PORT MATILDA — By day, Brian Richardson is the owner-operator of Nittany Valley Varmints, LLC, facing off with the likes of feisty raccoons, smelly skunks and sometimes even dangerous rattlesnakes.
After work, he’s the laid-back host of “Trapper and the Gang,” a podcast in which he interviews other Centre County small business owners.
He’s also a devoted dad, whose nine-year-old daughter, Zoe, likes to ride along on his wildlife adventures whenever possible.
Before moving to State College with his wife, Kim, in 2013, Richardson’s primary wildlife experience came from working as an elk guide in Colorado and as a hunting guide in New York.
From the interactions he had with game wardens while working those jobs, he knew that transporting a wild animal without a license was (and still is) illegal.
So when a friend asked for his help removing a groundhog from his property in 2015, it was almost on a whim that he sat for the Nuisance Wildlife Control license, surprising himself by passing it on the first try.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll catch six or eight groundhogs a year, and just help people out,’” he said.
“And then it blew up. People just kept calling.”
In fact, he handled 631 animals in 2020, and said his record is 19 animals in one day.
The most common calls he gets are for bats, raccoons, skunks, groundhogs, and squirrels. (He does not deal with pests like mice and insects, or anything that requires chemicals.)
Richardson said people might be surprised at how close these creatures live to us, and he encourages people to coexist with wildlife as much as possible.
But when animals cause destruction, kill chickens, make their way into people’s attics or carry diseases like distemper and rabies, people understandably want to remove them from their property.
Richardson has a big heart for the animals he traps, and said he tries to go above and beyond to relocate them to a safe place. He often takes injured or orphaned animals to Centre Wildlife Care.
Recently, with a special waterfowl license and permission from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, he relocated a mother duck and her nest full of eggs from a loading dock in a busy parking lot to a safer location nearby.
Nittany Valley Varmints has a wide following on Facebook and Instagram, and Richardson frequently posts photos with the animals he finds, often with daughter Zoe at his side, giving the thumbs-up sign.
Zoe has embraced the lifestyle since she was very young.
“When she was just four years old, we were helping a farmer out; raccoons were killing his sweet corn. She helped me set traps for them, and when we came back the next morning, we had three raccoons in the traps. She looked up at me and said, ‘Dad, from now on, you should just call me the Trapper,’” Richardson explained.
“My dad and my wife were with me, and the name stuck. She’s been the Trapper ever since.”
Although Richardson loves his day job, his curious nature led him to an interest in podcasting. A former professional musician, he had sound equipment collecting dust in a closet.
He also had a vision of offering a local podcast as a way to give local small businesses some free exposure, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“Everybody’s hurting. People can’t afford to advertise,” he said.
“I think when people go out to shop or out to eat, you want to shop local and support people you know. If you listen to my podcast, by the end you almost feel like you know the person, or at least that’s my hope.”
The title, “Trapper and the Gang,” is named for Zoe, and she plays an important role in each episode, telling a joke during the intro, and engaging in charming father-daughter banter with Richardson, answering typical “Dad” questions like, “What did you learn in school today?”
She also came up with a list of questions Richardson asks his guests at the end of each episode, like “Who is your favorite superhero?” and “If you could be any wild animal, what would you be?”
In between, Richardson spends close to an hour just chatting with his guests. With his casual conversational style, he comes across as a seasoned talk show host. In reality, he said, he has no experience with interviewing people.
“I guess I just have the gift of gab. I love it,” he said.
Richardson has put out about 20 episodes since starting the podcast in late February. Some of the highlighted businesses include Bees Knees Coffee, The Cake Shop by Tati, Marie Lane Bakery and University Wine Company. It is growing in popularity, recently ranked at 225 out of 10,000 podcasts in the marketing category on Apple. Richardson has turned down paid advertisers, not wanting to detract from the local businesses he highlights for free. He is willing to interview just about any local business or organization, and can record anywhere there is a power outlet.
“Trapper and the Gang” podcasts can be heard on all major podcast outlets, including Apple, Spotify, and Google, as well as through the Nittany Valley Varmints website at nvvarmints.com.
To be featured on an upcoming podcast, email trapper [email protected].
This story appears in the May 6-12 edition of the Centre County Gazette.