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:
- shovel
- 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)

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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.

Good luck.......

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 - ?

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    117 Discussions


    Question 4 months ago on Step 7

    My husband, a landscaper, has trapped almost 100 gophers in about 16 months in our new rental. This one right now, moves BIG ROCKS and keeps KICKING out the trap. This morning we wake to see it got OVER the gopher basket and ate my freshly planted chili plant : ( Hubby thinks it must be some other kind of animal...but he has found hair on the traps. Five times this monster (I imagine it is) has kicked out traps. It can't be any other animal right? I even wondered about using "Rodent repellant" that is made of basalm fir oils and tree fibers (we got cz of mice in the cars) around my newly planted seedlings, but it's pretty expensive : ( WHAT to do?!

    1 answer

    Reply 4 months ago

    That doesn't sound like a pocket gopher at all. I get traps kicked out all the time or just pushed back into the hole and sprung with nobody in it. My understanding and from what I see (or don't see), pickets gophers spend almost all of their time under ground. They seem to only eat things they can get to from underground. We have several types of raptors (hawks, eagles, owls) that take out most of the other small critters that venture out into the open.

    I'm having an issue with trapping a pocket gopher. I've gotten eleven so far, but this twelfth gopher is really winning the fight. I followed your instructable without any luck. I have tried covering or leaving the tunnel open. Pushing the trap as far in as I can or leaving it at the entrance. I have also tried three different types of traps (Victor Gopher Trap, AMDRO Wire Gopher Trap, & Gonzo Dead-End Trap). I saw you can bait them and used peanut butter, but also no luck there. Each time he is sealing up the tunnel just on the other side of the trap without even setting it off. I have placed the trap near the plug, in the middle of the tunnel, and have the traps facing in both directions. Any other suggestions of how I can catch him? I saw you can shoot them with a BB gun by waiting, but after an hour of waiting to see if this method could work, I gave up.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    With the risk to my horses, cows and unsure steps of my elderly
    grandmother ... along with the destruction they are able to wreak upon
    my fruit trees and gardens, I have had to remove a few gophers in the
    past few years. Made a few videos that illustrate this post pretty


    4 years ago on Step 2

    I have trapped mine with snares,or use the good old .22 rifle.They are excellent eating.They are best in early spring,they don't have that fat layer from hibernation.They are tender and as good as venison in my experience.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    wow. old thread im turning into a zombie (u know, the living dead, as in this thread was dead and now its alive..... lawlz)
    AJ originally posted that he thought propane would just singe their fur and et 'em P.O.'ed, not true. it is the concussive force that ceases their existence. the military takes advantage of this in several weapons only on a much larger scale, Check out the "fuel-air bomb"; its a bomb tht sprays a trail of [something like gasoline] as it falls to the ground, its then ignited. The fuel burns and it goes 'BOOM', but its not the flames that kills them, rather the concussive force generated by the rapid burning of fuel (even in conventional bombs its tyically the concussive force that kills ya, or the shrapnel, the fuel-air bomb is just a particullary good example)

    The concussive force is what rips the air out of yer lungs, knocks you on your ass, and throws shrapnel everywhere. If you've ever been around a big enough explosion you know the feeling (albeit a very mild version, if your still here), that little punch to the chest immediately following the 'BOOM'; thats what concussive force feels like.

    In addition, there are also "bunker-buster" bombs that are/were used in afghanistan/iraq. These bombs operate on the principle that the concussive force genetated by a bomb is amplified withinin an enclosed area, such as a bunker or cave (not so much a building, because the walls just blow off or the building crumbles.....). The bombs have hardened metal noses, they drop em from a plane, they build up a LOT of speed, it impacts the ground and keeps on going right into the cave, the fuse is delayed so it explosdes inside the cave DESVASTATING anything & anyone inside.
    The reason I bring it up is because these are the principles in play when propane is used to make an underground explosion. Gophers are 'controlled'.not by the fire&flames, but rather the concussive force that does the job,
    Now you've had your daily physics lesson.


