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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

[skunk]

December 1997

Creature comforts

Your stories of the beasties, bats and bugs that crawled their way into your hearth, if not heart.

Illustrations by T/Maker Company , © 1997
[snake]
Keeping the beasties at bay

Editor's note: We sent out the call, and 97 of you answered. Last February we asked for short tales about wild animals that got into your house and your exploits to remove them. We enjoyed reading all the stories and appreciated the overwhelming response. Here are 16 of the finest.

Grounded venison

Back in 1979, my first job with DNR was working with Wildlife Manager Dan Olson and Wildlife Tech Mark Opgenorth. Late one Friday afternoon, Mark and I were returning from a busy day of field work when our office secretary excitedly told us a deer was trapped in the basement of a new house under construction on the east edge of town. We sped to the scene and found several construction workers peering into a newly-poured concrete foundation. Eight feet below ground level was an obviously excited deer running repeatedly into cement walls in a vain effort to jump out.

The deer was bleeding slightly from its nose and was bruised up a bit. Still, there was no time to get a dart gun and tranquilize the frantic animal. Exercising his supervisory skills, Mark stared at the deer, then at me and said "Ishmael, go down there and catch that deer."

I swallowed hard and climbed down a muddy plank into the basement only to be knocked immediately to the ground by the charging, excited deer. The next few moments were a blur, but I managed to corner and tackle the deer in a slippery pool of mud. I sprawled across the deer trying to keep its sharp hooves from denting my skull. I looked up to see Mark and the workers peering over the wall.

"Need a rope?" Mark calmly asked. I suggested he join me and we both tie up the deer and hoist it out of the basement to the waiting hands of workers waiting to conclude this exciting end to the work week.

Despite a few bruises to me and the deer, we managed to load it up in the pickup, drove a few miles out of town, and released it.

Bill Ishmael
DNR Wildlife Manager
Spring Green

Mighty mice

For several weeks that fall, I had noticed the dog food supply dwindling faster than usual from the bag in the corner of the mudroom. Now and then I'd find a chunk of Purina's finest chow on the floor or the basement step. I figured it had fallen out of the bag when we filled the dog dishes.

One morning, I was surprised to find a trail of food chunks clearly leading downstairs. [dog]

I followed the trail and reached a dead end. It seemed the pieces were far too large to have been moved by mice, so I concluded it must be a larger mammal, perhaps a squirrel, raccoon or a rat.

Some days later I was at my workbench when I removed some magazines from a deep shelf under the bench. Pieces of dog food spilled out. I discovered a whole cache of pellets and scooped nearly a half gallon of food into a pail. Then I noticed a musky odor and small black objects the size of rice grains mixed in with the dusty pellets. Closer examination confirmed they were mice scats.

I couldn't believe pellets that size had been stored by mice. I set a number of traps baited with peanut butter. In the morning I found three white-footed mice. I couldn't believe that a mouse weighing 30 grams was capable of climbing the sides of a food sack, hefting a pellet, carrying it down the steps, across 10 feet of basement and up 18 inches of bench onto a shelf.

I subsequently trapped 15 more white-footed mice. They probably came under the garage doors which at the time had poor weather stripping on the bottom. After trapping all the mice and replacing the weather strip, the raids on the dog food ceased. I also purchased a metal can with a strong, tight lid for the dog food. Whether the storage operation was carried out by one mouse or a collective of several mice, I'll never know.

Donald W. Carter
Muskego

Why we close the lid

Red squirrels are not on our list of beloved animals! We have barely tolerated their sassy chattering and destructiveness to the Northwoods seasonal cottage we've owned for 36 years. One such varmint didn't fare so well.

We arrived at the lake after a seven-to-eight hour drive and proceeded with our spring opening ritual. To turn on the water, I must climb down a ladder to an underground well pit while my wife is stationed in the cottage attending to the faucets. After turning on the valves, I heard hysterical screaming, "There's a rat in the toilet!"

It was, in fact, a red squirrel, perfectly embalmed in antifreeze, shaped like a half-circle and hard as a rock. I had a devil of a time removing it.

We now have a screen over the roof vent pipe and close the toilet lid in the fall.

Gary & Marilyn Ostrom
Rock Island, Ill.

