut butter bread balls were messy to make so I decided to go with marshmallows. And instead of just 3, I came up with this ingenious hexamallow configuration because this is artisanal raccoon bait.
I left the trap out that night.
The next morning the trap was shut! The bait was gone. But there wasn’t a raccoon in it. There wasn’t anything in it.
On top of everything the trap had been moved out from the coolers. After the initial dumbstruck feeling washed off, I tried to figure out what had happened. My best theory is that I was undone by my own hexamallow hubris. I was wrong to consider myself a artisanal raccoon baiter.
I think the raccoon saw the 3 marshmallows up at the top and went for them first. With the new hair-trigger trap, that set the trap off while he was on top. He wasn’t able then to easily get the rest, and spent I-have-no-idea how long pushing at the trap until he was able to eat all of the marshmallows.
I had to up my game. I went back to the original 3 marshmallow configuration as before, but this time I made the surroundings of the trap more secure.
I found a long bungee cord and put it from the trap, around the chair, and back to the trap, so it’d be impossible to pull the trap out. The garbage can you see there actually ended up behind the trap, under the chair, so that you couldn’t get to the marshmallows from behind. I found a nice welcome mat and put that on top of the trap.
There was no way this wasn’t going to work. I left the trap out that night.
I stayed up late that night, and before going to bed I checked in on the trap. Holy shit the trap was shut and unmoved! The barriers above, behind, and to the sides were not moved or disturbed in any way.
But the food was gone, and there was no raccoon. How could this be? My only guess is that the raccoon goes into the cage and triggers the trap, but it’s so big that the trap just closes on his butt. He eats the food, and backs out, leaving the trap shut.
I had some thoughts as how to address this for the final night I’d be around. At the house was a large dog cage. Since the back of the livetrap opens up, it could be attached to the dog cage somehow so to make the trap a funnel. However that leaves the problem of an unwieldy half dog crate half livetrap contraption and transporting an angry raccoon in one of those seems problematic at best. And since I’d be leaving early the next morning, I decided against this course of action. But I think this would have worked.
So instead I just placed more marshmallows in areas that are perhaps harder to get to in the cage, so maybe it’ll have to get all the way in the trap to get them. I knew this probably wouldn’t work, and it didn’t.
I left the next morning never having caught—nor even seen for myself—the raccoon.