Introduction: How to Trap a Gopher
If you live out in the stick of the Midwest as I do, one of the many pests you may run into is gophers. You typically do not see gophers in your yard because they spend most of their time underground. But you do see the dirt they have dug out to make their tunnels. These show up in the form of "Gopher Mounds."
I am going to show you how I take care of these rodents. There is plenty of information out on the Internet about gophers but not on how to catch them. What I have found is very basic and it always goes back to "You should hire a professional because you won't be able to do this on your own."
I am here to tell you that you can do it on your own and it won't cost you an arm and a leg. It will cost the gophers their lives. You need to make the choice as to what is more important, your lawn, garden, trees, personal safety, or the life of a gopher. At my house, the gopher loses.
Here is what you will need:
- leather gloves (or use your bare hand if you don't mind all of the greasy, grimy, gopher guts.)
- gopher traps (assume 2 per mound)
- chain or wire to secure the traps in place
- stake to hold the chain or wire in place
- wood, plastic, cardboard, something to cover the hole you dig to help block out light
- two feet of rebar or wooden dowel (to help find tunnels)
Step 1: Finding a Fresh Gopher Mound
When trapping gophers, you want to make sure you focus your energy on fresh mounds. There is no sense wasting your time on a mound and tunnel system that is vacant. I try to walk my property every day if I can. I know where the gophers tend to do their thing so I keep an extra eye out in those areas.
New activity is easy to spot when it is new. After a rain, it can be difficult to tell new from old. New activity can be spotted by pushed over grass, wet dirt, or a mound in the middle of your yard and you are sure you didn't put it there.
When I fine new activity, I make note of where it is. When I get back to the house, I get out my hunting tools and go back.
Step 2: Determine Where the Tunnel or Tunnels Are
Finding the tunnel(s) can be the hard part. If you find a mound of dirt, there is a tunnel under it. Many times I dig and dig but never find the tunnel. I know there is one under there somewhere, but I just can't find them sometimes.
The tunnel will normally be less than a foot below the surface. But they can be up to two feet down. Sometimes you can tell where the surface hole is by looking at the patterns in the dirt. At one edge of the mound, you will sometimes see a circle in the dirt about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. This is where the dirt has been pushed up from below to plug the hole. The tunnel will usually go away from the mound at that point. It isn't perpendicular to the edge of the mound either. This leader tunnel will typically take you to the main tunnel.
Gophers don't care about the mound so much. They care about the tunnel they are digging. The mound is just a place to put the dirt. They spit it out of their hole and go back for more. They could care less about what the mound looks like.
One thing that helps in finding the tunnel is to have a stick with which you can probe down into the ground. I use a piece of rebar with a rounded point at one end. I start with my guess as to where the tunnel is and push it down into the ground. If I feel a tunnel, great! If not, I try it a couple inches on either side.
If the mound does have the sign of a tunnel (see the second image), there is a minimal digging approach that will usually lead you right to the main tunnel. This is illustrated in the third figure.
Make two cuts with your space about 8 to 10 inches deep. Make these cuts so that the plug you remove will not have the lead tunnel in it. Then make a third cut 3 or so inches towards the lead tunnel. With the plug of dirt removed, this third cut will come out easily and not disturb the lead or main tunnel too much. I have found this method works well.
Another method is to just dig a hole that is larger around than the mound. Get it all cleaned out and then make it even bigger. Many times when the gopher is plugging their hole, they back fill their tunnel and when you dig out under the mound, there is not tunnel to be found. It is there, you just have to find it.
By digging your hole larger, you will eventually find where the gopher stopped back filling. Keep in mind that there will usually be two tunnels under a mound. A mound is not always the beginning or ending of a tunnel system. It is somewhere in the middle.
Mr. Gopher is digging along and has a mouth full of dirt. He thinks about going back to where he started but figures that is too far. So he digs up to one side and spits out his dirt. When he goes back down, he keep on digging and will come back to this hole to spit out more dirt.
Step 3: Dig Hole and Uncover Tunnels
I wear my leather gloves during this step. Not so much for the digging of the hole but for the finding of the tunnel. Gophers have very sharp teeth and you never know when you will run face to face with the little guys. There are other items in the tunnels that you might not want all over your hands.
