In times of yore, whenever there was an animal or pest issue everyone knew to just call the exterminator. Then sometime around the late 70’s or early 80’s a new specialist began to emerge; this was the beginning of the nuisance wildlife trapper.
I began my career as a nuisance wildlife trapper in 1993 after I more or less was “invited” to leave college. It was for the best, I was breeding pythons and collecting whatever exotics I could in my college apartment.
The Spring of 1993 my mom found an ad in the Chicago Tribune that said “Wildlife Trapper Wanted-will train. I went to the address immediately and practically begged for the job! I would have done the job for free, which is basically what happened. I got paid $6.25 an hour to get sprayed by skunks, stung by yellow jackets and peed on by raccoons…I loved it! I was officially a “nuisance wildlife trapper”.
After about 3 years I packed up everything I had learned about being a nuisance wildlife trapper and move to the Tampa Bay Area in Florida where I began the journey to have my own nuisance wildlife business.
[Read on] Over the years, the lines have been blurred a bit, however there is always a difference that many with experienced eyes can tell; there are trappers (also called “wildlife guys”) and there are pest control guys.
I admit, most people do not realize there is a difference. I am sure there are many in the industry that do not know there is a difference. Aside from being a story of interest, my intention is to help you, next time you hear a noise in the attic or some othe “pest-ish” situation arises, you will know whether you should call a pest guy or wildlife guy.
Over the last 20 years the nuisance wildlife industry has exploded. When I first started, in both Chicago and Tampa Bay, you knew who everyone was. There was only a handful of us in the nuisance wildlife business. Nowadays, there are hundreds of people offering nuisance wildlife services. Some of these people are awesome, some are grossly inept and others are criminal.
I started in this business as a wildlife guy. A couple years into the wildlife business, I was forced to get a pest control license. States vary in their regulation but in Florida, I could deal with nearly all nuisance wildlife under a nuisance wildlife permit.
Many pest control companies had evolved. But there have always been big differences between pest and wildlife guys when it comes to rats. In order to properly deal with rats, you need the mindset of a trapper, not a pest guy. So I only thought it would be natural for a wildlife guy to specialize in rats.
But rats are big business in Florida and phone calls naturally came to me for rat trapping and rat proofing. After a year or so I received notice from the state that I needed to cease and desist or get a pest control license, which is not the easiest thing to get.
I could not figure out why I could deal with all the other animal but not rats. I could trap squirrels…but not rats. I could remove bats…but not rats. I could remove raccoons…but not rats. The only thing I could think or was that that I has stepped on the toes of some pest guy and he did not like it. Pest guys do not care to deal with squirrels. Pest guys do not like to deal with bats. Pest guys do not like to deal with raccoons…but many of them make a killing on rats. And that was the problem.
This is the reason I call myself a hybrid of a wildlife guy and a pest guy. I am a wildlife guy at heart that does pest control with the mind of a trapper.
Pest control guys can be wildlife guys and wildlife guys can be pest control guy. There are countless exceptions to this generalization. This has been my personal account of the industry and sub-industry.
Which One To Hire?
It is vitally important to know BEFORE you hire a tech for the job, do you want a pest guy or a wildlife guy?
A good pest control tech likes routine and will make a lousy wildlife guy. On the other hand, a wildlife guy would rather poke his eye out with a stick rather than have a strick routine.
But a wildlife guy CAN handle SOME routine, especially if it is necessary to pay the bills. And most wildlife guys are capable of pest work.
But on the flipside, a strict pest guy may stress about any variation of his routine if given wildlife work. But the biggest reason that pest guys do not make good wildlife guy are the activities.
Pest Control Guy
The pest control guy’s day is made up of routine. In fact, the typical pest control guy’s entire day is made up of routine, often times knowing what he will be doing each day for the entire month.
Pest control guys have a list of customers that need to be serviced on a schedule. Some are rigid with the expectation that the tech will be at each customer’s home on a certain day at a certain time. Others only have a list of people that expect service each month.
