Lately, I've seen a lot of discussion on various local social media about folks who are having issues with critters tearing up their lawns and/or living where they shouldn't be living (e.g. skunks declaring a homestead under a back yard deck). These discussions often contain a lot of good advice, as well as some that's ineffective (in my experience) and other that's just wrong. The real problem is that, as far as I can tell, there's not a single repository for advice backed up by local on-the-ground experience, hence this post. Google being the good servant it is, I trust that someone searching for trapping tips in the Texas Hill Country will find this article and try out some of the things I've learned since moving here.
Release responsibly. First, never set a trap if you won't be able to check it within the next twelve hours. It's inhumane to leave an animal in a trap for an extended period of time (and, yeah, I realize that some of you are simply going to exterminate what you trap, and that's certainly your prerogative, but while they're alive, be nice). Second, abide by the TPWD's regulations for releasing your animals, something that I confess I haven't always done due to the difficulty of tracking down property owners in undeveloped areas. Your best bet, if you live within city limits, is to call your local Animal Services department and have them deal with the trapped animal. This is especially true if you've trapped a skunk and don't want to simply release it (which, by the way, can be done safely if you're careful), or if the animal is behaving erratically, evidence that it may be rabid. I would also recommend getting Animal Services involved if you trap a fox...which is unlikely in my experience, but not impossible.
First, I probably should establish my bona fides as a trapper, although if you're a regular Gazette reader you've seen this many times before and can skip the next paragraph.
Before moving here in the late summer of 2017, I had never caught anything bigger than a lizard, nor had I any reason to do otherwise. But we moved into a house that backed up to a creek and was surrounded by a golf course and large vacant lots and wooded areas. We immediately were confronted with a seemingly endless parade of varmints dedicated to the proposition that our lawn was the animal kingdom's equivalent of a Golden Corral. Also, there was this.
Out of necessity, then, I became a trapper, and after just over a year, this is my scorecard:
In case my icons aren't intuitive, that's 17 raccoons, 24 armadillos, 7 possums, 4 skunks, and two house cats...more than 50 animals in all. So, perhaps I've gained some experience you'll find useful.
- Learn the Law. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is the state agency that regulates, among other things, "fur-bearing animal" trapping and hunting. The definition of "fur-bearing animal" includes the most commonly trapped animals in the Hill Country: raccoons, skunks, and possums (note that armadillos are not included). If any of these species are damaging your property, they fall into the category of "nuisance fur-bearing animals" and may be lawfully trapped by the property owner without any license or restriction. However -- and this is a big one -- trapped animals cannot be relocated to someone else's property without that property owner's permission. Visit TPWD's website to familiarize yourself with the relevant regulations.
- Identify your culprits. A lot of different animals live around here, and most of them are diggers or can otherwise damage your property. Squirrels dig tiny holes, but generally in flower beds or pots. Skunks dig holes, but not many and not too deep. Raccoons are worse than skunks about digging, but armadillos will make a literal minefield out of your yard, searching for grubs and worms. You need to figure out what's doing the damage in order to know what steps to take to mitigate it. Invest in a good game camera (I use a Moultrie) and set it out overnight near where you've spotted evidence of animal activity.
Not only will you be able to know for sure what you're dealing with, you might also have some interesting surprises.
- Get the right trap for the job. An effective armadillo trap probably won't work for a raccoon or skunk, and vice versa. For armadillos, I highly recommend this scented trap. Armadillos are creatures of habit and will often follow the same trail multiple nights in a row. Set this trap at night somewhere along where you first found the damage, and chances are you'll find an armadillo in it the next morning. It doesn't need to be baited; the scent (don't ask) embedded in the wood lures them in. They lumber blindly into the trap, hit the length of wood hanging down in the middle, and both ends of the trap drop down. The armadillo will bang around inside for a while, and then settle down and go to sleep.
For raccoons and skunks, I use a Havahart Live Animal trap, a wire trap that humanely imprisons animals for later release. The wire part is important; you want to be able to see if you've caught a skunk instead of a raccoon, for example. These traps are relatively inexpensive and are available at most hardware stores in the area. They do need to be baited. I've found that an open can of sardines is effective in luring fur-bearing varmints into the trap while being ignored by armadillos; other people have claimed success using cat food. (This might not be the best idea if you have a lot of cats in your neighborhood, although they'll eventually steer clear after spending a couple of nights in your trap.)
- Don't underestimate the capabilities of your foe. I've learned the hard way that I'm not always smarter than a raccoon, and I have grudging admiration for their ability to develop countermeasures for each of my trapping strategies. So, here are a couple of sub-lessons:
- If you place a raccoon trap in your yard, make sure you place it on something they can't dig through -- like a thick doormat -- and stake it to the ground. I use bungee cords front and back attached to tent stakes embedded in the ground (make sure the cords don't interfere with the trap mechanism). These are critical steps because they WILL attempt to dig their way through the floor of the trap and they WILL absolutely destroy the grass beneath the cage in the process. Raccoons are very active prisoners and they are able to roll a trap if it's not tied down and sometimes escape in the process.
- Raccoons are also inventive little thieves, so your bait should be placed as far back in the trap as possible to increase the likelihood that they'll step on the trip plate instead of reaching over it and absconding with a full can of delicious sardines. At some point, you may also discover that they've figured out a way to reach through the sides of the trap and pull out the bait a little at a time. I eventually customized my trap with wire mesh tied to the sides and end of the trap closest to the bait to prevent this behavior.