How to live-trap a raccoon or groundhog.

Groundhog considering his escape.

For the first seven years up here at the farm, groundhogs were the bane of my existence. They had burrow entrances to one side of the house that led right under the stone foundation and up into the basement. There were many times I heard them moving around down there and a few times actually chewing on something, a wood joist most likely. They hibernated under the house too; I heard them start to stir in the early spring and then start to cooo, which always meant one thing – they’d had some babies down there too!

I tried many times over the years to trap those groundhogs. I baited the trap with fiddleheads, dandelion leaves, organic lettuce – those groundhogs ate better than I did! But it was when the animal control guy came to get the raccoon out of my bathroom wall a couple of springs ago that I learned how to trap a groundhog. I’ll get to the groundhog in a minute, but first, the raccoon.

The story of the hibernating raccoon started one February evening when I was in my bathroom, which is on the second floor of the house, and heard snoring coming from inside one of the walls. I thought I was going crazy and my friends concurred when I told them about it (“you’re alone out there too much Kim!”). I heard the snoring more than once but then forgot about it until that spring when I heard an ungodly amount of scrabbling and thumping coming from that very wall.

I went outside to investigate and found that there was a small gap in the soffit at the peak of the house up where I was hearing the noise. But it appeared to be too narrow for anything sizeable to get through and the ceiling up there is cathedral so there is no attic. Nowhere, I thought, for an animal to go. Nevertheless, I got out the yellow pages and called a private animal control company. The guy who came pointed out right away the raccoon footprints across the deck railing and up the drain pipe. He bolted his live trap to the roof in the pathway the animal was taking to get to the peak of the house and his winter getaway. And then human ingenuity came into play when the animal control guy laid a path of Dare’s maple cookies into the mouth of the trap, explaining that raccoons couldn’t resist them. Sure enough, the next morning there was a young male raccoon in the trap.

It was during this visit that the animal control guy told me what it was that groundhogs couldn’t resist – apples. So last year when I spotted that groundhog feeding not thirty feet from my garden, I set the trap and laid a trail of sliced apple into its maw.  Now, a groundhog you try to trap at dawn or dusk when they come out of their burrows. There’s no point leaving the trap set overnight, because you’ll get raccoons instead.

I had to go into town and was away about three hours and sure enough that groundhog was in the trap when I returned. He was a big one and had torn the ground up beneath the cage and had somehow battered at the handle so that it had fallen into the trap with him. I knew I was going to put the trap and animal into the trunk of my car and transport him a couple of kilometers away to release him. But how to pick up the cage now that there was no handle?

Groundhog in the live-trap.

I had to improvise by using the metal hook on a caulking gun hooked into the cage at one end and could grab the other without fear of the animal’s teeth getting at me. I have to say I was not entirely calm during this procedure. The animal was frightened and baring its beaver-like teeth at me. I was nervous and feeling unsure. But as with so many other things over the past seven years, I had to tell myself that I not only could do it, but had to. There was no one else there to help. I took a deep breath, covered the trap with a rug to calm the animal, and lifted it into the trunk. The combined weight of the groundhog and cage was probably twenty pounds and having to awkwardly lift it without the benefit of a handle made me curse my flabby abs and congratulate myself for stopping by the gym just an hour earlier for their exercise class schedule.

I drove a couple of kilometers away and pulled over to the side of the road where I knew there were no farmhouses nearby and hoisted the cage out of the trunk. When I lifted the gate the groundhog bolted into the bush and I was relieved, having nursed a small fear it would turn on me once out of the cage. I’ve seen a groundhog face off with a large dog when it was cornered with no tunnel to dive down. They’re vicious and fast with teeth that can chew through timber joists. They’re not called woodchucks for nothing. If there was ever any question of that cute furry animal being wild and potentially dangerous, all you had to do was get a whiff of the inside of my car trunk the next day!

One Response to “How to live-trap a raccoon or groundhog.”

  1. Diana Boles says:

    I really enjoyed this story. I love life in the country, and I appreciate your resourcefulness. I also liked learning about not bothering to leave the trap out over night unless you wanted a raccoon. So interesting. Thanks for sharing, and I can’t believe there aren’t more comments. What’s with that?

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