Animals | Homesteading | Ranch Life | Tips & Tricks

The biggest packrat ever! And I’m not talking about a person!

March 18, 2011

Ever heard of a packrat? Most of us associate this name immediately with a person who collects way too much stuff and is unwilling to throw anything away. The funny thing is, is that not many people know (or believe) that a packrat is actually an animal; a rat! They are native to the western side of the United States, which is why most people in the eastern United States have never heard of them before. I certainly didn’t believe it either when I first moved to the ranch, but I learned quickly that these animals are real and they are big, smelly, nasty critters.

One day my mother-in-law and I were out in the mud room of their house and she said, “Ew, it smells like a rat.” I did smell something, but it smelled like a skunk to me but I had no idea what a rat smelled like, and I was still skeptical that these “packrats” existed. It wasn’t more than a day later when I saw my first packrat. My father-in-law had killed a rat and showed it to me. It had huge beady eyes and a bushy tail and it was about the size of a small rabbit.

Here are some interesting facts about these creative rats:

Normal rat traps do not work on these critters, because they are extremely smart (for the most part). You cannot set a normal rat trap and expect the packrat to get killed, when they go for the bait they will grab it and jump up before the trap snaps. Most people will set rat traps in large pipes or buckets so that they cannot jump up out of the trap. Coyote traps have worked best for us and so far our best bait has been aluminum foil.

Packrats are notorious for “packing” off items, especially if they are shinny. If a packrat has an object (food, wood, or bedding items) and they run across something that is better than what they have (such as keys, screws, or anything shinny) they will drop the item they are carrying and pack off the better item. Hence the name- packrat. This is why aluminum foil is a perfect way to kill a packrat, we wrap aluminum foil around the middle of a coyote trap and when the packrat tries to run off with the foil they get snapped. It has worked every time.

For some reason they do not like carrots and so if you put a carrot in a trap and they are near by, they will actually go get the carrot and move it, because they don’t like the smell… weird. Packrats also love prunes so if your out of aluminum foil a prune will work too.

Packrats smell awful!!! Typically the first indication of a packrat is the smell. The smell is equivalent to the smell of a skunk and it hangs around for a long time even after the rat is long gone! Once a packrat ran through our mud-room and it stunk for weeks! These are not pleasure rodents to have around.

Being quiet is also not a trait of a packrat especially if they are in your walls. Over the summer, before Sean and I got married, I spent the night at his house while he was out camping with a friend. It was the night of no sleep because Sean had a packrat in his walls that he had not killed yet. There is nothing scarier than you being alone in a house and hearing loud banging noises in the ceiling then the scattering of feet. It literally sounded like a bowling ball was falling from a couple feet up and landing on the pillars. Apparently it is the packrat pounding its tail, which I don’t know why they do it, but it is loud and scary. The pounding would always happen just about an hour apart, so right when I finally was starting to fall asleep the pound would happen again.

Packrat nests are full of goodies. Typically filled with different food sources for the rat and lots of different shiny items. So if you are missing something that you just can’t find… You can actually blame it on a packrat.

The reason why I bring this whole topic up is because my husband and I were cleaning up our backyard and I was moving our woodpile. While I was moving the woodpile I picked up a log and there was the biggest packrat I had ever seen. I let out a terrifying scream to which my husband came running, thinking that I had been hurt or seen a snake. When I told him that it was a packrat he grabbed his 22 and took aim and shot the rat. This was a big-boy rat and he had been getting fat off of our scraps that we throw in our decomposing bucket right next to the woodpile. He had ripped apart a couple items that I had left outside and turned it into his bed. However, now all our wood smells like rat and will probably take several weeks to get rid of the smell, but at least we got the varmint!

If you still don’t believe me, check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pack_rat

Update: 11/23/16. Packrats seem to come in cycles. Sometimes you’ll have them and then for a years you won’t. This year, we have had packrats and mice. Our best solution? We bought a jack russell terrier, and I’ll tell you what, they are amazing dogs for killing small animals, like rats and mice. If she doesn’t kill them, she at least scares them out for us to get a good shot at them.

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  1. Drinking my morning hot tea and reading your post. Unbelievable! The amazing thing is that you were brave enough to hold it up for a photo. That thing is huge!