Exceptions to this maybe sales people, termite guys and trouble-shooters. A troubleshooter is someone that excels at problem solving and/or customer relations. A troubleshooter works on difficult accounts. Sometimes this can a hard to solve roach problem at someone’s home or it could be a difficult customer.
An average day for a typical pest guy may be look like this:
- Shows up to the office at 7am
- Gets his schedule for the day
- Contacts any customers that may need contacting
- Shows up to the first stop
- Sprays around key areas for bugs
- Applies other types of products to kill or prevent bugs
- Takes notes
- Leaves for the next stop
This routine rarely involves ladders over 6’ tall. Even more rarely does it include climbing on the roof. And if an attic is involved, it is typically just popping the head up at the entrance but no real exploring.
This is a VERY simplification of the day in the life of the pest tech. Things like the size of the company and the style of service will add some variation but in a nutshell, it is very routine.
Trapper aka Wildlife Guy
The term “Trapper” is not necessarily accurate. I prefer the term “nuisance wildlife specialist”, however that term is a bit wordy for the general public and often leads to more questions than answers. For the most part, a trapper traps animals. Though there are other things that many trappers do that does not include trapping. These things can include:
- Bat removal via exclusion
- Bee, yellow jacket and hornet removal
- Animal proofing
Every day is different for the wildlife guy. Of course once you do it for awhile, that becomes your routine but it is still different than the pest guy.
The biggest difference with the pest guy and the wildlife guy is that the wildlife guy is almost always reacting. Where the pest guy may have the same customer and the same service for years, the wildlife guy normally shows up, solves the problem and leaves, never to be heard from again. And many wildlife guys like it that way. The most common services for a wildlife guy are getting raccoons and squirrels out of attics. This is a process that can take a day or a month (in the most stubborn cases), regardless, when the animal is gone and the problem is solved, so is the trapper.
The mind of a wildlife guy loves the variety. Most every day also involves going deep into attics, exploring rooftops and crawling into crawl spaces under homes. While you often see pest control guys in nice neat uniforms, it is impossible to look that way for any respectable wildlife guy.
Wildlife work involves a ton of problem solving skills. While German roaches can be tough, trying to outsmart a quick witted beaver or raccoon can be quite the challenge.
Bugs also make their presence known by being seen; this makes treating the problem very easy. When you have a bug issue, you typically know it because you actually see bugs. You often know if you have roaches, ants or spiders; all which can be treated very similarly.
When people have a wildlife issue, they normally see damage or hear a noise but rarely is an animal actually seen. This means the trapper will normally have to figure out what animal is causing the issue by the visible damage or sometimes, only by the noises as described by the homeowner.
Which One To Hire?
This applies to both the homeowner looking to hire someone for an issue at their home as well as someone at a pest or wildlife company looking to hire a new employee.
It is vitally important to know BEFORE you hire a tech for the job, do you want a pest guy or a wildlife guy? It may seem great to hire a wildlife guy to be a pest control tech but boredom will quickly set in. Conversely, hiring a pest guy may seem to be a great addition to a wildlife company, until he is told he needs to crawl underneath a home to catch a rattlesnake.
A good pest control tech likes routine and will make a lousy wildlife guy. On the other hand, a wildlife guy would rather poke his eye out with a stick rather than have a strict routine.
But a wildlife guy CAN handle SOME routine, especially if it is necessary to pay the bills. And most wildlife guys are capable of pest work.
But on the flipside, a strict pest guy may stress about too much variation of his routine if given wildlife work. But the biggest reason that pest guys do not make good wildlife guy are the activities. A good wildlife guy will take on just about any project regardless of the height, the animal or any other challenging factor. In fact, that’s part of the job; trappers love the challenge.
