Problem Solving In The Wild

Features - Urban Wildlife Control Issue

The following case studies share how one wildlife control professional solved various challenging problems in the wild.

September 14, 2022

There isn’t a wildlife control technician out there who hasn’t had his rear end handed to him by a nuisance animal. Unlike Dudley Do-Right, the cartoon character of a Canadian Royal Mounted Police officer, sometimes you just don’t always “get your man” like you thought that you would. Animals have personalities and thought processes. No two are exactly alike. Some have experiences to draw upon that have educated them enough to stay out of cages and traps, while others seem to just know better.

Sometimes, as in pest control, simply switching up the bait will do the trick. I have one particular bait that I have used successfully for so long that it surprises me when an animal doesn’t dive right into the cage trap. I am so sure of this bait that it usually takes a while for me to realize that it will not work. When it happens, and I finally realize it, I am quick to switch things up. I am loyal to that bait until it doesn’t do the trick.

I had one wildlife control technician describe his “go to” bait as a “bigger, better buffet.” He threw everything but the kitchen sink in his cage traps, melding the sights and odors for the nuisance animals to take in. This seems like a lot of work to me, but it was second nature to him since he had been doing it so long. He seemed happy with the results and was a successful businessman.

GROUNDHOGS HATE RULES. We get a lot of calls for groundhog trapping. These nuisance animals will raid gardens, destroy flower beds, undermine cement pads and foundations and dig their burrow entrances in places that our clients or even their livestock will be in danger of stepping into. Groundhogs are generally fairly easy to catch. They are vegetarians and don’t shy away from entering a cage that’s sized appropriately. We use a common paste bait in the back of the cage, along with fruits or vegetables as an enticement to enter. Generally speaking, a big white leaf of cabbage will do the trick as a visual attractant.

A client called on us to capture and remove a groundhog that was visiting their property. This groundhog wasn’t there to eat. Their flowers and vegetables were untouched. The animal wasn’t even living on their property. It was showing up on a daily basis and sunning itself on their deck. We didn’t think twice about accepting the job and set a couple baited traps with our old standby baits. Days went by and the groundhog showed zero interest in our food offerings.

To trap second-guessing groundhogs, a mix of dirt and groundhog urine might do the trick.

The client actually sent a picture that they took of the animal sleeping within 2 feet of one of our cage traps. We switched baits and tried some more with the same results. At this point, I decided that I should look around the neighbor’s properties to see where the animal was living. When I found the burrow entrance and spoke with the neighbor, they had no interest in allowing me to set a cage trap in their backyard. I was stuck scratching my head, wondering how I was going to solve my client’s problem.

I decided to try something a bit different and stop trying to appeal to the animal’s appetite. I removed the two cage traps and replaced them both with two clean cage traps. In one, I put a chunk of salt in the back of the trap, along with half of a container of Morton’s table salt. In the other cage trap, I scooped up some dirt from the flower bed and placed the dirt behind the trap pan. I then soaked the soil with groundhog urine. (Perhaps you’re wondering where I got groundhog urine. You can buy it commercially or, if you trap enough groundhogs, you will be able to harvest some yourself.) I set the cages and crossed my fingers. Two hours later, my phone rang and the animal was in one of the traps! The groundhog was in the trap that contained the dirt and urine. Evidently it thought that it had the place to itself and just had to investigate the odors of an intruder.

Since that day, when we catch a groundhog and the trap is caked full of dirt, we save that dirt in a plastic ziplock storage bag for later use. This dirt contains the same odors that caused my nemesis groundhog to enter the cage and works well for daily trapping.

THE GRUBBING SKUNK DILEMMA. One of my least favorite calls is the skunk that is digging up a lawn so bad that it looks as if someone used a rototiller on it overnight. These skunks are digging for grubs and can destroy a lawn within a few nights. They don’t want fish. They don’t want marshmallows. They don’t want anything but grubs. If I set a cage trap up for a grubbing skunk, bait it with my standard skunk baits and catch the skunk — it’s time to go play the lottery; I figure that I’m one lucky guy! Skunks normally will enter a cage trap without too much hesitation, but a grubbing skunk generally shows no interest.

