By Trapline Editor Hal Sullivan
Every winter I go south to trap. And it’s not necessarily for the fur check. When buckskin-colored otter hit $205 a few years ago, I was indeed pickin’ in the tall cotton. But, by and large, Southern fur is not worth as much as Northern or Western. What draws me back each winter is the extra money I make trapping nuisance beavers.
Let me say right off that I am not a full-time professional nuisance animal trapper. I did start down that road a number of years ago. However, I hit a dead end and turned back.
The biggest hurdle I encountered was getting people to understand that I was charging for my services. Almost everyone assumed I would do the work just for the pelts—even in the middle of summer when the pelts were worth nothing.
Almost all of these referrals came from a local conservation officer, and when I finally convinced him to tell people, up front, that I would not provide free services, the calls stopped coming. I live in a rural area where most folks solve their own nuisance animal problems, especially when they find out they’ll have to pay someone else to do it.
In most states, you need a special permit or registration to trap out of season, and my home state of Ohio is no different. I’ve maintained my Ohio Nuisance Animal Trapping Permit since its inception.
But most of the problems around here are with raccoons, and when Ohio changed its regulations so a landowner could take coons on his own property any time they were doing damage, I soon realized I could sell these folks live traps and let them catch their own coons cheaper than they could hire me to do it.
When I did get a client who was willing to pay, it might be a 30-mile drive one way. It just wasn’t economically feasible, and I gave up on the idea.
If you are thinking about going into the nuisance animal control business full-time, you had better live in proximity to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of potential clients. Otherwise, there is just too much driving distance and time involved to make any money.
In the end, I realized full-time nuisance trapping wasn’t really for me. For one thing, I just don’t like trapping in the summertime. All of my Southern nuisance beaver trapping is done during the regular fur season. I don’t need a special permit, and the catch is mine to keep and dispose of as I see fit. I suppose I could trap nuisance beavers on my Southern line year-round, as there is no closed season in the area. But, as I said, I don’t like trapping in summer, and the winter pelts have some fur value, enough to help maintain the profit margin.
When I first decided to head south to trap in the winter, I wasn’t planning on charging to remove nuisance beavers. But my friend and Southern trapline partner, Charles Dobbins, was getting paid on an improvised “bounty” system to trap beavers for a local timber company, and he got me signed up, too.
The company bought our nonresident trapping licenses, furnished us with accommodations (a hardscrabble but comfortable hunting camp), paid for some of our driving expenses and even provided us with a free meal on Friday and Saturday nights. The payment per beaver was $10, maybe not a lot, but the perks helped to make up for it. And that was 20 years ago when $10 went a little farther. I have heard of hunting clubs offering similar deals, providing a trapper modest accommodations and possibly paying a small bounty on predators trapped off their hunting leases.
The problem with the timber company deal was I didn’t have enough ground to trap, and the paychecks were a bit short. This ultimately turned out to be a blessing because it forced me to seek out other avenues to peddle my services as a nuisance beaver trapper. However, it was a tough sell the first few years.
Part of the trouble stemmed from previous efforts that less-experienced folks had made in the same endeavor. I don’t want to berate any other trapper’s skills, but a lot of hobby trappers and other folks who didn’t have any business going anywhere near a beaver trap had made some half-hearted efforts. The results were negligible to the point there was no apparent reduction in the population of beavers and certainly no “control” on the amount of damage they were doing. The local landowners weren’t willing to pay money for a trapper, because they had yet to see trapping be effective in controlling the beavers. And therein lies one of the biggest problems with fur trappers trying to break into nuisance control work.
Nuisance trapping is not the same as fur trapping, and you should not try to sell your services until you are sure you can do the job.
I did get a flood of offers from people who were perfectly willing, in fact glad, to let me trap beavers on their land, but only a couple who were willing to pay me the $10 a head I was asking. I did some free work back then, especially for folks who seemed like they might not be financially able to pay. And I knocked the snot out of those beavers. It was not at all unusual to trap 20 or 30 from a good property. One little place I trapped for an older fellow produced more than 100 beavers in a five-year span.
I don’t mean to toot my own horn, and I certainly owe a great deal to the tutelage of Mr. Dobbins, but nobody in those parts had seen anybody catch beavers like that before. Broken dams stayed broken, and water started draining off the fields. Word of mouth spread, and business started to pick up. That’s when I decided to approach it in a truly business-like fashion.
Up to that point, I had been working under rather informal arrangements. I’d contact the person with the problem, trap the beavers, and then try to track him down and get paid before I left. It didn’t take long to figure out that this was not presenting a very professional appearance. If I was going to sell myself as a professional beaver trapper, then I needed to step up.
When fur trapping, the focus is on selling pelts; nuisance trapping is more a matter of selling yourself. The more businesslike and professional you appear, the more likely you are to convince people to hire you.
The first thing I did was make up some business cards. Business cards are cheap; just a couple of beavers will pay for a whole box of them. Mine say: Hal Sullivan, Beaver Trapping and Nuisance Animal Control, with my address and phone number below.
The first thing I do when I meet a potential client is hand him a card. It may not seem like much, but it shows that I am serious about what I am doing. The business cards also provide a way to reach more potential clients. If someone says a neighbor may be interested in my services, I give him a card to pass along. Again, it shows I’m serious, and with my phone number on the card, they can call me if they are serious, too.
The second step I took was to make up envelopes and letterhead with a business logo. It is a very simple design, just a little picture of a beaver chewing on a tree along with my name, address and phone numbers. I also send invoices with this same letterhead when I’m done trapping. I no longer try to chase people down and get paid like a migrant day laborer. The client can mark the invoice “paid” and save it for his records, if he wants.
With each bill, I also provide an envelope addressed back to myself, for the client to mail the payment.
In this same vein, I produced some professional-looking permission slips, which I ask each client to endorse. In addition to collecting his signature, I have an adjunct slip which I sign and hand back to him. This slip explains that by law I need written permission to trap, but that the landowner assumes no liability for my activities. I know this disclaimer has made some property owners a lot more comfortable with the arrangement.
I carry a combination clipboard and storage case that contains all of the information and immediate records I need for each client and trapline, including phone numbers, addresses, permission slips and the like. I always carry this clipboard when meeting with a client or potential client. I believe it instills confidence when I can quickly reference this material. I keep small maps of the area in there, too, and quite often the client can quickly pinpoint the location he wants me to look over.
I send each client a Christmas card along with a note thanking him for the business. I include one of the ubiquitous cards, as a handy reminder should he need to contact me again. I usually mention in the note that if he knows anyone else who might need my services, he can pass the card along. All of my referrals are now generated by this word of mouth.
I make fairly good money on that Southern beaver line, adding the bounty money to the fur check. The timber concern still provides me with a place to stay, though the other perks have fallen by the wayside. Of course, my price per beaver has risen, too.
Last season, I charged $30, which is inexpensive by the standards of urban nuisance trappers. But it is about all the market will bear in such a rural area. I can make a go of it on that combined with the price of the winter pelts. In fact, it’s a pretty good return per beaver.
Like I said at the onset, I am not a full-time professional nuisance trapper. Still, I manage to make some extra money applying my trapping skills to something slightly beyond harvesting fur.
If you are serious about nuisance trapping as a profession, you might consider looking into a franchise with one of the major animal control companies that advertise with FUR-FISH-GAME.