  2. i once killed a nasty pack rat in my house (Shoshone Idaho) with a tennis racket….hahahahaha…yes they are stinky buggers”

  3. Here is a different take on Pack Rats and other little critters. Unless there is an infestation, they are easy to live trap. If you are of very gentle heart you will take the time to relocate them, 2-5 kms from home base in deep woods if possible. Their other name is Wood Rat and the forrest is their natural home. I just took one (who was nested under the house) to his new remote home this AM. Interestingly the musky (peeuuu) scent is completely gone. Also I have found over time that oil of Peppermint is an excellent mouse repellent, not sure about the rats. Stay tuned. Kat

    1. problem is with you “gentle hearts” is you tend to put your problem critters on other people’s property, (or near enough to infest said neighbor). show some respect for others and destroy these desease carrying rodents; they’ll never be on an endangered species list!

  4. I have MAJOR packrat problems ! They”ve moved in under my double wide home and seem to be well established. They”ve chewed the wiring of my wifes new car and cost me almost four hundred dollars to get it fixed! and to top it all off my truck almost caught on fire due to a rat nest in the engine compartment. I was lucky on that one! I bought some snap traps and set them out using peanut butter as bait. I also,have a live trap set for them but,no luck as of yet.Iv”e traped and killed one so far but,Iv”e noticed that there are signs of more.Will set more traps tonite before work and maybe I”ll get lucky. Any other suggestions on using types of bait ??? I”ve tried peanut butter,oatmeal, and tuna fish so far! I”m begining to feel like Bill Murrey in caddy shack those varmint cong.

    1. Alan, From what I’ve heard pack rats hate carrots. If you put a carrot in the trap they will actually go and remove the carrot (we have killed many this way). Rats like prunes, so you can put a prune in the trap and possibly get them that way. The typical way we get rid of them is aluminum foil. Wrap the foil around trigger (they like shiny objects). However, sometimes rats get smart to our plans and you need to take it a step further. Rats will sometimes jump when a trap is triggered and escape the snap. If you put the trap inside a bucket on it’s side or in a large pipe then they can’t jump when the trap goes off. If all else fails, our neighbor has wiener dogs and they love to kill rats or a rat terrier (hence the name).

  5. Put the bait under a live trap where the flap is that closes it. The rat will come in stand on the flap and dig for the bait under the trap 🙂 we used an oreo cookie for bait.

  6. nevadaville wes.

    I’m in a ghost town in Colorado. 9,150′ elev. saw my first pack rat and it is twice as big is the one in your picture. It moved in under my stairs last fall. I’ll try my coyoet trap this spring. thanks.

  7. Packrats are a real nuisance. I have battled these critters for years. The best way to get them is to build a rat box. Make a heavy box of wood 8″x8″x16″ (outside measurement, mine is made of 3/4 inch pine and 3/4 inch plywood), with one end closed. Two victor snap rat traps should slide easily into the box to the closed end, have the bait closest to the open end. Squish a raisin into each bait pedal and then tie it securely with string, I use kite string. Arm the traps and then carefully slide them into the box using a stick, don’t want to accidently get snapped. Set the box where your rats are. Mr. rat will discover the box in the night and can’t resist going into it to approach the yummy raisins on the bait pedals. He tugs at one and wham. Snap rat traps easily can take out a pack rat when used this way, the box makes them approach the bait pedals with their nose so they are positioned to be euthanized instantly. Without the box it is very hard to get a pack rat as they climb over the trap, bump it, etc, and it goes off without catching them. I put a handle of metal (bent plumbers metal bracket material) on the top of my box for carrying and checking.

  8. I have put the “blue blocks” around outside, then put 1/2 bucket of water with a board leading up to it. They eat the blue blocks and are thirsty, then crawl up the board to the water and cannot climb back out of the water. Didn’t check it for a couple of days, and there were 3 packrats in there…had to wear a mask to dispose of them…stinky! This has worked well for us, but we don’t have animals. Got the blue blocks at Tractor Supply.

  9. They nest in trees in Kansas. At the base or a few feet up. The ones off the ground burn very well. We just wait until we have snow or ice cover. Start it with a propane extended torch, stand back and wait to shoot when they come out.

