The Wild Empire Strikes Back


I can’t figure out why society is so enamored of movies about invaders from outer space when we have a real life invasion going on from earth’s inner space. Squadrons of deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels, moles, wild turkeys, crows, robins, wolves, black bears, feral hogs, to mention a few, have unleashed an attack upon homes, gardens and farms unprecedented since the 1800s. It is worse than a century ago because we don’t have nearly as many hunters now as we did then. In the 1940s when I was growing up, there was not a deer in our county. Now they roam at will across the farm fields, towns and highways, laying waste to everything that grows and causing far more deaths on the roads than bombs do in Afghanistan.

If you garden at all, you will get a laugh or at least a sly smile from the cover of the New Yorker for July 2 of this year. It shows a cartoon by Edward Koren, of a man mowing a little plot of lawn surrounded by woodlands and an army of wild animals staring out at him from the underbrush. In your mind, replace the lawnmower guy with a gardener tending vegetables, fruits and flowers. Now you have a picture that would be worth a thousand or million words. That this cartoon should appear on a decidedly urban magazine cover rather than in a farm or garden publication is especially significant because it indicates that urban America is getting the message: the wild kingdom is out to get us.

I am not going to tell you how many invaders from the wild I and my neighbors have caught and killed just in the past two months because all those nice people who don’t raise food will condemn us for being savages left over from the Neanderthal era. All I can say to them is that when they see those cute little raccoons, they should think cute little rat, except that the raccoons have become more destructive overall than any rodent. Or is a raccoon a rodent too?

I thought I was winning a few battles if not the war until a couple of nights ago. Raccoons wiped out my first planting of sweet corn despite electric fencing (they know precisely when the corn is a day away from proper harvest). Then a fox or coyote got two hens. Okay, I can live with that. Foxes and coyotes at least help keep the squirrel, rabbit, groundhog, mole and mouse population down a little. But then I ran into a skunk, adept at gas warfare which is supposed to be forbidden by the Geneva Convention. It had occupied the henhouse and gave every indication of setting up campaign headquarters there. Skunks don’t often attack grown hens but this one was only ten feet from the broiler chicks in the other part of the coop and I didn’t want to take a chance. How do you get rid of a skunk in the henhouse without getting gassed?

Necessity being the mother of invention, I seized upon a plan of attack that you might find helpful some day soon. I dipped a bucket of water out of the rain barrel nearby, stealthily sidled up to the doorway of the coop but still out of sight of the skunk, and swooshed the water into the henhouse. In the same motion almost, I ducked behind the building. Skunk let out a strange yelp such as I had never heard before and don’t want to hear again, and came barreling out of coop and into the woods, its tail flinging noxious fumes all the way.

So far skunk has stayed away. I assume that the wildlife empire is working on a way to deal with this new adaptation of water-boarding.


That’s a better solution than the one I devised when I had a skunk cornered. I set up a live trap with the only exit funneling through it, and waited…

I still had to move the trap containing the skunk once I caught him however. A tarp thrown over the trap kept the skunk in the dark as to where I was and what was happening, then I carefully dragged tarp and skunk a safe distance away.

Trying to trap raccoons, I caught nearly two dozen skunks one year. I shudder at the recollection…

So far this year…5 raccoons, 2 possum, 2 groundhogs. Starlings and squirrels I don’t keep track of. The cats keep the rabbits in check, and the cows keep the deer at bay. So far this year the only animal to do much damage is mother nature, lost 4 chickens to heat strokes.

Easiest way to bait a trap for racoons is to put in a cup of good beer. Last one we caught we thought was dead, turns out he was just sleeping it off.

A neighbor of ours, who has backyard chickens, told us that one of them got hauled away by something in the middle of the night (feathers strewn across the park). I said, “Raccoon”. Yep, they put out their food scraps for the chickens every day, and every morning they’re gone – they’ve seen raccoons cleaning them up. (I thought, wait, you’ve been knowingly feeding the raccoons near your chickens?)

