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.

Relocating and releasing animals after a successful capture can be problematic.

Pros and Cons

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

Here are some of the good points of this product:

  • There are different sizes for different animals.
  • It stands up well to the elements.
  • It is simple and safer to have around kids than conventional traps.

Now let's balance out those observations by mentioning some of the cons:

  • This reviewer found the quality of their customer service questionable when he contacted the company.
  • Then there is the thorny issue of what to do with the pest after capture.

Product 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 is 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 will sometimes be caught accidentally. The good news is that they will be trapped unharmed and can be brought to a local Humane Society if an owner cannot be located (but do check around in the neighborhood first as much as possible 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 (a small animal may be able to squeeze through the openings in a large trap and escape).

In addition to eradicating rodents and other pests from your garden, using such live animal traps can be great family fun, allowing children to view wildlife that they otherwise may never see. The way the trap works is simple and relatively safe (although adults should take charge of releasing trapped animals, with children kept in a protected location). 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 trapped 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. The most likely time of day for most creatures to be caught is nighttime.

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 (if the bait is small enough; for example, birdseed).
  4. On the ground just outside both doors 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. There are two considerations here:

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

The safety issue comes up even before you conduct the actual release. Remember, you will be transporting the pest in your vehicle (assuming that it is legal in your area to do so). You certainly do not want the trap tipping over while you are driving, allowing the critter to get loose in your vehicle. Put on a pair of sturdy gloves and carefully move the trap into your vehicle. Set it down somewhere where it will remain stable while you are driving.

 Throwing a heavy blanket (or something similar) over the trap will help in two respects:

  1. The darkness will calm the animal down some. 
  2. The weight will help stabilize the unit.

Place something flat and heavy along each side of the trap so that, in the event of your taking a curve too sharply, you have extra protection against the trap tipping over.

Disclaimer: Animals are unpredictable: You're on your own regarding safety; this reviewer assumes no liability. Neither he 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 (even though, in most cases, the victim is more scared of you than you are of it). The reviewer can only tell you how most live-trappers release the quarry. They typically:

  1. Raise the latch 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, you may need to lift the door, yourself. There are bars on the side of the trap that serve as a mechanism for opening the doors.
  5. If the pest simply refuses to budge, even with an open door to freedom staring it in the snout, then you really have your work cut out for you. Some people tip over the trap in a case like this (standing at a safe distance and using a long pole, for example), in an attempt to get the critter to stir.
  6. Regardless, the guiding principle here should be to put as much distance as you can between yourself and the exiting animal.
  7. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Think ahead, leaving your rose-colored glasses at home. What if the animal should charge you upon release, with the intention of biting you? Doesn't it make sense to come to the job dressed appropriately? Even if it is the middle of summer, do not show up for the release operation with exposed skin. Depending upon the pest in question, wearing heavy-duty garden gloves, thick boots, and goggles may be advisable.

Note that skunks are a special case. When releasing a skunk, you will have to take measures so as to avoid getting sprayed.

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 it is advisable 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 of 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?

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