The spring chorus

Nearly every fall after the ground is frozen, just as winter settles in, we rescue one or two tiny chorus frogs from under the metal grate in our floor drain. Sometimes they are nearly dead from dehydration and lack of food. We always find it a challenge to revive them and keep them alive all winter in a terrarium.

On warm sunny days, we go all around the house checking between the windows and the storm windows for flies. I hate to admit it, but we pull off their wings and put them into the terrarium. The flies are always eaten within a few days.

[frog]

On occasion, my husband holds a frog in his hand and feeds it a bit of ground beef. We also bring jars of snow into the house to melt so our frogs never need to soak in chlorinated tap water.

For our labors, we are rewarded with three, four or five frog croaking sounds most evenings. We have fun asking our guests "What do you think that sound is?" before showing our winter visitors. As soon as spring is here and the drainage ditch to Cherokee Marsh opens up, we take "our" frogs down to the marsh and release them.

Eunice Holtz
Madison

Swarm sucker

In 1938, we lived on the east end of the village of Knowles, Wis. Mother was visiting and occupied the upstairs guest room. One morning, she called out all excited, "I can't get out of bed!"

I dashed up and stopped at the door. There was a whole swarm of bees on the droplight in the middle of the room. What to do? I went back downstairs for my small tank vacuum cleaner and sucked up every one of those bees. The problem was a double-hung window that was only screened on the lower half. The top half had dropped an inch affording an easy entrance. The window was quickly closed.

Marion J. Thomas
Santa Monica, Calif.

Skunk in the feed mill

After a busy week as a DNR wildlife manager, I was looking forward to sleeping in on that Saturday morning in July. The 6 a.m. call from the sheriff's office ended that notion. The dispatcher said there was a skunk in the grinder of the town feed mill and the mill operator was desperate to evict the critter before the usual flow of farmers arrived to get a week's worth of cow feed ground up.

The skunk had wandered onto the unloading area and slipped into the funnel-shaped chute through which corn and oats are shoveled. It was a good six feet below ground and securely held in the confines of that metal hopper.

Shooting the skunk was out of the question. It had already disappeared between the grinder's rollers and only the tip of its tail was visible as we gazed down the hopper. We also didn't want to damage the equipment or contaminate the mill. Aside from dismantling the rollers from the bottom, there seemed no way to extricate the skunk.

By now farmers and pickup loads were beginning to pile up and everyone had his own opinion on how to solve this one.

In a flash of inspiration, I drove back to the nearby DNR Ranger station and came back with two 20-pound carbon dioxide fire extinguishers. I emptied both of them down the hopper and instructed the mill operator to slowly roll the mill's flywheel back by hand. Up rolled one very stiff skunk, so cold he could barely twitch.

I carefully reached down into the hopper with a heavily-gloved hand, pulled out the skunk, and shuttled it across the road. It revived in a few minutes and high-tailed it down the railroad tracks out of town.

Tom Howard
DNR Wildlife Manager
Dodgeville

Puddles from heaven

At 5 a.m. following a full day of hard work, the only thing on my mind should have been another hour or two of sleep. But somewhere there was water running, and at "The Condo," in Hawkins, we don't have running water.

I knew my reasoning skills wouldn't be up for another two hours as I made my way half asleep to the utility room where we store five gallon jugs of water. I couldn't find any leaks, but the sound persisted. Finally I located a stream of water coming from the ceiling.

"Darn! A leak. It must be raining," but a look out the window proved otherwise. I put out my hand to capture some. I sniffed it. No odor. I was one particle of gray matter away from tasting it when I heard the patter of little feet scurrying around over head.

The sound and touch of running water first thing in the morning warranted a trip to the outhouse. So I made my way through the kitchen, cluttered porch and out the back door. On my way back in, I was three steps into the kitchen when I stopped, went back onto the porch and gazed up. There was a wide-eyed raccoon nestled up in the rafters.

I woke up my friend, Brian, and after he wiped away a few tears of laughter, we discovered the coon had at least one kit with her. We found where they entered the house. We cleaned up the porch and, later in the day, sealed up the hole.

I'm just grateful it wasn't a critter with a bigger bladder.