I recently used a griz-getter to trap my first raccoon at our farm, so I offered to get a live-trap and take away a few of the raccoons. (To be *properly* disposed of at our farm – properly meaning introducing them to their maker.) No response. I’m still waiting to see if they eventually take me up on the offer.

But in a little while the neighbor is going on vacation and asked us to watch their chickens for them. No raccoon is getting any chickens on my watch…

And again this year, we had a beautiful little field of winter wheat next to an equally beautiful field of rye. I kept thinking, “gotta get that wheat out”. Came back from vacation and went to harvest the wheat – only to find the deer had flattened half of it. They seem to like our wheat fields for bedding. Gotta get that deer blind up…

I once shelled some young skunks with moth balls to get them out of my pole barn. They got the message! Our laying hens are fenced in an enclosure that could be a prison yard if I had razor wire on top. So far no bears or cougars in the neighborhood (knock on wood).

Nicely said. My own take: We can pretend a garden is harmony and cooperation, but it is as close to pure domination as any shopping center or supermarket. It has to be. Whether we create a garden for pleasure or for food, our gardens are the ultimate fulfillment of those famous words in Genesis: “man shall have dominion . . . . ” In that constant contest we must wage against nature to do things our way, every successful garden is a Victory Garden. (Coming Out of the Woods, p. 175)

Beth Greenwood: Thanks. You write so reasonably as well as knowledgebly that I have to pay attention. I already agreed with your point of view but now I have more reason to do so. (On statins as well as wildlife.) But I still have my doubts about chiropracters. Gene

    Gene, thank you. Praise from you is high praise indeed! In my experience, chiropractors are like every other medical professional; some are flat-out quacks, some are competent and some are excellent. I favor the folks who use the low–energy tools such as the activator (, which allows for great precision in making an adjustment. The disadvantage to conventional chiropractic techniques is that many people know what’s coming and start to guard against the more forceful manual adjustments by tensing their muscles, which creates more problems. The activator may cause a little pain when pressed against a sore, inflamed muscle, but overall, it’s a very comfortable and effective treatment.

Right now I’m over run with rabbits, might have to make some stew. But a few posts back you were asking about statins. Here’s a link.

    Jeannie, thanks for that link. It seems that in spite of all the countervailing evidence, the doctors I go to still insist on statins. I wonder who will turn out to be correct. Gene

      Gene, just say no to statins, to paraphrase Nancy Reagan. It’s your body and you call the shots. Doctors are as susceptible to the Big Pharma hype as anyone else, which is why many medical schools have banned or are trying to ban drug reps. And in their defense, many truly want to help people, which is why they went into the profession in the first place. Unfortunately, the average 11 years it takes to become educated as a physician means they are subjected to a great deal of — not really brainwashing, but I can’t think of a better term at the moment — about conventional medicine. Nurses get the same thing to a slightly lesser degree. When conventional therapy doesn’t work, there’s still a tendency to blame the patient “He’s not taking his medicine the way he’s supposed to.” “She’s non-compliant with her diet.” Yet the side effects from the medicine are worse to the patient than the ravages of the disease, and the typical low-fat, high-carb diet is ineffective for weight loss. Luckily, there are more and more people in the medical and nursing profession who are beginning to say, “Wait a minute, there’s something wrong here…” Thus the proliferation of alternative and complementary practitioners. My parents were both surgeons who considered chiropracters complete quacks, yet when I was having blood pressure problems a few years back, it was the chiropracter who helped me the most, by adjusting the thoracic spine (every time T3 or T4 went out, my BP would spike). I no longer need to take antihypertensives…

hi. my daddy, from the backend of WV, in the poverty almost everyone had, ate possum (the greasiest meat i ever ate- dad quote), squirrel, groundhog( boil, outside,if possible-terrible odor–boil and throw away water 3 times), deer if you can get it. our ancestors ate bear and boar (cook both thoroughly, do not jerk, because of trichinosis)and coon.
could the vermin be cooked thoroughly and fed to your own hogs as protein? if you want to take the trouble. no sense wasting fodder.
. thanks, deb harvey

    Deb, we have eaten predators such as cougar and bear and regularly feed ground squirrels, rattlesnakes (although I try not to kill them unless they’re really aggressive or take up residence too close to the house, because they are the ground squirrels’ natural predators) coyotes and such to our pigs and chickens. They love ’em, especially the danged squirrels.

