Managing golf course wildlife — including whitetail deer, beavers, muskrats and Canada geese — is a tall order. Here are some tips from a nuisance wildlife control operator who is also a golf course grounds employee.
The golfing “experience” encompasses many things and needs to satisfy all levels of players — from recreational to the aspiring pro. Clearly, the landscape is an integral part of that experience — not just because it is part of the actual game but because it is part of the aesthetics as well. When it comes to enjoyment and enhancement of the sport, the landscape doesn’t just include physical features and the flora but it includes the fauna as well. While the slap of a beaver tail or the site of a mature whitetail buck in the rut can provide that “natural” enhancement for superintendents, these animals also can provide a challenge when their populations and/or actions officially designate that animal as a nuisance pest.
Many superintendents oversee spectacular landscapes on relatively small budgets. Oftentimes wildlife management is a secondary concern but leaving wildlife unchecked is a common mistake and can be detrimental, resulting in fewer rounds being played on the course. Seriously, who wants to golf on a course where you are constantly dodging goose “pellets”?
Managing wildlife on a golf course requires knowing the natural history of the wildlife on the course, such as reproductive capabilities, mating seasons and how quickly damage can occur. The most cost-effective strategy for managing wildlife is for the course’s management to utilize various hunting and trapping seasons to keep populations in check. That said, finding the right person to do the hunting and trapping can be tricky. It really is not a wise move for management to ask clients or members because there will be too much in-fighting among those members who hunt/trap while those against these tatics will try to prevent the management of wildlife through these means. This then ties management’s hands when a problem does occur.
Course employees with outdoor experience are the first place to look because they know the landscape, and will know where to set up traps or a tree stand that will be effective and out of the public eye. Also, employees will be familiar with the dynamics/politics of the course so they will know and understand when they can take game and when to cease operations. Pest management professionals and professional nuisance wildlife control operators (NWCOs) also can help in this regard. NWCOs are licensed by various state natural resource departments (DNR); many pest management professionals also perform nuisance animal control. But sometimes, the scope of wildlife control on a golf course is out of the area of expertise of a pest management professional. In those cases, the services of a NWCO may need to be sought out. These professionals will know all of the applicable wildlife regulations, if additional permits will need to be obtained, if a site visit by the state or federal wildlife authority will be necessary and in general help management to shape a wildlife management plan for a course. For example, DNR site visitations usually only are necessary when obtaining a permit to take certain nuisance species outside the regular season, so if the course’s management is uncomfortable with this then you will be restricted to the regular seasons.
What follows is a review of the wildlife pests that are often found on golf courses — and how to manage these animals.
Whitetail Deer. Depending on the amount of open space vs. wooded areas on the course, you may not see too many deer until the rut or mating season but trust that on a 200+ acre golf course, they are there. If you are seeing deer consistently during the day — especially in summer — then there is an overpopulation. Typically deer damage noticed by the public is in the form of ornamental plants that are literally eaten down to the stems in a single night. But to golf course management, just as important are the frequent hoof prints dug into the greens, which can take several weeks to heal properly.
Prevention is the first step with deer and there are dozens of ornamental plants and shrubs that not only look great, are colorful and that deer find unpalatable. For example, witch hazel, which blooms with bright yellow flowers, is not on the “preferred foods” list. In fact if you see deer eating witch hazel, willows, Russian olive or Colorado blue spruce (to name a few) then the deer on the course are literally starving. On the other hand maples (especially striped and sugar), dogwood, apple, cedar, yews and arborvitae are especially attractive. Because deer damage is so common there are many websites that feature lists of “plants deer don’t like” to help in this endeavor.
If the prevention method doesn’t work then the next step is to turn to reducing the population. With deer you need to think ahead and take advantage of this year’s hunting seasons to have an impact on next year’s flower beds. The use of firearms (rifle and shotgun) will attract too much attention (even during the regular hunting seasons) so bowhunting is the best option for controlling deer. (As a side note, the best way to combat excessive trespassing and poaching deer is to invite one or two bowhunters since they tend to protect their “spots” and generally don’t encroach on one another.)
Deer can be bowhunted during the regular season, which generally starts in October and runs through mid-December. During this time, bowhunters use their own carcass tags so make sure that they have permits to take the does because that is the fastest population reducer. Also, during the regular season, NWCOs can be hired without any intervention from the state wildlife management authority (DNR). During the regular season, the course I hunt is literally abandoned and 99 percent of the time I’m alone, which makes for ideal conditions for nuisance wildlife work. If you are in warmer climates and don’t have to “shut down” during seasonal periods, then the deer culling will have to be done at night.
If the deer damage requires immediate attention (and is outside the prescribed hunting seasons or needs to be done at night) then the superintendent can apply for a nuisance wildlife permit specifically for deer. The problem with this method, as I have observed, is that in order to obtain the nuisance deer permit most DNRs require site visits, although in some states the NWCO can issue the permit even if they are not DNR personnel. Having dealt with several course superintendents, site visits do not seem to be the preferred method so it’s important to keep a handle on things so the situation never gets that out of hand.
