Critter Control

Information on control of nuisance animals.

Control of Nuisance Animals

Nuisance animals are those which destroy our gardens, lawns or property. One of the most common wildlife problems Pennsylvanians face is garden raiding. The culprits are usually rabbits, groundhogs and deer.

Suggested solutions

  • Fencing – Placing a barrier around your gardens, landscaped areas and flower beds may prevent entry. — make sure fences are high enough to prevent entry. Deer are capable of jumping over an 8' fence. Consider using a fence 10-12' high. Lower fencing can be used if it is a double fence. Deer will not jump into a double fence because they realize they will get trapped. Groundhogs will dig under a fence so it must be buried 1' into the ground. A chicken wire fence will keep rabbits out of the garden.
  • Scare Devices – Motion sensor devices that spray water are often used to repel animals. Pie tins might scare pests for awhile but they will soon realize the pie tins are not a threat to them.
  • Clean Up – Stray animals are frequently attracted to areas where urine or feces have been deposited. Remove droppings when they are first noticed. Sometimes wildlife is attracted to our properties because we intentionally or unintentionally coax it there with feeder handouts, tossed out table scraps or garbage cans left unsecured.
  • Commercial Repellents – Repellents are a cruelty-free way of keeping animals away from your yard and garden. Your local garden center (not a big-box store) can advise you on which repellents are working well in your area and how to effectively use them.
  • Live Trapping - Live-traps come in a variety of sizes and are of a cage-with-closing-door design. Anyone who sets one of these traps must recognize it has the potential to catch something other than was ever expected; namely a skunk. Since skunks – as well as raccoons, bats, groundhogs, foxes and coyotes – are rabies vector species and should not be relocated. Homeowners who set traps and catch these species face the choice of killing the animal or releasing it. Releasing a skunk or a raccoon can be a risky situation. There’s a chance that you could be sprayed by the skunk, or bitten or scratched.. You’ll either have to be deodorized or anxiously await test results on the trapped animal’s brain tissue to determine if it’s rabid. Landowners should contact their district Wildlife Conservation Officer through the Region Office before trapping nuisance wildlife. Also, once traps are set, they must be checked daily.
    Note: Wildlife taken alive may not be retained alive, sold, or given away. Live wildlife may be relocated to a natural setting. Any wildlife killed must be reported to the Game Commission.

The following is from Dan Puhala, Pa Game Commission, Allegheny County
Regulations regarding the taking of nuisance wildlife
§ 141.3. Protection removed under certain circumstances.
(a) General.
(1) Protection is removed from wildlife, except migratory birds, big game and threatened or endangered species, when personal property, other than an agricultural crop, is being destroyed or damaged.
(2) Wildlife may only be taken by the owner or person in charge of the personal property affected.
(3) Wildlife taken to protect personal property shall be taken in a humane and lawful manner.
(b) Disposition.
(1) Wildlife taken to protect personal property shall be turned over to a Commission representative as required in section 2125 of the act (relating to surrender of carcass to commission officer).
(2) Wildlife, or a part thereof, taken under this section, may not be retained alive, sold or given away.
(3) Wildlife taken alive may be relocated to a natural setting unless otherwise restricted or prohibited.
(c) Diseased or sick wildlife.
(1) Protection is removed from wildlife, except migratory birds, big game and threatened or endangered species, when it is obvious that an animal is sick or diseased and poses a threat to human safety, farm animals or pets.
(2) The wildlife may only be taken by, or under the direct supervision of, the person in charge of the property where the threat exists.
(3) The wildlife shall be taken in a safe, expeditious and lawful manner.
(d) Disposition of diseased or sick wildlife.
(1) Wildlife taken under authority of subsection (c) shall be disposed of in one of the following ways:
(i) Buried on the site where taken.
(ii) Destroyed by incineration or other proper disposal.
(iii) Submitted for laboratory analysis.
(2) Wildlife or parts thereof taken under subsection (c) may not be retained alive, sold or given away.
§ 2125. Surrender of carcass to commission officer.
Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, the entire
carcass, including the head and hide, of all big game animals
and the entire carcass of any other game or wildlife, other than
raccoons, shall be made available, unless otherwise directed by
an officer of the commission, intact, less entrails, to any
commission officer calling for them.

An alternative to self trapping is to call a pest control company. Following is the company Dan has worked with in the North Hills:

  • Critter control of Pittsburgh, Walter Simon (724 272 1106), Ken Knight (412-996-9653), David Bayne (724 339 3150). I do not know what they charge. I would get estimates from more than one for a good price comparison. The South West Regional Office has a list of all companies with an active wildlife pest control permit in the South West region (724 238 9523).


They live in grassy areas and thickets, feeding on vegetables, flowers, and tree bark. They are active during the day year round in most areas. Your best bet is to fence them out with chicken wire or hardware cloth cages placed higher than snow level. Inflatable snakes or repellents, such as those used for deer, also may help.

Groundhogs (woodchucks)

They live in burrows with two or more openings with mounds at entrance. You can find them feeding in early morning and late afternoon on tender vegetables and flowers, especially pencil-thick stems like phlox, and occasionally on bark.
Your best bet is to trap them live or fence them out with a three-foot high fence. Bury one foot in the ground to prevent them from tunneling under. You also can repel them with taste sprays applied to desirable flowers or by placing oily substances at hole entrances. Groundhog dens can be rendered uninhabitable by filling them with rocks and dirt.


With few natural predators and strict control laws, they can be difficult to control. Deer prefer wooded areas and tall grass and thickets. They eat most plants and the bark of woody plants.

Many controls are available, including various taste and smell repellents (deer have a keen sense of smell); light or noise emitters (must be moved often as deer are smart and learn quickly); or an electric fence baited with peanut butter (one taste won't kill, but will deter deer). Check with your municipality to find if electric fences are legal in your area.

The best solution is exclusion with three-wire triangular or slanted fences, or high (eight- to ten-foot) deer fences of woven wire mesh or heavy fishing line strung at two-foot intervals up the posts. If using the latter, the lines must be flagged, as deer can't see well and will try jumping through.

Wildlife control and prevention laws in PA
what methods work best for each pest

PA Game Commission solutions to wildlife nuisance problems

compiled by Suzanne, Penn State Master Gardener