Live Animal Traps: Review of the Havahart

Setting Instructions, Assessment of Effectiveness

Image of a Havahart live animal trap.
This Havahart live animal trap is the right size to catch chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, opossums, and more. David Beaulieu

The live animal traps best known to the general public in North America are those put out by the Havahart company. These traps are fun and durable. They are also effective live-trapping devices, in terms of how well they work to capture a pest. Since pests are trapped unharmed and later released (relocated), the humane sometimes prefer this method of garden pest control. However, the devil is in the details.

Releasing and relocating animals after a successful capture can be problematic.

Pros, Cons, and Product Description of Havahart Traps

Since Havahart sells the best-known live animal traps, I will refer to their product line in order to describe the devices in question and introduce you to their pros and cons.

Pros

  • Different sizes for different animals.
  • Stands up to the elements.
  • Simple and safer to have around kids than conventional traps.

Cons

  • I found the quality of their customer service questionable when I contacted the company.
  • The thorny issue of what to do with the pest after capture.

Description

  • The Havahart Company provides tips for selecting the correct size and instructions for using the trap.
  • Traps have two doors. Havahart.com explains when it's better to use one door, and when to use both.
  • Construction: sturdy wire mesh, galvanized for maximum resistance to rust and corrosion.
  • Fully assembled, Havahart live traps are ready for use as pest control devices upon delivery or purchase at the store.
  • Havahart live animal traps come in models sized for a variety of animals, from mice to coyotes.
  • Smaller sizes trap mice, moles, voles, chipmunks and other small rodents.
  • Medium sizes trap rats, squirrels, weasels, ferrets, rabbits, mink and other medium-sized varmints.
  • Large sizes trap raccoons, woodchucks (groundhogs), skunks, opossums and other larger vermin.
  • The largest sizes are for porcupines, armadillos, foxes, coyotes.
  • Nuisance dogs and stray cats can be trapped unharmed and brought to a local Humane Society (although you may want to check around a bit in the neighborhood first to find out if any neighbors are missing a pet).

Assessment of the Feasibility of Using Live Traps for Pest Control

Havahart live animal traps are relatively inexpensive, with most traps being in the $30-$80 price range (a few of the larger ones cost more). That may sound like a lot of money to some people, but consider the costs in money, energy, and frustration involved in having pests damage the plants that you're growing. Prices depend on the size of the unit. You'll want to purchase one that is in proportion to the size of your prey.

In addition to eradicating rodents and other pests from your garden, using such live animal traps can be great family fun, allowing children to experience wildlife up-close. The way the trap works is simple and safe enough for even kids to use (although adults should take charge of releasing trapped animals, with children at a safe distance).

Provided that you have a workable plan for what to do with the critter after its capture, live-trapping pests can be an effective option for minimizing plant damage in your garden (but see below for more about problems associated with the release of animals). Among other things, for the release (and the overall operation) to be effective, relocation will have to take place several miles away from your home; otherwise, the pest may well turn up again -- like a bad penny.

A How-To on Live-Trapping: Location, Setting, Baiting, Release

When you plan a fishing expedition, your intended destination is not just any old place, right? If you want to catch fish, then you should go where the fish will be biting. Well, in a sense, it's the same with live-trapping pests. Place your trap where the pests are most likely to be.

Do a little detective work first. Where are the pests that are bothering your garden most likely coming from? Are they coming from a patch of woods or a thicket that borders your garden? Most pests are secretive. They will prefer to travel territory where human eyes are least likely to spot them. A quiet area with lots of brush around is a likely travel route for them -- and that's where you'll want to locate your trap.

To bait, simply set the door(s) to the open position, apply bait, set the tripping mechanism, and set the door(s) to the trapping position. Camouflage the unit for best results. Exact baiting techniques vary. Some people place the bait:

  1. On the tripping mechanism (tray)
  2. On the floor of the cage leading up to the tripping mechanism
  3. Under the trap
  4. On the ground just outside the door(s) of the trap
  5. Some combination of the above

Alas, all of the foregoing is relatively straightforward compared to the final task to consider: releasing the trapped animal afterwards. I say this for two reasons:

  1. Your safety: If the job is not handled properly, the animal could bite you.
  2. The question of where to release the pest.

Disclaimer: Animals are unpredictable: you're on your own regarding safety; I assume no liability. Neither I nor anyone else can inform you of a way to release a pest from a live animal trap that is guaranteed to be safe. As soon as you open a trap door, the captured animal could dart out and head straight for you, mad as hell over its imprisonment. I can only tell you how most live-trappers release the quarry. They typically:

  1. Raise the bar that secures one of the doors on the trap.
  2. The better door to choose is the door that points in the opposite direction from where you plan to run afterwards.
  3. If the pest is vigorous, this may be enough: the animal may well crash into the door, thereby raising it enough to secure its release.
  4. If the animal is more docile or simply refuses to budge, some people tip over the trap (using a long pole, for example), which sets the door ajar (although this may well set both doors ajar, so be careful).
  5. Regardless, the guiding principle here should be to put as much distance as you can between yourself and the exiting animal.

Note that skunks are a special case. Releasing a skunk usually involves throwing an old rug (or something similar) over the trap first, so as to avoid spraying.

There's also the matter of finding a suitable location for release. This could be the thorniest problem of them all, since your town may have regulations that dictate what you may or may not do in this regard. In other words, in some cases, release options will not be in your control (which, for some of us, is always the most frustrating type of problem one can have). 

That's why I advise you to contact your local game commission or animal control center before you even buy a live animal trap, in the first place. Why go through all the bother and expense of buying and using the trap if you will ultimately be unable to get rid of the pest in a manner that is both convenient and effective?