Trapping Possums – Or Not! Part One
I set the possum trap last week. Its first winter outing: late but not too late.
So far this winter, there’s been little sign of possum damage to our precious apple trees and rose bushes. But the other day, up a ladder, up close pruning, I could see where slender twigs of the Cox’s Orange Pippin had had their tips nipped off; buds had been eaten and the bark at their bases gnawed off, leaving raw scars.
Late winter, and we’re on a slow roll towards spring. Apple buds, expectant, begin to fatten, and become irresistible to possums as other food sources become scarce.
Despite that, there’s not been much evidence of possum scat, just some smallish droppings, perhaps from a young animal. But no other visible signs, or the rattling, rasping cackles of a male asserting territorial rights and advertising for a mate. The trap’s been out a week and nothing caught.
That the damage has been minimal so far is testament to the effectiveness of last winter’s cull. But it was a close run thing. By mid-winter last year, my habitual ‘turning of a blind eye’ was well and truly turned in the direction of the possums.
In the middle of August last year we had some frosty dawns – some of around minus five degrees Celsius – but sun-drenched days. It was good to see the sun coming up over the hill to our east before eight in the morning.
On one of those mornings, we sat outside – me with my black coffee, plunger style, and June her dandelion coffee. Replying to a friend’s text, she said that the sun was out and our new hens were laying well – so all good with us.
Enjoying your coffee while you bathe in all that the winter sun has to offer, bequeaths an ‘all’s well in the world’ moment. A fragile state shattered by June saying, “A possum’s doing a lot of damage to the Sturmer. Tearing strips of bark off one of the main branches. And it’s pushed aside the covers to get at the purple sprouting broccoli.”
“I know all this! Why tell me now! I was enjoying sitting here but I’m not anymore. I feel quite stressed,” was my anguished reply.
“I might have forgotten to tell you. Seeing the Sturmer tree in front of us reminded me that I’d meant to say something to you when you were in the vegetable garden yesterday.”
A month earlier, I’d put out the live capture trap five nights in a row without success. Then I gave up trying. I should have moved on to the humane kill trap. But I’ve been avoiding it since the bait also attracts hedgehogs. I purchased it out of frustration at having less and less success with the live capture one.
I’m not the most conscientious of trappers, and as a result our garden areas are often left to the less than tender mercies of the possums. The severe damage done to fruit tree bark, buds and twigs, rose branches and buds, and strawberry leaves and new growth, combined with June’s evermore plaintive attempts at drawing my attention to the destruction being wrought, finally roused me from my torpor. Shame on me. I had let three months go by: winter’s end was fast approaching.
That very night, hot on the heels of June’s morning tea observations, I placed the new trap between the Sturmer and the close by purple flowering broccoli. Sacrificed one of last seasons few remaining Surmer apples from the old tree in the gully that we planted our first winter here. Figured if we were enjoying them so much then so would the possum. I cut a small sliver out of the front-facing part and put a blob of peanut butter on the top.
Lastly, I sprinkled white flour liberally on the approach to the trap and also inside the trap. A local who has trapped a lot of possums in his time gave me the tip about the flour. It apparently helps mute the scent of humans. I also wear gloves when handling the trap to further reduce traces of my scent; I do the same when setting rat traps. Worth the fuss to catch a pest.
To my dismay, when I checked it first thing next morning there was the triggered trap on its side a metre away from where I’d set it and not a trace of apple or peanut butter. Had the possum worked out how to get the feed safely?
Determined to persevere, I did everything the same the following night. Except I anchored the trap so that the possum couldn’t move it. The two pegs provided to anchor it are smooth, slender tent peg style rods that invariably come adrift as the possum thrashes about in its death throes. My temporary solution was a thick bungy cord stretched taut over the top of the trap. I put bricks on top of the tent pegs I’d used to anchor the bungy cord so that the pegs wouldn’t pop out of the soft ground.
Next morning? No trace of the apple or peanut butter and, of course, no possum!
We had friends over the next evening and I didn’t get around to resetting the trap. And the following morning June pointed out newly transplanted strawberry plants denuded of leaves. Damn that possum!
I vowed then and there not to miss another night. I’d anchor that trap so well that it would take a bull to budge it!
I bent an aluminium rod (cut off an old television aerial), into an inverted ‘U’ shape and put it over the top of the yellow trap housing with its prongs hammered about 20 centimetres into the ground. I coiled the middle of a short bungy cord around one of the rods and wrapped the cord around the sides of the housing (just clearing the top of the keyhole), and hooked both ends to the other rod.
And there it was when I got up next morning – still standing. But the apple and peanut butter had disappeared without trace, and the trap had gone off! How could a possum do that and not get caught?
I have to really haul on the springs to pull back the steel bar through a 180 degree arc when setting the trap. And it triggers with such explosive force that there’s no way a possum could pull its head out of the narrow keyhole aperture in time.
Surely it must have been a possum because more strawberry plants have lost their leaves? A rat would enjoy apple and peanut butter but it wouldn’t eat leaves.
My best guess is that a rat got to it first, and while eating, tripped the mechanism. Then a possum came along, ate the rest of the apple and peanut butter, and helped itself to the strawberry leaves. I despair!
Animals are so resourceful. The number of times they beat me at a human devised game. But I’m not going to give up. Despite these alarming setbacks I still think the humane kill trap is my best option.
But what if I’ve still not caught that pesky critter after a few more attempts? I’ll go out after dark with a spotlight and try to shoot it.
I hope I have more luck than when, several years back, I had a possum in a tree right in front of me. It was clearly lit up and dazzled by the light into stillness, yet I still missed it after three attempts at blasting it out the tree with a single barrel shotgun. The possum just kept staring back at me, looking as though it was bewildered and wondering what all the fuss was about. To add insult to injury it sauntered off into the densely green and branched hinterland of the tree after my third futile shot, presumably bored by my performance.
As is often the case in these matters, human error (my error!) was to blame for my poor trapping performance as well, not rats or super intelligent possums. Instead, a person who needed to think more carefully about how he set the trap.
The apple is skewered on a metal rod. The rod is bent, half-way down, at a right angle to form a centimetre long ledge. My feeble excuses for getting things wrong are as follows: The trap comes with no instructions (baiting, setting and putting the trap in place are all straightforward operations so I guess I shouldn’t need an instruction sheet); I took it for granted that you slid the apple on only as far as the ledge (I assumed the ledge indicated that the apple was meant to sit at the bottom of the rod not the top). Why would you have to force it to go past a kink in the rod?
I figured it out before yet another night of possum feasting. Trap in hand, it was obvious that the ledge was to stop the apple sliding to the bottom of the rod! The possum can only get its head in through the wide bottom half of the ‘keyhole’ – and it can get it out again fast, so long as it doesn’t move its head up into the narrow part.
The apple has to be on the top half of the rod. The possum lifts its head up so that its neck slides into the narrow top half. It can’t get its head out without lowering it again. Before it can do that the pull on the apple has caused the bottom of the rod to put enough pressure on the bar to trip a frighteningly powerful spring which propels a steel bar up and under the animal’s neck with such force that the top of its neck slams against the sharp edge of plastic at the top of the keyhole and breaks the possum’s neck while it is securely held in a deadly choke hold.
A rapid, efficient kill. I suspect it’s not the near instantaneous death of a bullet to the brain (my method when I capture a live possum), but almost.
Well, after all that hoo-ha, I did finally have some success. Hit on my site next week and I’ll tell you how I got on.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company – bye for now.