Jeff Krein
Burlington

Deer friend

There was a deer in New Diggings, Wis. that would walk up to anyone to be petted or fed. It followed my grandfather around the yard at different times trying to get the tobacco pouch from his pocket. The deer knew just when Gramps got the day's water supply from the pump behind the house and was often there to partake of a drink too. Grandma was a very small woman and meticulously clean. Her sister had the same small build.

One day the deer followed Grandma's sister in the south door of the house. She and Grandma tried in vain to push the deer backwards out the door. The deer was twice as big as either of them. Grandma was yelling "Get that thing out of the house! Don't let it go to the bathroom in here!" She slumped into a chair with the back of her hand to her forehead saying "I don't think I can take any more of this."

The deer headed for the bedrooms and Grandma shot out of the chair like a bullet to close the doors. When the deer tried to look out the dining room window, we heard "Don't let it touch my clean curtains. Keep it out of the KITCHEN! Don't you know how many germs that thing has on it? This thing will be the death of me yet!"

We grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl anad coaxed the deer out the east door. It was barely outside and I could hear the buckets and mops rattling in the house. I knew we'd spend the next three to four hours scrubbing down the house with every cleanser on the market, but what excitement! How many people get to have a deer walk into the house just to take a look around?

Marlys Foley
Evansville

Intruder

"There was a bear in the cottage basement, when I arrived last weekend," my son-in-law Eddie said matter-of-factly on our Monday morning phone call. Grouse hunting had opened the previous weekend, so Eddie and his lab, Blackie, had headed up to the Park Falls cottage for a weekend hunt.

Eddie bought the cottage three years ago and remodeled it, except for the rotted doors that covered the cellar entrance. He had torn out the old boards and covered the opening with a sheet of plywood topped by a concrete block.

When they arrived at the cottage, Blackie began to whine and Eddie saw that the block and plywood had fallen down the stairs. [bear] The basement windows were covered, so the space was dark. Taking a flashlight and a three-foot 2x4, Eddie proceeded down the steps and shined the light on the bear curled up in the corner.

Eddie and dog exited quickly, went upstairs, turned on the radio as loud as possible and jumped up and down on the floor while banging an iron pan with a hammer.

Soon the intruder emerged, yawned, shook himself and ambled into the Chequamegon National Forest just across the road.

Now there's a metal door covering the basement entry.

Gordon Janecek
Adams

Scary visit

The single propane lamp in the fishing cabin cast just enough of a glow to outline our shapes in the sleeping loft--a perfect situation for the kids to tell ghost stories and conjure up monsters, which was exactly what was going on when 12-year-old Tyler found the real thing.

Our cabin, charitably described as "rustic," had always had mice and the occasional bat. We simply accepted them. So when Tyler whispered, "There's something moving under my sleeping bag," I suggested he ignore it and go to sleep. I sure didn't expect his next pronouncement, "No. It's bigger than a mouse...IT'S A SNAAAYYK!" Sure enough, even in the dim light from downstairs I could see a big snake slithering from between his sleeping bag and the mattress...and it kept coming and coming and coming.

Matt leapt from his bed, grabbed a boat cushion and held it in front of himself like a shield. Joe, for reasons I've yet to fathom, reached for a spinning rod.

[snake]

Tyler and I let out screams that could be heard in downtown Wabeno. In a few seconds, I was able to calmly squeak, "Ha, ha... don't be afraid, boys. It's just a bull snake and as soon as I can pry my fingers and toes loose from this rafter, I'll deal with it."

It required fireplace gloves, but I evicted the several-foot-long snake, which in cabin lore is now approaching python status. I carried the snake a few hundred yards and let it go with a stern warning.

The next morning we bought and used most of the available hardware cloth and caulk north of Highway 8 on the gaps between the logs. Since that day, no one crawls into their bed without doing a quick check.

Richard Hess
Milwaukee

The ol' rope trick

A bird down the chimney is one thing. Just open the damper, let it into the room and chase it out the door. But a squirrel in the fireplace is something else, especially when the chimney is made of slippery tin with no toeholds.

Solution? I went to the boat house, got a piece of 1 -inch hay rope, climbed up on the roof, and lowered the rope down the chimney. Presto! Mr. squirrel knew exactly what to do, climbed up the rope, reached the house top and jumped into a nearby birch. The chimney now has a screen over it.