Deer – just hooved rats as far as I am concerned, and around here, some people still feed them even though it’s illegal. We have predators, but I admit I am not keen on mountain lions close by – the best bet to harvest deer. Too much like encouraging sharks. One attacked a man in his sleeping bag quite recently, and dogs are regularly snatched. Few hunters means that predators and prey alike have lost their fear of humankind. We had bear on our front deck a few years back, and they just stared at us as we banged pots and pans and continued to slurp down bird food. Those feeders are now gone! and the voles in the garden!!!! Oh well, life out here is still pretty good.

To Beth Greenwood,
Bears hate the sound of metal against metal. In western parks hikers are encouraged to carry their car keys within easy reach and rattle them if they see a bear. You might try hanging metal wind chimes.

    Ann, although that’s one strategy I didn’t know about and I thank you for the tip, this bear is walking right under my wind chimes to get to the stuff he wants to play with. And they’re the big type of chimes with long metal tubes. Maybe he’s a musical bear???

I’d rather deal with a skunk than the bear that considers our chicken pens, pig pens and front yards his personal property. I’m getting tired of rebuilding the fences he climbs over and breaks or bends. And I’m even less excited about the prospect of coming in from town after dark and finding him in the front yard; he obviously has no fear of humans since he’s coming within a few feet of our front door. We’ve tried a hot wire, lights, dogs and noise makers without success. Can’t get a depredation permit unless we can show we have secured all potential food sources (ummm, I feed my pigs in their pens and they drop food — I should go out and clean up every grain they spill?) and DFG has made at least one attempt to relocate the bear…

Our neighbor had the nerve to ask if he could come on the property and shoot coyotes. Hah! I am more likely to set up a coyote breeding program than let him shoot coyotes. Coyotes are about the only bulwark against the onslaught of raccoons, rabbits and deer that want to eat every plant in sight – except weeds of course – they won’t touch those. Please, everyone, let the coyotes alone – shoot starlings if you have to kill something. Everyone will thank you. It should be a form of public service. Everyone in the United States should have to kill at least 5 starlings every year in order to retain citizenship.

    Just 5? My mother, bless her heart, used to keep a 22 in the kitchen at the farm, and she would shoot starlings, blackbirds and cowbirds from the kitchen window. As a result, she had the most remarkable collection of song birds coming to the feeder, including indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, and flocks of cedar waxwings and cardinals. One winter day, when there had been an ice-storm, she picked off 79 starlings. A couple of hawks and one owl came by and picked up a few of the fresh corpses. My father was furious with her, and went out the next day with a pail because he was going to pick up the remains. There was nothing there. The foxes had been by and just left a few wing tips.
    Oh for those days. Now that I’m living in an urban setting, I’d love to have my mother’s old 22 and cull the squirrel, blackbird and starling population.

I have lived in Wilmette, a densely populated suburb not even 20 miles north of Chicago’s loop, since 1993. When we first moved here, I was able to grow a mini garden (a couple tomato plants, 3 or 4 broccolis, a few snap peas, a bit of lettuce and spinach) with no fencing or protection. Over the years, the “weed” wildlife has increased dramatically. We have veritable plagues of chipmunks and rabbits. Fences aren’t entirely effective. Anything tasty (including many flowers) must be enclosed in chicken wire or even hardware cloth. We have raccoons, skunks, possums, mice, chipmunks, moles, voles, and huge numbers of rabbits, doing what rabbits do – propagating themselves. I think West Nile virus helped the rodent population by eliminating crows for several years. People tell me crows don’t prey on rabbits, but having seen, with my own eyes, crows kill and eat baby rabbits, I know that they do. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone! The crows are starting to return (still very few blue jays); also we are getting a few other predators – hawks, coyotes, foxes. Not enough, though. In the suburbs, keep quiet if you are lucky enough to get predators – the overly civilized populace is terrified of them and will demand their extermination.

