The power of reason, the top of the heap
We're the ones who can kill the things we
And now the day is come
Soon he will be released
We're building the perfect beast
Don Henley 
With apologies to Mr. Henley, who likely didn't anticipate his lyrics would apply to raccoons, this seems to be exactly what I'm doing lately with my trapping efforts. My wife thinks my motto should now be "Making Smarter Raccoons." I wouldn't disagree.
We're in a sort of arms race, the neighborhood raccoons and I. Every time I concoct a strategy to trap them, they create a countermeasure that defeats it. It's simultaneously humbling and -- I confess -- a bit amusing. If this was a TV game show -- say, Are You Smarter Than a Varmint -- I'd be exiting before the first commercial break.
I relearned this lesson earlier this week when I discovered that the sardine-baited trap I'd put out was (1) sprung, (b) empty, and (&*$$%) missing its sardines. It had obviously been rudely treated:
As you can see, the bungee cord that I used to keep the trap in place didn't accomplish its only assigned task. The entire trap had been shifted by something, and in the process the trapdoor was sprung. The can of sardines that had been placed beneath the trap and on top of the black mat was, of course, gone. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that I had started placing the bait under the trap instead of inside of it, because too many prospective prisoners had figured out how to abscond with it without tripping the trap...more "one-step-ahead hacking.")
I assumed the culprit was of a raccoonish persuasion, and the game camera footage proved my assumption. Shortly after baiting the trap, a raccoon appeared and got to work hacking my system.
Raccoons wear masks for good reason; they're thieves, and quite good at their thievery.
I have to admit some grudging admiration for their cleverness and determination. The following video shows the raccoon trying one approach, and dropping it for another when the first one proved unfruitful. (Note that most of the footage is sped up by 200%...it's only about two minutes long, for those with short attention spans, like me.)
I refused to admit defeat, especially with the reputation of the entire human race riding on my efforts. Darn it, I AM smarter than a large rodent with a walnut-sized brain and goofy tail.
Since the raccoons had obviously clued into the fact that they could dig under the trap to get the sardines, my own walnut-sized brain came up with the brilliant idea of sinking a fence into the ground around the cage. I did that, and reset the trap. The following morning, the results were the same: no raccoon; no sardines; no human superiority.
Back to the drawing board. This is what I came up with:
Some people modify cars, some modify guns. Me? I'm into trap mods.
I was particularly proud of what I term the "trip plate guard." The raccoons have been successfully reaching into the trap from the outside and hitting the plate that causes the door to slam shut, thus preventing them from, you know, actually coming into the trap. Now, feel free to debate whether they are doing this on purpose or accidentally, but keep in mind that they're evil little thieves with larceny in their hearts. [Ed. -- Anthropomorphize much?]
My countermeasure is simple: I bent some screen mesh into a sort of shield and wired it in place so that a raccoon's reach couldn't get to the trip plate. Note that the shield couldn't just be a patch wired tight against the cage, as that would interfere with the trap's mechanism. Note to Havahart®: I'm happy to license this design improvement for a modest fee, say, sardines for life...?
I also abandoned the idea of placing the bait under the trap as the raccoons have definitely learned to dig underneath it to get to them. I'll take my chances with them trying to grab the sardines inside the cage without tripping the trap.
Finally, I slid a 4' length of rebar through the bars near the entrance to the trap as a way of further stabilizing it. On at least one occasion, the trap had been sprung by a particularly aggressive jostling, and I hoped this would eliminate that possibility. (I could put a second bungee cord at the front of the trap, but the rebar was a quick-and-dirty fix.)
So, did my awesome trap mods pay off, or did I simply extend the hours of the Fire Ant Raccoon Evening Buffet? Here's the video answer, showing the previous night's failure followed by last night's...well, you'll have to watch it to find out.
For now, advantage: humans. We'll see how long that lasts.
By the way, I did realize last night that the description of the trap as a "humane raccoon trap" is indeed appropriate for one reason I hadn't thought about. The design ensures that the trapped animal is protected from rain and snow by providing a solid roof and wall at one end of the trap. The raccoon I released this morning was extremely annoyed, but at least it wasn't soaked by the overnight drizzle.