  10. We are in Eastern Washington state and I am now certain we have a packrat after reading this post! We have had a very strong skunk smell around our house, but I’ve never seen any skunks! I’ve also heard rustling around on the porch in our camping gear we had stored there but couldn’t find anything. Then, I heard chewing beneath the floor of our house. I was walking around right on top of it and it didn’t even stop! It sounds like it is trying to come up through the floor! So here is my dilemma, I can’t get under my house to the area I have heard it. Would placing a trap just on the other side of the wall under our house work? I can’t get to it, but the rat probably can, right?

    1. If you can find the potential entrance where the rat is getting through is your best bet. I would definitely test a few spots by putting out some rat traps with a carrot or prunes, even if they trip the trap, you at least know where they are coming from! Good luck!

  11. I put out rat traps in the evening near the back of the house and tied a prune to it with fishing line, since I read they will sometimes grab food and jump away. We caught him within two hours! We were outside, not even 15′ from the trap when we heard it snap. Nearly 15″ from tip of his nose to tip of his tail! Thank you so much for the post!

  12. Thank you for posting this article.

    Although we had had pack rats before, I never smelled this skunk like odor we have had developing as of late. We thought maybe it was our septic tank but we know we have a pack rat because our small dog wrestled him up one odd day and I saw it running away across the top of the wall crowning and scurry down its, half its size, hole in the corner of an open closet.

    Our advantage is that we saw where it went in the hole. We can plan accordingly and bait and trap there.

    If it weren’t for your article, we would be replacing two wax rings (toilet repairs) and pumping our septic tank. Cause, no, we don’t have skunks in this area either, so I knew it wasn’t that. Have a funny story about real skunks too…lol
    Nor do we live by any weed lovin’ hippies, just saying…lol

    Thanks again for being a source of solution!

  13. Omg!!! I’ve been playing cat and mouse with this pack rat for 3 years! It lives under the bath tub and in my office. This year it has actively taken over my office in the back of our house!
    Just this year, It has stolen my Hallmark angels, a kaleidoscope, ate a box of theraflu, 8 bags of coughdrops, azo pills, menopause pills, albutural tubes, a tube of benadryl, all my Scentsy wax, 13 national geographics, 5 Christmas stockings, a shower curtain, $300 of bait, poison and traps and a partridge in the pear tree! We installed lap boards around the closet walls, it snapped a big trap and draged it into it’s lair!!
    We do have an abundance of skunks, but I thought it weird the smell was only in my office. I had no idea the had the same smell.
    It has now eaten threw the lap boards and ate a xlarge man’s sweater. It’s pooping right next to the sasquatch size sticky trap!! I saw it once and it was the size of an adult rabbit! Hence the name godzilla rat!!!
    I just picked up all the traps and poison and put my pit bull in there. Lol Maybe she can get the sap sucker!!! Lol

    1. try a 5 gallon bucket with one gallon of water in it, put a little peanut butter on the rim and a stick or some thing on the out side so they can climb part way up. this has worked for me to catch packrats and deer mice. I caught over eighty mice last year using this method. (check daily)

  14. I don’t think they do rat-sized ones, yet I have two or three electric mouse traps, the mouse goes inside (it can’t get out as it’s stuck in there), when it goes to the bait sitting on the metal plate, pfzzzzz, mouse is dead, and a red light lets you know it got him. Pick up with a carrier bag, invert trap and flip the lid open, the carcass will drop into the bag. Tie the bag, place it in another sack, and it can go into household waste.

    I’ve also seen great results with this easy homemade trap: cut 20 inches of drain pipe, in the middle cut hole about 4 inches square and place bait inside. Now cut 18 inch larger pipe and copy first, place this over smaller pipe and turn the smaller inside pipe so the cut hole cant be seen. By turning the inside pipe so both holes are seen you can refill the inside small pipe. There’s no harm to larger animals as they cant get into the smaller pipe to eat, works better weighted down with a stone or something.
    I can’t upload a pic, but it does work and also by pulling the smaller pipe out you can discard without touching, then re-bait. Should work on ratpacks also.

  15. Tie butchers string ( cotton not plastic ) to the bait holder and dip it in melted cheese or peanur butter. When they are licking at it or chewing, their get their teeth caught. If yoy make a cardboard tunnel with the trap taped or tied in it you will often catch mice, rats etc just because they like tunnels.

  16. Have had packrats off and on for two years they are destroying my wiring in my cars they seem to have there favoret ones 93 rx7 and 91 300zxtt,my method is live trap with bread. They hate the sun and 100+ temps

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