Beaver. The largest North American rodent possesses one of the most prized fur coats and, as a result, is highly regulated by the DNR. As with deer, nuisance beaver can be trapped during the regular trapping seasons, which are also in the fall/winter. But they also can be trapped outside those seasons with an additional DNR-issued permit. Beaver damage is usually very obvious even to the untrained eye. Flooding the fairway from a plugged drainage culvert is just the tip of the iceberg because they can chew through trees — which can cause fallen trees and flooding. Beaver are nocturnal with the ability to raise the water level 6 to 7 feet from blocking a single water source. I have stood up to my shoulders in water on a 2-foot diameter culvert pipe trying to pull out debris to bring the water level down to a level conducive for setting traps. Beaver lodges and dams generally will not occur in isolated ponds in the middle of the course because they are too wide open.
There are several methods for getting rid of nuisance beaver. Please note that in almost all cases nuisance beaver will have to be destroyed either by the trapper or the trap itself because there is really no where they can be taken where they won’t cause the same problem (and they are by no means endangered).
The first is shooting but the window of opportunity on any given day is about a half hour since they are nocturnal and you may only see them for about a hour before sunset. Trapping is the best method for removal. The first and probably the most popular beaver trap is the 330 Conibear. These traps are lethal, designed to break the neck and vertebrae for a very quick ending and are placed in the water in the main runways where beaver can swim through them. As you can imagine, these traps also can be dangerous to the user so if you have no experience with them, let a professional trapper handle a nuisance beaver situation.
Foot hold traps also can be used but the newest beaver trap is a cable restraint, which is simply a loop of airline cable placed in runways similar to the Conibear and then anchored to a nearby tree. Both the foothold and cable restraint are live traps so the captured beaver will have to be dispatched with a firearm. Make sure then the traps are checked early enough to be able to use a firearm.
Muskrat. Muskrat are simply “little beavers” in that they are aquatic and can cause similar damage (but on a smaller scale). Typically, muskrat burrow in the embankments from relatively still ponds and creeks. Their tunnel systems can be extensive and can cave in pond edges and with heavy mowers and other equipment going over the top, that is an obvious hazard. Muskrat, like beaver, are herbivores and are often after new grass shoots, which are pulled from underneath the ground, causing dead spots.
Muskrat are relatively easy to trap (use the Conibear but a smaller size [160 or 110]). Muskrat get used to Conibear traps quickly so these sets have to be constantly changed to different locations. The Conibear can be set over holes in the embankments or near the lodges or you can look for pathways in the weeds and place the traps in the those trails. There are also foothold traps that can be used and are set on a floating platform that takes advantage of the muskrat’s curious nature when they try to get on top.
As with beaver, additional permits are needed if the damage and removal is occurring outside the hunting/trapping seasons. The main difference with muskrat permits is that they usually don’t require site visits and permits are simply faxed.
Canada Geese. This bird in my opinion causes more damage on golf courses than any other species because of the droppings, molting feathers and constant eating of new grass shoots. Of the four species highlighted here, these are the most regulated because not only do the state wildlife authorities have a hand in their management but because they are migratory, so does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, both of which want to know what you are doing in regards to these birds.
As with the others listed here, the most efficient method is to utilize the hunting season for geese to help control their population to acceptable levels. But those seasons may not correspond to a time of year where a camouflaged hunter hunkered down in a blind with a firearm is acceptable. The hunter will have to have previously completed a waterfowl identification course and purchase a waterfowl stamp from the local post office. (In fact, the driving force behind this article was a story from a neighboring course where a member literally took a shotgun out [at 8:30 a.m. when other golfers and maintenance workers were out] and shot a Canada goose on the course!) With that in mind more than likely you will have to obtain permits from the three mentioned agencies to eradicate nuisance geese during a more desirable time frame.
Clearly, there has to be another method other than the use of firearms to control geese (which usually doesn’t mesh with country club life). There are some NWCOs who have specially trained dogs used to harass Canada geese until they move on. Harassment also can be done with a “starter pistol” (like one would use to start a track and field event) which shoots fireworks and, done often enough, can cause geese to move on. Also, there are more long-term techniques such as egg addling, which kills the embryos inside eggs, reducing the population in the long run.
In some limited/small-scale population reduction situations, such as golf courses, birth control for a few types of wildlife (geese and pigeons in particular) can be an effective control method as well. Additionally, there are repellents on the market that once applied as a turf fertilizer, make the grass unpalatable so geese move on.
Check with your distributor to see if these products are available in your area. Note too that in any of these application situations, the NWCO would have to have a pesticide applicator’s permit.
Final Thoughts. Wildlife management involves not only the actual hunting/trapping techniques but some legal and ethical issues (as well as the political game). These are just four examples of the most prolific nuisance animals on golf courses although clearly there are other examples. Woodchucks, fox and coyote also present challenges and depending on the extent of the superintendent’s responsibilities, you may have to deal with squirrels and raccoons in the clubhouse or the installation of bat boxes and bird houses.
The author is owner of C&C Wildlife Management, Delmar, N.Y. In addition, he has been a grounds employee of a local golf and country club for the past seven years. He has an associate degree in wildlife technology from SUNY Cobleskill, and a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from West Virginia University. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to Learn More?
Are you a pest management professional looking for more information about wildlife control? The National Wildlife Control Operators Association (www.nwcoa.com) and your state Department of Natural Resources can help you learn more.
In addition, there are a number of resources available for consultation, including local cooperative extension offices and state and federal wildlife management offices. Learn more about the author’s firm, C&C Wildlife Management, at www.ccwildlife.com.