Blanche E. Adams
Waupaca

Pop-up surprise

I yanked up a potted geranium that was half-buried in the flower garden to save it from a predicted frost. I was startled to hear a small, distinct shrill scream coming from the pot, and I stood frozen. A toad jumped out of the pot and jumped behind the recycling cupboard before I came to my senses.

I decided to wait until morning to play hide-and-seek with a terrified toad, so I put out a shallow pan of soil and another of water.

The next morning, I found the toad in the soil pot. As I approached, it jumped into the water dish. I quickly placed the newspaper over the dish and carried it to freedom. I hope it ate a lot of bugs.

Fern T. Moe
Whitehall

The scientific approach

We were awakened by an incessant banging emanating from the basement of our rented house in rural Star Prairie. We cautiously investigating on tiptoes. Our flashlight illuminated the sinister form of a white-footed mouse frantically trying to squeeze a walnut (pilfered from the living room nut bowl) underneath the laundry room door. Even our appearance didn't deter the brazen burglar. It simply pushed and banged the nut all the harder. Curious about its destination, I graciously opened the door and we watched with wondered amusement as the mouse rolled the nut barrel-like across the concrete floor to its haven behind the furnace. It was cute, but I knew I would have to evict the squatter and all of its friends and relatives.

Drawing on wildlife management skills learned at college, I decided to use the mice, themselves, to locate the points of entry into our home. I baited small live-traps with peanut butter and began the task of capturing our freeloading guests. Once caught, each was marked with a dab of paint, taken outside and released near the foundation. As each rodent raced to regain the warmth, safety and booty within, I followed closely and sealed each revealed crack and hole with filler. After about two weeks of capture, release and recapture, I knew I'd been successful when the mice could no longer find entry and scurried into the surrounding woodlot. The final count of this operation was 53 mice of two species. The midnight raids were over and the live-traps remained unsprung for the rest of the fall/winter season.

Kurt Sroka
Somerset

The Xmas owl

A number of years ago, when I was about 16, I returned home about 11 p.m. from a night out with friends. Our home, in a rural area just north of Racine was quite dark as my parents were next door at a Christmas holiday party.

Our house was built in the Prairie style with high, open ceilings separated by walls that went about seven feet up. As I walked into the living room, I heard a strange noise above and to my right. Sitting on the divider staring down at me was a white owl about 12-14 inches tall. I was scared.

I crept into the back bedroom and called my Dad. In about five minutes, he arrived with six other men. What with the holiday cheer, I'm not sure any of them were thinking clearly. Several strategies were implemented, but they only upset the owl which left its perch to soar around the living room.

There was much ducking accompanied by expletives. It was a sobering experience (literally!) and when calmer heads prevailed, bed sheets were distributed to all. The men formed a sort of human funnel, holding up the sheets and directing the flight path to the front hall. With a lot of arm waving, the owl got the idea, soared down the funnel and out the front door to freedom. Everyone returned to partying to celebrate their victory.

There is still some debate about how the owl got in. The best explanation seems to be the Christmas tree. We had left it outside to let the limbs drop a little before bringing it in. We think the small owl found a great perch and rode the tree in earlier in the day.

Michael Shoys
Middleton

When nature calls

I was working as a naturalist at Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota at the time. It was a cloudy November day with a crisp chill in the air that had wildlife completing their food caches that would sustain them until spring. I was late for an appointment and had hurried into the house to change out of my uniform. Nature called, and I raced to the bathroom, dropped my drawers and sat down.

As I was sitting, I felt water splashing on my butt. I stood up and turned around to see what had caused this unusual sensation. There was a scarlet object swimming in my toilet bowl! I panicked, backed against the wall and all of a sudden, the scarlet mass exploded out of the toilet, flew past me, raced out of the bathroom, through the living room and hid in the bedroom. Still paralyzed with fear and shock, my body clung to the wall. I finally gained my composure and realized it was a red squirrel.

I had to get it out of the house and my instincts were to call the park ranger, but I had no phone. I grabbed the broom and chased it all through the house, behind the stove and refrigerator and finally swept it out the front porch.

The most humiliating confrontation was yet to come. I had to provide the maintenance foreman with every detail to get action. In fact, I had to REPEAT the story to the maintenance crew to convince them to make a repair quickly. They subsequently theorized that the squirrel had been storing nuts down the stack vent, the vent screen had fallen off and the squirrel fell in.