When I was a child in this area, there were snakes, which can be very helpful in keeping down the rodent population. And, as Gene says – no deer! This was in the early 1950s to mid 1960s. (Our USDA zone was the cold end of zone 5 then; cold winters help keep down the bugs; now zone 7 plants overwinter for me… but I digress.) Now deer are everywhere. They aren’t confined to parks and forest preserves; they frequent back yards and even shopping malls. Antlered locusts, a vector for Lyme disease, a traffic hazard as well as a garden menace. We have strict leash laws here for dogs and cats, and poop pickup laws, all of which I strongly support… but this makes the furry “weeds” fearless. I use the term “weeds” in the sense of David Quammen’s essay, Planet of Weeds. Soon the earth will contain nothing but humans (the ultimate weed species, some say), their livestock, and the pesky weeds like roaches, garlic mustard, rabbits, deer, and so on.

Corn has gone to raccoons and something is even coming up on the deck eating the small pot of cherry tomatoes! Seems to be worse this year .. I’m thinking the little buggers are seeking moisture as well as food. And don’t get us started on the starlings, those sky rats, that eat our blueberries. I’ve taken up a gun for the first time in decades.

We end up with skunks in the hav-a-hart trap when trying to trap racoons. My husband has to negotiate the lever with a long stick, then convince the skunk to leave. Meanwhile, I stand way back with my hands over my mouth like I am worried, but I am trying hard to stiffle giggles. Hubby is awfully funny to watch trying to leap in several directions at once. The skunks often turn tail and twitch toward him, but he has never been actually sprayed. Once we caught a double-stripped skunk, who just ambled out of the trap slowly and wandered down the hill towards the pond. The next year, there he was again. He seems to like cat food. I don’t mind them around much because they coexist well with our ducks in the garden and they eat lots of bugs and grubs, when they are not eating cat food and getting trapped. Do you think we could convince skunks to inhabit the perimeter of the poultry yard and spray any coon that tried to enter? No. I didn’t think so.

I enjoy all of your posts.

My corn is 2 weeks away, trapped and shot my first coon yesterday. Anyone who objects has never had to clean out a chicken house after a coon has gotten in.

We are expecting the annual onslaught of wild hogs as you call them (being a Brit we call them wild boar) and we can’t grow potatoes, carrots or that sort of veg without full on protection. Here in Latvia the rules means we have to sign a contract with a hunting organisation to keep the population down, which we have done this year. They had better be good.

Try a terrier. Mine caught and killed a skunk last week. He also gets young coons, rats, mice, moles on a regular basis. I think I’ll be adding a few more to the farm.

Maybe Deerhounds would be a good addition too?

Reblogged this on Traditions & Skills of Every Day Life and commented:
So true, so true, on many levels, lol.

Gene, your post struck a chord with me immediately, and on two notes.First, I ,like you, am puzzled and shaking my head at the large number – a majority, even – of regular movie attenders who can’t seem to shake-off their childhood days and tastes.Super-hero ,space-invaders, and axe-murderer redux, in my opinion.I normally am pissed,after leaving the theater,that I failed to learn from my last experience, and did not wait,as I had promised, for release on Netflix instead of paying 10.50 for a ticket.

Second,I am on the Left Coast.While I am a native Buckeye, I’m decidedly in the minority here.Beautiful Redwoods?I’ve got a garden to plant,take em out.Bucolic wildlife scenery?Well,I’ve removed my share of skunks, raccoons, and will,one way or another,do the same to any deer with designs on my tomatoes.They begin frequenting our neighborhood once their food supply diminishes .Hoping they’ll be deterred by my 7′ fence,but those antlered rodents may find my garden too tempting to resist.Several month sback,we were awakened by a panicky deer who wandered into my not-yet-finished garden fence and couldn’t find its’ way out.A haistorml of rakes,hoes, spades, and garden forks clattered up against our bedroom wall at 3:00 a.m.Wish my dad had raised me as a hunter.Can you trap em?

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