Trapping Works

Real stories of how trapping programs have resulted in an explosion of wildlife.

Mike Bolton | November 1, 2022

It’s absolute truth that this coyote never again ate a fawn, poult, quail or rabbit. It was removed, giving wildlife a chance.

Those who manage their land for wildlife are fighting a war. Like all wars, there are protests designed to sway public opinion. There are international political complications. And like all wars, the truth is one of the first casualties.

Land managers in Georgia are up to their eyeballs in predators that kill desirable wildlife. Coyotes, raccoons, foxes, bobcats and skunks are pillaging. Fawns, turkey and quail, rabbits and even pets are the victims. Well-meaning do-gooders who are blind to the ramifications are the predators’ best allies. Political unrest overseas has been a factor, too.

“When PETA started dumping gallons of red paint on people wearing fur, they said they were doing that because trapping was cruel,” said full-time trapper John Ethridge, who operates the Tifton-based Wildlife Nuisance Control Solutions. “Of course, to them, dumping red paint on people wasn’t cruel. They put out all this false information and people believed it.

“The prices of pelts kept going down and eventually there was no money in the fur market, so people quit trapping.”

There was a rebirth of trapping a few years back as pelt prices started rising again, but that, too, was dealt a whammy.

“The prices eventually started going back up thanks to the countries who depend on fur,” John said. “Trappers could sell to those countries. But that was in countries like China and Russia. The current political situations in those countries have driven the prices back down. When there is no money in the fur market, people aren’t going to trap. The desirable wildlife species really suffer.”

Those who have been convinced that trapping is cruel choose to ignore the fact that nature itself is cruel. Many apparently base their understanding of wildlife on Disney movies. They have never seen a coyote running off with half of a fawn in its mouth. They have never seen a coyote drag a screaming rabbit from its den and tear it to pieces alive. They have never witnessed a frantic hen turkey as a predator eats her eggs. They have never seen a bobcat attack a helpless turkey poult. They have never walked up on a grisly scene of an entire bobwhite quail covey reduced to feathers.

The end-result is that desirable wildlife species are paying the ultimate price. Where predators prevail, the populations of deer, wild turkey, bobwhite quail and rabbits are all declining.

Many landowners have finally accepted the fact that trapping is a solid solution. Many state wildlife agencies, including Georgia DNR, offer trapping workshops to educate wildlife managers to the various trapping techniques. Many landowners have spent gobs of money purchasing traps in hopes of rectifying their problem only to realize there is an art to trapping that isn’t quickly learned. That’s when they call in the pros like John.

Trey Brunson was well-aware that something was wrong on the 1,300-acre piece of property he hunts in Telfair County. The wild turkey there rarely gobbled. He figured predators were shutting them up. His deer were spookier than normal. They never appeared during daylight hours. He knew the large coyote population had to be to blame. He knew trapping had to be the only solution.

“I bought a bunch of traps and was going to do the trapping myself,” he said. “I spent about $2,500 on traps. I did catch some coons, but anybody can catch coons. The coyotes dug up more traps than the traps caught. I think I caught one bobcat and one coyote. I probably could have caught more if I had time to learn everything about trapping coyotes, but I just don’t have the time to do that.”

Trey hired a trapper from northeast Georgia he had heard about. He wasn’t impressed with the efforts or the results. That’s when he decided to hire John. He was immediately impressed.

“He has so many techniques to catch coyotes,” he said. “He’s just amazing. He does hole sets, plain dirt sets. You name it. He has all these scents. He even brings bones sometimes. He has all these tricks. He’ll put a scent under a rock where a coyote can smell it, but it will have to walk around the rock to get to it. He’d tell me that he’ll catch a coyote on a left paw or right paw, and he’d do it.

“He traps the whole property. We have ponds and a creek that runs through the property. The beavers were damming up the creek and making it overflow into our food plots. The beavers were driving us crazy. They were very destructive to the dams on our property. The otters were eating our bass and bream.

“John catches two or three beavers and an otter or two every year. He’ll send me pictures to let me see what he is taking out.”

Lee said John’s trapping even helped with problems he didn’t realize that he had.

“He trapped fox all around our dove fields,” he said.

The result of the trapping is clearly evident, Lee said.

“My son called me the other day and said he counted 70 turkeys on the property,” he said. “Not 25, 70. That’s a lot of turkeys on 1,300 acres. We don’t hunt quail, but the quail population has taken off. We never saw rabbits here, but rabbits are everywhere now. We’re seeing more turkey poults than we have ever seen. We’re seeing deer in the daylight hours now. We never saw that before John started trapping.

“We put out high protein feed in our feeders and it is expensive. We had photos of the raccoons wearing the feed out. Raccoons aren’t why we put it there. John just pounds the coons.”

Lee warns that one of the results of trapping is that the deer population explodes.

“You have to be careful because the deer population goes up,” he said. “You have to hammer a lot more does.”

Trapping became part of John’s life when he was a teenager. It has grown into a full-time career, and he is much more specialized now.

“I started trapping when I was 13,” he said.  “I was catching coons out of peanut fields on our own farm and selling the fur. I eventually started trapping coyotes and selling them to fox pens. I started Wildlife Nuisance Control Solutions, and I was doing residential work. I was catching bats and getting dead house cats out from under houses and stuff like that.