Cheryl M. Olson
Madison

Skunked again!

I remember it was springtime, because we had to go to services on Easter Sunday smelling like skunks. I was only nine and was more concerned about getting home to my Easter basket than the whispers and stares we caused at church. After mass, we went right home without even shaking Father Muldoon's hand.

As soon as we got home, Dad changed clothes and went down to the crawl space to have a look around. The dogs had been sniffing around the house all week.

My seven siblings and I were excited. In those two years when we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we'd seen buffalo, wild turkey, antelope, rattlesnake and even a wild goat. Dad wasn't down there too long. When he came up, he told Mom to call the state trapper because we had a skunk.

The trapper came the next day. I was a little disappointed when an old beater pickup truck pulled into the driveway and an ordinary-looking man got out. He walked around the house a few times, set a few traps, then came to the door and explained to my mom that the skunk was getting under the house in two places – near each of the doors. He told Mom to keep us kids and the dogs away from the traps and, when the skunk was caught, to bring the dogs into the house, shut all the windows and give him a call.

We kids took turns watching the traps and fooling each other with false reports. Sometime during the night, the skunk got caught. We hauled in the dogs and called the trapper.

By the time he arrived with his little girl along for the show, the dogs were going wild trying to get out and we were all crowded around the picture window. The trapper pretended not to notice us and went about his business. He covered the trap, ran a hose from his exhaust pipe to the trap and started the pickup. He let the truck run about 15 minutes, then came over and picked up the dead skunk by the tail. He held it up so we could all get a good look and we were duly impressed.

All of a sudden the skunk's feet started wiggling. The trapper got the funniest look on his face and threw the skunk, in his haste and surprise, right at us. The skunk sprayed as it flew through the air and hit the house with a thunk. It sat dazed for a moment, then ran around back, saw his entrance way blocked by another trap and sat down on our back step with no apparent intention of leaving.

The trapper mumbled that he couldn't shoot an animal so close to the house, packed up his daughter and paraphernalia, then left.

My mom called my dad at work and even though it was the middle of the day, he came right home, threw a rock to chase it away from the house, shot it, and that was it.

We never had any more skunk problems and never saw the state trapper again. As a matter of fact, he didn't even send a bill.

Amy Martin
Hastings, Minn.

Keeping the beasties at bay

Animals and insects are quick to point out where you've made it easy for them to enjoy the shelter and comfort of your home. [bee] Most slip in through large openings or make their own holes. To thwart unwanted B&E (that's burrowing and entering!), inspect your house and surroundings periodically. To close off common ports of entry and protect your borders:

  • Install and inspect chimney caps.
  • Inspect caps on stack vents, wood stoves.
  • Consider screening in power fans.
  • Remove or seal up old rooftop vents when you install a new furnace or exhaust fan.
  • Check for loose mortar and flashing around chimneys.
  • Replace worn shingles.
  • Look for holes in attic ventilation vents.
  • Check for holes and cracks in overhangs and soffits.
  • Replace or repair broken screens and windows.
  • Check that storm windows and storm doors close securely.
  • Check for nests behind shutters and outdoor lights.
  • Inspect window frames for tight fit and repair rotted areas.
  • Check that doors close tightly and seals are still flexible.
  • Periodically scrape, then paint or stain siding to dissuade insect damage and rot.
  • Replace worn weather stripping on garage doors.
  • Check that garage doors close completely.
  • Fill foundation cracks and inspect the sill plate where the house meets the foundation.
  • Keep pet doors in working order.
  • Inspect behind shrubs, bushes and other plantings that are close to your house.
  • Inspect decks, patios and porches for signs of burrows or gnawing.
  • Plant new plantings so they will not grow against the house.
  • Trim back trees and branches that touch or hang over your roof.
  • Repair leaky outdoor hoses that can drip near the foundation, promoting rot.
  • Don't store wood piles in your garage or against your house. These harbor animals and insects. Keep wood piles covered and dry.
  • Fill in gaps where pipes, wires and cables enter your home.
  • Store birdseed and pet food in sealed containers. Inspect for signs of break-ins.

Once you start feeding birds or animals, continue feeding throughout the cold weather season. Only set up feeding stations at a weekend home or cabin if you can attend them and keep them full. Clean up spilt seed if you see signs of rodents.