Once I find the gopher tunnels, I will clear them so they are wide open. This involves sticking your hand back into the tunnel and clearing out dirt and what ever else you might find in there. Again, that is why I wear leather gloves.
I fill my hole back up so the bottom of my hole is level with the gopher tunnel. I hope this helps by not giving the gopher a place to just drop their dirt. They have to come out and push their dirt up. To aid in this, I will also fill in as much of my hole as I can without blocking off the gopher tunnel.
Gophers have great hearing and I hope by filling up as much of my hole as I can that it doesn't create any unusual acoustics that the gopher might be able to hear?
Step 4: Place Trap, Secure, and Cover
At this point, placing the trap is easy, just like they show in the pictures. You want to place the trap so that the gopher will have to crawl over it to continue through his tunnel. Note all of the extra room around the trap in the first picture. This was a very large tunnel and I hope the trap gets this guy.
The second and third pictures are a more normal sized tunnel. Note how the trap fits better in there. Not so much room for the gopher to side step it.
Once the trap is in place, secure the safety line with a stake so an injured gopher won't run away with your trap. The safety line should be made from something the gopher will not be able to gnaw through. Something metal like a chain or heavy wire works well. I have used string in the past and as a final insult, the trapped gopher will use it dieing breath to chew the string so you can't just pull the trap out by the safely line. You have to reach in and grab the trap itself that is now full of gopher.
Cover your hole with a board, plastic, or cardboard. Anything that will keep the light out of your hole. Gophers have poor vision but they can see light. If they know there shouldn't be any light coming from their mound and there is, they will be less likely to come walk over your trap.
Step 5: Wait
All you have to do now is wait for the gopher to find the trap and try it out for size. While waiting, this would be a good time to view other Instructables like Jackhammer Headphones from Tim Anderson.
Depending on the activity of your gophers, waiting could be anything from a few minutes (unlikely) to several hours. Make sure to check your traps frequently; 2 or 3 times a day. Traps are not 100% lethal all the time. You do not want an injured gopher to suffer in your trap.
Step 6: Missed!
Don't be surprised if you come back to your hole and find it filled in. This can happen when you only find one tunnel but there were two and you put your trap in the wrong one.
Be careful when digging your hole back out. Your trap is in there somewhere and it may not have been tripped. You also do not want to just go at it with your shovel as it could damage your trap.
Dig slowly until you can pull your trap out. Then go at it. Try to remember where the tunnel was last time. It will still be there but you will not see it. It will be back filled for a couple inches. Open it back up and try to find the other branch of the tunnel. Don't be afraid to make the hole bigger.
No matter how careful you are, you are going to have an ugly spot in your yard when all is said and done. Make it worth the effort. If you can't find the tunnel, make your hole bigger. It has to be in there somewhere. Gophers don't dig for a little bit and then change their minds leaving a mound of dirt with no tunnel. There is a tunnel down there and it is your mission to find it!
If you can't find the second tunnel, not to worry. Odds are that even with one tunnel found, eventually the gopher will be in the one you know about and you will trap him.
Step 7: Removing Trapped Rodent
Now that you have trapped your gopher, it is time to figure out what you are going to do with a dead gopher. Depending where their mound was, you might consider using the hole you dug to trap them as a grave?
Before I do this, I will backfill their tunnel as best as I can using dirt and one dead gopher. If you were careful when digging your hole, you might be able to put your plug back in place. Out in the back 40, I don't care too much about how it looks. And the natural vegetation will overgrow the X gopher mound eventually.
And good hunting...........
Addition: For those of you that were concerned about the poor gophers, I would like you all to know that I am working on a live trap for pocket gophers. I am doing some testing of the design now and will be implementing some modifications as soon as I can get all of the parts.
My hope is that the live trip will have a higher percent capture rate as it will be more difficult to push it around or go around it like they do with the wire traps.
"Addition 2" Live traps just didn't work. In fact, they failed miserable. :-( Back to the drawing board. In the mean time, I continue to use the wire traps with success. The population in my yard seems to have dropped over the past few years. At least my kill count has and the activity lower.
2007 - 22
2008 - 8
2009 - 6
2010 - 2
2011 - 5
2012 - 5
2013 - ?