Murder in the Chicken Coop: To Catch a Masked Thief


Many years ago, right after I had acquired several fancy breeds of chickens, ducks and pigeons, I had something very strange happen. One morning when I went out to the shed to feed them, I opened the door only to find the floor strewn with feathers and half of my birds dead. Several cochin bantams and call ducks were dead with their heads missing and ripped apart. Also, my chocolate Indian runner duck and my black one were dead. My show king pigeons did not escape the slaughter either.

My first thought was, What in the world did this? All the animals in the past that killed my poultry raced through my mind: opossums, raccoons, foxes, even rats, but nothing like this. It must have been a mink, I reasoned. I lived right on the banks of Cypress Creek, so I figured that’s what it had to be. A weasel couldn’t have wreaked this much havoc, but I still wasn’t sure.

Since nothing quite like this had happened before, I was determined to find out what it was and make sure that it never happened again. I began searching the pen to find where the animal could have made its entry. After many minutes of searching, I discovered where the animal must have squeezed through. It was at the wire covering the door near the ground. I knew I must trap the animal or it would keep coming back until it had killed every bird. If I knew when it would come back, I could be waiting for it with my rifle, but I never knew what night it would return, let alone what hour. I had already lost a few hundred dollars’ worth of birds that took me months to locate and purchase, and I wasn’t about to lose any more.

Not having a trap at the time, I decided to make one. I built a small cage and placed it just inside the entrance to the shed where the poultry came in and out. I then designed a sliding door over the entrance, and a small platform just inside to act as a trigger mechanism. When the animal returned and entered the shed—thinking he’d have another easy meal—he would step on the trigger, causing the door to fall and slam shut behind him.

I did not have to wait long to see if it worked, for the next night, he returned. The following morning when I went to the shed I discovered the trap empty, but the sliding door was down. Perhaps the animal tripped the trap without going inside, I thought. Upon closer examination, I discovered that indeed my trap had worked, for there were teeth and claw marks all over the trap door from the inside. I had captured it, but it had escaped by lifting the door. By the teeth and claw marks and the lifting of the heavy door, it looked as if I had captured a 30- or 40-pound wolverine or some other large, vicious animal.

I was more determined than ever to find out what it was. I immediately called an elderly gentleman I knew, who raised poultry. He told me that he was going that weekend to a poultry trade show where a man he knew designed and built live-capture traps. He had used his traps and never had a problem and said he would pick one up for me.

Later that weekend, I made the trip over to his farm, thanked him and took my new trap back home. This time the animal would be caught and the mystery solved.

Baiting and setting the trap behind the pen, I went back into the house with high hopes of capturing this elusive animal.

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The next morning, I got dressed quickly and rushed out to the chicken house to see if indeed I had something in the trap.

I walked around back of the shed and saw nothing in the trap, but the door was down. Thinking it must have bumped the trap or tried to get in another way, which caused the door to fall, I came closer. As I bent down to check the trap, I was amazed. I had caught it again! The trap had hooks, which when the door was tripped would catch hold of the door and hold it fast. Whatever this was, it was able to bend the hook in one corner of the door, squeeze through and make its escape.

What in the world is going on?! I asked. This animal is like Houdini. It must be possessed or something. I now had a good idea what it was, but never had I seen one this clever or this lucky.

That’s it! I said, angrily to myself. He thinks he’s so smart. I’ll show him who is smarter. I’m going to go high-tech.

Looking through my junk box, I found an old light switch and lots of wire. I then grabbed a long extension cord and a discarded bluebird house. I also found a small piece of plywood and some small mesh cage wire. I nailed a couple of boards that were sharpened at one end onto the birdhouse. I then took it around to the door of the pen. This is where the animal had been getting in, so this is where I would set my trap. After fastening the light switch upside down to the side of the birdhouse, I drove the stakes into the ground, thus anchoring it snuggly. I used the extension cord, and took the electrical wire and connected it to the light switch. This ran to my bedroom, where I would be sleeping. Taking the small mesh wire, I bent it double, so it would act as a spring. Placing the piece of plywood on it, I made a ramp up to the hole in the door of the pen, where the varmint had been coming and going. I laid the plywood gently on the light switch, so if anything stepped onto the wood it would trip the switch—the switch’s wire ran to my house, thus turning on a radio beside my bed. Everything was now set, and after a couple of tests to make sure it worked, I grinned with anticipation. This time, I thought, I will catch him right in the chicken pen.

I did not have to wait long to see if it worked. I had just gone to bed at about 10, and only a few minutes later I heard the radio beside me come on. He’s here, I thought. He’s going in the pen to try and get into the shed to kill more of my birds.

Jumping up, I hurriedly grabbed a flashlight and my pump rifle, which was loaded and ready. Rushing as quietly as I could out the kitchen door, I ran to the door of the pen. Shining the light all around the pen, I saw nothing. Suddenly, I heard the sound of claws on wire. It was in the pen! Shining the light higher, I saw something move at the top of the pen and there it was. It was clinging to the top of the pen trying to find a way out. Immediately, I raised the rifle and fired. The animal was hit, but still clung to the wire. Firing once more, it let go of the top of the pen and fell with a thud to the ground. Finally, it was dead. Opening the door, I went inside, picked it up and examined it. It was a female and it had been caught even before it had encountered me, for two of its hind toes were missing, evidently from a steel trap. It had been so clever and had outsmarted everyone. That is until now, until I went high-tech and caught this thief—a very smart and sly raccoon.