“I eventually started trapping on plantations taking out all the egg-eaters. I don’t do any more residential work now. I’ve been trapping full time 10 years now.”

Possums and raccoons are known for raiding hen turkey nests in the spring. One landowner spoke of an explosion of turkeys on his property since removing these critters several times a year through an aggressive trapping program.

John said trapping raccoons is easy, but a coyote’s ability to adapt to its surroundings is the reason it has so quickly spread its range from the west coast the east coast. Coyotes are documented in Los Angles and New York City.

“Any 5- or 6-year-old can catch coons,” he said. “Coyotes make you scratch your head. There are so many that they have learned to adapt.

“People think they are vicious animals. They are really a spooky animal. They are cowards. They’ve been educated. They’ve been shot at. They have been chased by dogs.

“They can really be a problem if you go in behind where someone has tried to trap them before. You have to know what kind of trapping has been done on the property before. All coyotes are different. Some are lure shy. Some are bold enough to come to a set.

“You definitely have to keep your human scent down.”

John said juvenile coyotes are dumb and easily fooled. Adult coyotes are not.

“We use dirt sets and flat sets for coyotes,” he said. “On dirt sets, we dig a hole 10 to 12 inches deep and add a scent. We’re trying to give the impression that another coyote has killed something and buried it for later. Another coyote will come along and try to steal it triggering the trap just below the surface. 

“On a flat set, there’s no hole. We’ll use a scent or a bone or something to attract them.”

John says those who oppose trapping have a misunderstanding of how modern traps work. He said they envision the old bear traps that had teeth that would break legs. Today’s traps are leg hold traps with no teeth. They simply grab a coyote’s leg.

“Should we catch someone’s pet, we turn it loose with a sore leg,” he said. “It is very humane.”

Joe Hopkins is a forest land manager. He is part owner of a family business that oversees 48,000 acres in southeast Georgia just 4 miles from the Florida line. He leases land to hunting clubs. His predator problem is compounded by the fact the property is bordered by the Okefenokee Swamp where trapping is not allowed.

“We had a tremendous amount of coyotes,” he said.  “You could hear them at night. Or hunters were seeing fewer and fewer deer and does without fawns. Our turkey population was down. We knew nocturnal predators were to blame.

“We started using John and after the first year, there was a significant difference. We started allowing him to trap twice a year in two-week sessions. It was amazing. He has been taking 50 to 60 coyotes each time. He got 80 one time. He also traps the foxes, coons, skunks, bobcats—the stuff that rough on the turkey nests.”

Joe says he went to twice-a-year trapping because once predators are removed, there are others who take their place.

“You’ll never eradicate them. You have to keep it up.”

Broadfield Plantation is a 16,000-acre shooting preserve on the southeast Georgia coast. Nine years ago, operator Lee Barber says a huge coyote population was making life impossible.

“We were releasing quail, and they would covey early in October,” he said. “We’d find whole, huge coveys killed by coyotes. The coyotes were wearing me out. The deer weren’t fawning, and the turkeys weren’t gobbling.”

It was painfully obvious that shooting a few coyotes at night was doing nothing to control the coyote population. Lee finally decided to call John. He’s never regretted the decision.

“We decided to trap in September before the quail season started,” he said. “We decided to target the resident coyote population because it was doing the most damage. The results were immediate. The quail started coveying up in late November and December like they are supposed to do. We were no longer finding whole coveys killed by coyotes.”

The trapping was so successful that Lee decided to expand the program to also include spring trapping. That’s when things really changed. It not improved things for the quail, but the turkey and deer, as well.

“When you trap in spring, you’re taking the pregnant coyotes and maybe the whole pack. Transient coyotes will eventually fill that void, so you have to continue the trapping, but they can’t fill that void in two weeks. It gives time for the fawns to be able to get around and the poults to get enough age on them to fly.”

Lee forewarns that bringing in an experienced trapper like John will increase your deer herd. 

“We were culling 40 does a year to keep the deer population’s weight up, but once we started trapping, we saw the average weights begin to drop,” he said. “That put everything in perspective. The coyotes were eating a substantial amount of our deer. And when they take a fawn, they don’t care if it is a buck or a doe. We suddenly had a lot more deer. After two years of trapping, we’re now taking out 100 does a year to keep the weights up. That’s just phenomenal.

“He was trapping 10 to 14 coyotes at first, but now its 25 or 30 each time during a two-week period. The surrounding landowners are now using him. He’s trapping about 20,000 of the 36,00 acres in our area. It has helped everyone. And he traps everything. Coons, possums, bobcats, beavers. It has made a huge difference in all of our wildlife. We’re now seeing rabbits again. We hadn’t seen rabbits in years.”

Paul Hunter has a 665-acre piece of property in Valdosta. His idea was to have a place where he could hunt quail with his family, especially his grandkids. There was only one problem. Very few quail.

“We made it conducive to quail hunting by creating the right quail habitat and planting food plots for quail, but the place might have had two quail on it when we bought it,” he said. The predators were out of control.

“We contracted with John to trap quarterly. He is a lot more aggressive than other people. We now have several coveys of wild quail. If the weather is right, quail have the opportunity to have two or three hatches a year. That is actually happening at our place now. We’ve also seen an increase in our deer and turkey populations.”

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