Most wildlife trucks carry at least a 24’ ladder, some even bigger. Most pest control trucks either a no ladder or a 6’ ladder. Doing crazy things is not in the job description of pest control. It is however, a critical aspect of being in wildlife.
The Pest and Wildlife Business Aspect
Years ago, there was no crossover. Wildlife guys did wildlife and pest guys did pest control. As we have progressed, we have treaded in each other’s water. I am a wildlife guy that decided to mingle in pest control.
There are both challenges and benefits to offering both pest and wildlife services. The downsides are hiring. It is much easier to find someone good at pest control than it is wildlife. It is not just the skills of performing the job but having someone with good enough people skills to work with customers can be tough. On top of that, you also want them to climb into crazy high places, dark crawlspaces, get stung by hornets and peed on by raccoons? There is not a long line of people waiting for that job. And the problem solving skills needed cannot be discounted.
It may seem trite, one major difference is scheduling. When someone was up all night because something was walking in the attic over their bed, they want immediate service. If you tell them you will be out in a couple days, you will be fired and the next guy hired. When animals are caught in live traps, they need to be picked up within 24 hours. This includes weekends, both Saturday and Sunday as well as all holidays.
Efficiency of any service business is key to survival. Blending the traits of a reactionary wildlife schedule with the steadiness of a pest control schedule is the formula for chaos.
As I mentioned before, many wildlife companies struggle with a double-edged sword. While so many wildlife guys love the “one and done” idea, having a business that offers recurring business such as pest control can seriously help a business during the slow times. There are few recurring services that can be offered by a wildlife business. The company I first worked for as a wildlife tech in Illinois offer “preventative maintenance sprays” for bees and wasps in the summer. These were 3 treatments done about a month apart for $85-$150 each. The company raked it in with bee sprays. This income really helped during the winter months when business would slow by about 70%. But still, this was seasonal income and it is necessary to have a pest control license to use chemicals, something which many wildlife guys do not possess. (states vary by laws and licensing).
Pest control benefits from the stability of recurring accounts and the power of being able to forecast revenue for year. It is boring, but the numbers are dependable.
As I get older, I move more and more toward a pest control model. Why? It’s just not has hard as wildlife work. No, it’s not easy. It’s just not as hard. I do not mean the physical aspect. Yes, physically it is easier but these are the reasons why I am continuing to shift to pest control:
- Easier to find talent
- The power of recurring income for the health of the business
- Ease of scheduling
- Far less hazardous
- It is easier to sell a business that has recurring income rather than “one and done” jobs.
From a personal perspective, I am moving closer to pest control because working with wildlife has taken a toll on me. I love animals. I am not against hunting but I chose to not hunt. I believe there are 3 types of people in the nuisance wildlife industry. Those that love animals, those that love to hunt and those that just have it as a job.
For people with much empathy for animals, this can be a tough job. Many people think all we do is roll around with cute, fluffy raccoons all day. The reality is that it is tough work. I discussed the climbing on roofs and in attics and crawl spaces. But the emotinal side of it goes much deeper.
My profession is displacing animals that often results in their death. Many trappers tell people they “humanely relocate” the animals they catch. The truth is, most state laws prevent relocation so animals that are relocated are normally done so illegally. Trappers will vaguely recite the law and give the customer the impression they have some wonderful place full of acreage where all the raccoons go and play with each other all day. The truth is, if these places exist, they are so incredibly overcrowded with raccoons being dropped off everyday that they would lead a miserable existence.
This is the little white lie in the nuisance wildlife. And some studies show that around 80% of relocated wildlife does not survive-that is not very “humane”. In fact, one of the cruelest things you can do may be to “humanely relocate” an animal.
There are only so many resources for wildlife. Animals will also protect their resources and fight to keep other out. And if an area has enough food to support 20 raccoons, there will be 21 raccoons in that area fighting for the resources. And when someone “humanely relocates” a newcomer, that newcomer will not be welcomed.