One particular grubbing skunk job had me pulling my hair out. The yard was a large, prestigious lawn with no fences between property lines. Ordinarily, you can see where a skunk is entering a yard under a fence and set a cage trap at that opening that will leave the skunk no option but to enter. Other times you can find where they are denning and set a cage trap there using the same method. Unfortunately, this yard had neither a fence nor a den site. The skunk was traveling a great distance to get there each night.

I explained to the client that this will be difficult, but I was willing to put forth the effort. He was willing to do anything as his beautifully manicured lawn was gradually being turned into what looked like a plowed field.

The first thing that I wanted to determine was the skunk’s habits. I didn’t know which direction the animal was coming from, so I utilized a couple of sheets of thin plywood. This plywood was cut into 8-foot strips, each being 12 inches wide. Using these plywood strips as a barrier (or fence) at his property line, I set them up end to end with about a foot between the edges. These 1-foot openings would allow the skunk to enter the yard. In order to determine which opening was being used, I placed thread between the openings to act as a visual indicator. When the thread was moved, I would know which opening the skunk was using as his travel route.

I got lucky as I had guessed the correct side of the yard to cordon off first. If I had enough plywood, I would have done the entire yard, but that would have taken much more time and much more plywood. My gamble paid off the first night.

Once I realized that the thread was disturbed, I set a cage trap directly behind the opening. The trap had no bait. I didn’t need bait because the skunk wanted the grubs in the yard behind the trap. It would enter the skunk funnel to get to the grubs.

The next night, the skunk repeated its habits. It came for the grubs, was funneled into a cage and was trapped. The client was ecstatic. My eldest son worked for me at that time, and I sent him to pick up the skunk. I figured that I would be smart and shift the chance of getting sprayed to him. He collected the payment and the $50 tip that the happy homeowner pulled from his wallet. Lesson learned: Sometimes I should personally see the job through to the end!

I have used this funnel technique a few times on grubbing skunks. That instance was the easiest and the quickest. They’re not always easy to funnel. It can take a lot of time, effort and extra material to get the job done. A frank talk with the homeowner is needed so that fees and expectations can be discussed.

I HIRED YOU TO TRAP RACCOONS! One challenging situation that I recall fondly took a little creative thinking, but the solution was very simple. The owner of a horse farm called and told me that she was being overrun with raccoons. She was concerned with a disease that raccoons can transmit to horses called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM).

I hadn’t heard of this equine disease, but I was happy to get a job in which I would be catching lots of raccoons!

When attempting to trap certain critters, think about the species’ individual traits to increase your chance of success.

I set several cage traps and waited for the morning with great anticipation. The next day proved very interesting. I hadn’t caught a single raccoon, but every trap except one held a skunk. I removed the skunks and replaced the traps. The next morning revealed more skunks in the traps. There were no raccoons. I discussed the situation with the client and asked if she was sure that she had raccoons. She showed me pictures of dark stables with raccoon eyes seemingly everywhere. I had to decide if I wanted to stay the course and catch all the skunks first or consider another method. The client was ambivalent about skunk removal. Although she wasn’t in love with the skunks, it was the raccoons that she was worried about. That weighed heavily in my decision making. I wanted to be efficient and effective. I wanted all those raccoons!

Some of the raccoons in the picture that she showed me were on top of some storage boxes that each individual stable had nearby. The idea hit me that even though skunks and raccoons share a few traits (both are nocturnal and are attracted to the same food and bait), skunks aren’t prone to climbing up on items. I removed the traps containing skunks once again and then set my cage traps on top of many of those containers.

The next day, more than half of the elevated cage traps contained raccoons and there were no skunks caught. I switched up the bait to a smelly fish lure, and this really increased the catch rate. After a few nights, I had the majority of the raccoons trapped and removed. Effectively elevating the cage traps so that the skunks couldn’t reach them turned a challenging job into a much easier one.

FINAL THOUGHTS. In wildlife control, all animals in a species are alike, but no two jobs are alike. By putting some thought into the job, you can be more effective, save yourself some time, trouble and money, and prove to the client that you are the superhero that they hired.

The author is owner of Advanced Wildlife Control (www.awcpro.com), Genesee County, Mich.