Friday, May 13, 2011

Rabbits on the West side - the final chapter

Amidst wedding planning, our house was for sale in spring 2010, and Jay and I did quite a lot of spring yard work. This mostly involved splitting hostas and moving lots, and lots, and lots of mulch. Either the hostas came up fast and the rabbits didn't have a chance to eat them, or our constant yard activity kept them away, but either way, I don't recall being frustrated with gnawed off hosta shoots.

This year, however, something came together that attracted every floppy-eared rabbit in the neighborhood to our yard for a nightly buffet at our hosta salad bowl. I went out on one of the first spring afternoons to discover where torpedo shoots had been, now hosta stumps with nothing but a ground-level stalk of concentric circles remained.

I. was. furious.

Memories of my trip to Farm and Fleet, the rat traps and my successful varmnit termination program entered my mind. Jay was inside, probably getting hungry for dinner, but I had rabbits to rid. I found the box where we had stored the traps from my move, quickly found five stakes and went into the back yard. One of my neighbors told me that the rabbits were living under our deck, and indeed, there were several holes in the lattice where a rabbit could easily squeeze through. I planted a stake and set an trap at each hole, and put two in one of the favored hosta beds.

Because I wasn't particularly interested in repeating my earlier burial practice, I also sprayed the incredibly smelly "Liquid Fence" under the deck and on the hostas. I figured if the rabbits were stupid enough to ignore that, they practically deserved to fall upon the the springs of my unbaited traps.

I returned to the kitchen where Jay, eyeing me up and down (dirty knees, screw gun in one hand and a sheepish look), asked me what I had been up to. "You don't want to know, so best not to ask," I replied. "Does it have anything to do with rabbits?" he inquired. "Ignorance is bliss," I replied. "If the neighbors ask, it's best you honestly don't know a thing." He quickly figured out what I had done, grimacing, I imagine, at his own memory of my creature killing spree from a few years ago.

I checked the traps over the course of several days. One day, one of the unsprung traps had clearly been pushed (or pulled?) out from under the deck. Another day, the same thing occurred at the site of another trap. These rabbits were smarter than me. They also continued to eat hostas like their personal garden of organic mixed greens.

While walking in the back yard one evening around dusk, I saw three fat rabbits just about to crawl through a fairly large opening in the corner of our fence. In hindsight, perhaps all of this could have been prevented with some fence mending? I pulled up all the stakes and set the traps at the opening.

Five rat traps set at the corner opening in our fence.

These were large rabbits, and my plan was to catch a rabbit (head, foot or tail) in one or more traps, and then go out there and finish the job myself. For this to succeed (success measured by very short suffering time and neighbors none the wiser) I had to keep an eye on the traps pretty consistently. This was not something to be left overnight.

I set out a pair of leather gloves (with neck wringing in mind) and went into the house to prepare dinner. Every 15 minutes I stepped out to check the traps. The first time I frightened the three rabbits again, they had been gathering at the opening, probably surveying the new landscape.

The second, third and fourth times there were no bunnies to be seen, either outside the fence or in my traps. By 8:30 p.m. Jay and I had finished dinner and I went out for the last time. In my heart I could not leave the traps set for an animal to happen upon and suffer through the night. I may have been raised with a practical country attitude about such things, but I was also raised to be kind to animals - and avoiding needless suffering was part of that upbringing. So I pulled up all the stakes and threw them in a pile in the garage. And then I sprayed the corner opening, all the hostas and all around the perimeter of the yard with Liquid Fence.

Now that the hostas are up, they don't seem to be as tender or tasty to the rabbits, or maybe I'm just not noticing the nibble among the leafy proliferation. I know the rabbits are still around, and I know that they are breeding like, well, rabbits. So they still have to go, but these traps are no match for adult rabbits.

My friend Tom is going to lend me a live trap. I may or may not write about it.


  1. I had the very same problem with my hostas this year! I don't recall the bunnies eating them last year, but this year I was truly afraid they'd kill my hostas. Thankfully, just as your experience has been, my hostas passed a point of no return for the bunnies and they no longer nibble on them. Now, if I could figure out what's chewing on one of my rose bushes I might be able to sleep at night.

  2. I think the live trap is going to be the way to go. Then you can drop them off in an unsuspecting neighbor's (or acquaintance that you don't like so much) yard for them to deal with. The little bunnies (and neighbors) will be none the wiser. Either that or drop them off in your local park and you'll be good to go. More humane, less dying bunny screeches to haunt you in your dreams! ;-)


  3. You've earned your 'Mr. McGregor' badge on FourSquare. When we moved into our first house, near the edge of a field in Windsor, WI, I used live traps constantly. When I caught something, I'd drive three miles and empty the chipmunks, rabbits, moles, and woodchucks.

    Three years later, ironically, we purchased a house about 100 yards from my favorite 'drop off' point.

  4. Wow Josh, I am impressed. I have a similar issue in Baraboo with the deer eating my yuccas, black pine (really), in the winter, and hostas in the summer. I have not found a way to combat them successfully and I do not really want to plant only "deer resistant" plants. It is tempting to open our place up for hunting. But I may have a little advise that could be helpful. When we had the place up there filled with herbs the critters stayed the heck away and one of the tricks my mom would use was merigolds (very pungent). You may want to check and see if there are plants that rabbits dislike and intersperse them with the plants YOU like. Might save you the wet work with the wabbits.
    -John E

  5. Traps are definitely the way to go. I have a "friend" who used a BB gun to rid his garden of rabbits in Iowa, and it was successful but messy. Good luck with your hostas and other rabbit-friendly items!

  6. I miss the days of picking off rabbits in my back yard with a pellet gun, and I'm not even a hunter! Please write about the live traps and how you "dispose" of the trapped animals.

  7. I agree with the others- I think the live traps are the way to go. We used them with great success when we lived in the States. My Dad once put bubble gum in gopher holes to try to get rid of them, thinking it was more humane than shooting them. When I told him they would slowly starve to death, he went around and collected all the uneaten gum! My grandpa paid Ray to shoot gophers on the farm...effective, yes, but messy.

  8. Thank you for commenting on this post. The rat traps are put away (may take them out if something small starts chomping on ripe tomatoes). For now, a friend lent me a live trap that I set out today with an apple (nothing so far). However, on talking with my friend Diane, she reminded me that simple fencing is easy, maintenance free and as many point out, doesn't not involve "kill the wabbit" moments. Diane also told me that rabbits are like neighbors, when one moves out, another moves in. It's an endless problem.

    My hostas are now up and probably less interesting than the spring grass. I'm planning to invest in low fencing to install around my tomatoes.