Animals have an amazing ability to breed to capacity. When resources are slim, breeding slows. When resources are abundant, breeding increases.
What all this means is that “humane relocation” rarely exists and the other alternative is killing the animals caught. It is tough to get up everyday knowing this is your job. I always told myself that I would rather be doing it than someone that does not care. I’ve seen trappers routinely leave animals in traps for days leaving them to die. I’ve heard stories of trappers cutting off legs of baby raccoons while cutting them out of walls and I recall a trapper proudly telling me about how he killed a raccoon with a screwdriver in an attic.These things make me sick.
I’ve worked hard to develop a “Nudging” technique that causes squirrels and raccoons to chose to take their babies out of an attic and move somewhere else. This means the animals do not need to be killed and they do not need to be “humanely relocated”. Moreso, the mother animals are not separated from the babies. It works more often than not but it is not a perfect method.
I realize most people do not really care about what happens to the animal. And it can be tough when a trapper makes his living off the backs of animals. I minimize this as much as possibly, many times talking the people out of hiring us.
I realize it seems like I digressed, however this is a real aspect of having a wildlife business and just a deeper reason why I am shifting more toward pest control, even though I am a wildlife guy at heart.
Nowadays, there are so many choices of who to hire. With so many pest guys doing wildlife, it can be tough to know who to choose but generally (and I do mean generally), I would hire a pest control guy for bugs and a wildlife guy for animals. Yes, this even means rats. Some pest control companies do well with rats but many focus on management rather than long term elimination. Trappers work with long term elimination.
Bees and wasps are an issue that often falls in the wildlife category even though they are insects. Honey bees are even a different category than wasps. Wasps can be anything from paper wasps to ground hornets to yellow jackets to bald faced hornets to cicada killers.
Look for someone that is comfortable dealing with your bee or wasp issue. This is not the time to hire the least inexpensive guy that will “see what he can do”. If a yellow jacket job goes bad, people can die.
Most areas have small to mid-sized companies that are accountable for their work. This describes my company and it describes the local companies I try to work with when I hire people for work at my house or for my vehicle maintenance.
- Is licensing important?
- Licensing is mandatory for both wildlife and pest work. Do not put yourself at risk using a non-licensed company. Wildlife work can especially be dangerous, do not risk it.
- What happens to trapped animals that are not relocated?
- It is just not financially practical for large scale trappers to legally relocate every animal they catch. This magical place they describe about where all the animals are “humanely relocated” to would have to be so far out of any service area that they would spend too much in time and fuel to bring the animals that it would not make sense.
I cannot speak for most trappers, though animals need to humanely be euthanized then properly disposed of. In the case of the company I worked for in Illinois 30 years ago, when animals were euthanized, we (wildlife techs grossly unqualified to be administering syringe injections) would inject the animals with sodium pentobarbital. Once the animal was dead they would be bagged an placed in a freezer. When the freezer was full, a big truck would come to pick up the animals to have them rendered.
B. While still controversial, one of the most accepted means of euthanizing is a CO2 chamber. The animal is placed in a chamber where the oxygen is removed and replaced with CO2 which causes the animal to pass out then die.
C. There are some trappers that will submerge traps in water causing the animal to drown. I recall hearing one trapper that would tell people that he would take his animals out to “The Farm”, giving customers the impression that the animals were taken to a serene, open area where they would live out their lives in total bliss. Then he would show a picture of a large barrel of water, written on the barrel was “The Farm”.
D. It is of my opinion that most animals are illegally relocated. I believe this varies from state to state depending on the rigor of regulation.
3. How much should I expect to pay?
- There is a wide variety of services and each one may carry a wide variety of price difference. As far as wildlife work goes, I would prepare you that it is probably going to be more expensive than you anticipate. This is not true in all case but most people are surprised when they hear pricing.
- Wildlife work is a specialty, thus they get paid more.
- While there are price differences in pest control, overall the pricing is typically lower and more even across the board.