Outwitting Wildlife

Persistence pays off for DIY trapper
Wildlife Illustration
Illustration by Lindsey Masterson

I alerted my neighbor, Doug the Umpire, to the burrowing activity taking place at a side of the house he rents from two active-duty military women, who decided to rent rather than sell the place when they were deployed to Hawaii. An unknown life form had excavated a considerable hole beneath a pile of sandbags that the very much absentee landlords had been prepared to use if neighborhood flooding ever neared their garage door.

Doug is a congenial sort who works as a salesman for a refrigerated trucking line begun by his father and who moonlights as an official at youth and high school baseball, basketball and football games. He moved from Texas to Panama City Beach, and for that, he says, there is a woman to blame. In his home state, he gained some experience calling balls and strikes at collegiate games. At that level, he confessed, he was unable to track some of the pitches crossing the plate and would instead react to the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt. He texted me the other day and asked me to recommend an eye doctor.

Doug and I jointly inspected the burrow, and he later contacted one of those pest removal outfits whose critter gitters might move about in vans wrapped with designs that include all manner of vermin. The eradicator baited a large live trap with a gooey substance that looked like roofing cement and, unaccountably to me, placed it right on top of the burrow. Days passed and nothing happened. Then Doug discovered evidence of digging in his front yard, and a second trap was placed near that activity. Finally, on a Saturday morning, I noticed that the door of the trap that had been set first was tripped.

What might I find there? An armadillo? A rabbit? A gopher tortoise? A nutria or some other invasive species? Imagine my disappointment when I encountered nothing at all exotic, but instead a fiercely pissed off house cat that was throwing itself against the sides of the trap.

I notified Doug.

“Please let him out,” he texted back. “I’m doing youth football until 4 p.m. or so.”

With some hesitation, I donned leather gloves and straddling the trap with my back to Doug’s house managed to free the cat unharmed. By that I mean that I was unharmed. A day or two later the pest control dude picked up his traps. Maybe his contract had run out. Maybe he had just declared victory and cut out.

It was about this time that I discovered shallow holes in the ground near my tea olive bushes and extending into the yard of my other neighbor, Ian the Insurance Man. And then, while filling a bird feeder at the perimeter of my property, I spotted it — a burrow in the face of a slope where my lot drops off into what used to be known as a swamp and is now known as a conservation area. The trapper dude had succeeded only in causing the earth mover to relocate.

As the holes in my yard multiplied, I grew determined not to stand idly by. Scenes from Caddyshack danced in my head as I drove to a nearby Lowe’s, where I would purchase my own live trap.

My working assumption was that I was dealing with an armadillo. I baited my new Havahart with an open container of fish bait (earthworms) — a suggestion gleaned from a Google search — and placed it near the entrance of the burrow. Days elapsed. Nothing. I retooled my strategy.

Trusting that my adversary was home, I ditched the worms, placed the trap close to the burrow entrance and so surrounded it with boards and an old cooler lid that my quarry could not possibly leave the house without getting caught.

In all of this, I was reliving an element of my North Country youth, when my brothers and I set live traps of various sizes in the late afternoons — peanut butter proved to be a universal bait — and checked them in the morning, then to find creatures ranging from mice and voles to chipmunks and skunks and the greatest prize of all, raccoons. We maintained detailed catch records, presuming that they would be of value to science.

A day after repositioning my trap, I’d had no luck, but something told me to keep the faith and leave the trap where it was. Sooner or later, thirst would force the burrow dweller to move.

On a Saturday afternoon, newly returned from a fishing trip, I looked toward the trap and — Yes! — it had been tripped. Success!

But, hmmm, this armadillo lacked a scaly hide and instead had gray hair that appeared to be thinning. Its tail was naked, it had a white face and it was equipped with needle-sharp fangs.

I loaded the trap into my truck and headed across the Hathaway Bridge over
St. Andrew Bay to the campus of Gulf Coast State College. I set my catch free near the edge of a pond surrounded by high vegetation. But rather than head for cover and a refreshing drink, it ambled across an asphalt parking lot and scrambled up concrete steps to the Amelia G. Tapper performance center.

There, I suppose, to play possum.

Possum Illustration

Illustration by Lindsey Masterson

Critter Gitters

For anyone desiring to leave wildlife removal and other pest control services to the pros, here are a few options along the Emerald Coast.


6740 State 77, Panama City

(850) 785-8844



981 U.S. 98, East Destin

(850) 499-9767



(850) 348-8084



(850) 905-6973



Categories: Animals, Landscaping