    6 years ago on Step 4

    Do you cover your traps with a little dirt once set? Or is the picture above just some dirt that happened to fall well setting the trap?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    we used to have a guy from our church come in and pump propane in the holes and light it.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice! I have a friend do something similar with black powder and ants. He would cover the ant mound with black powder and the ants would bring it in to their tunnel system. After some amount of time doing this, he could light up one of the mounds and a bunch of them would end up going up as the ants moved the black powder around. As for the propane and pocket gophers, how well did that work? Gophers are smart about how they build their tunnels and they create bedrooms as it were that are protected from flooding and gas build up. Kind of like the trap under your sink. So, to gas them out or even flood them out, you need to push the stuff in with some pressure. In using propane, it could very well do little more to the pocket gopher than singe their fur. It could also burn them badly but not kill them. Then they would be suffering there in their tunnel for days before they die. Or worse yet, not die and live in this burnt state. You also don't know what the results are until more mounds show up. With trapping, you know when you have gotten someone. I have gotten ground squires and moles in my gopher traps along the way. But mainly gophers. I also find Newts in the tunnels from time to time, but not trapped. I thought it would be a fun project to create a tunnel robot that I could drive through the gopher tunnels. It would have a small camera so I could see where I was going. It would use IR light so it wouldn't alert the gopher. There would also be some sort of way to kill the gopher. Maybe a tazer like device or maybe a single shot gun. Or something simple like a pointed spike that could poke them?


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm new to this gopher-genocide thing, and appreciate your help. A question though. Your instructions, and most of the instructions I've read, talk about putting the traps in the hole and covering so no light seeps through, because gophers don't like the light. So far, I've had success in putting the traps in the hole entrance and letting a fair amount of light shine through. The gopher comes to plug up the hole and gets caught. Then again, I've set maybe 10 traps, had 3 ignored, had 4 sprung without a gopher, and only caught 3. I'll try your way, but has anyone experimented with the way I was taught?

    7 replies
    rod howardednorris

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    From my amateur yet successful trapping campaign, I have found that allowing cool fresh air to flow into their realm is really all it takes to get their attention. The tunnels wind around, up, down, this way and that and yes, have 'sink trap-like' features and 'rooms' that a beam of light most likely won't penetrate. When I place cctv cams in the burrows, even with an IR light source one can only see a very short distance into the hole. If ya gotta go with the light thing, maybe locating a lateral tunnel and perforating it with a piece or rebar repeatedly along it's length might get your light a tad deeper into the tunnel? I've found the open ended tunnel works so well for my situation that I have not tried any other method. Closed minded? Maybe, but it works EVERY time I set out to nab a gopher.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    If you got 3 with only 10 traps, you are doing very well! You have an interesting hypothesis about the light. I am almost tempted to try that. BUT! The other reason to cover the traps is so the neighbor cats and dogs don't get in there (as easily) as well as the stray child here and there. ;-) Last year I had a trap disappear. I think I had caught a gopher and a neighbor animal came and took it along with the trap. I hope they barfed it up all over their owners living room carpet. I like the idea of the gopher trying to plug the opening and then getting caught in the trap. It even makes sense. I don't know how much through a gopher puts into that type of thought but what else do they have to do while they are digging and pushing dirt around all day.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Caught another today, using four traps. One other sprung on me. Cats shouldn't be a problem. The mechanism is triggered when the gopher is moving from inside out toward the exit, probably pushing dirt in front of him. If an animal reaches in with a paw from the exit, they'd be pushing the mechanism the wrong way. Even if the triggered it, it would only get caught if its paw reached so far over the mechanism before triggering it that it was actually over the jaws. Kids might be an issue, though. A child might see the stake, pull the string, and, if the string is pulled gently enough (a hard pull will spring the trap) pull out an unspring trap. I still don't know this way is any better; that's why I'm asking. But it's easier for a guy like me who can never figure out where the main tunnel is!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    this is just a crazy idea but what about putting a light, or maby a few holes in the cover? so it allows light in but keeps stuff out?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It would be something to try. Normally, the pocket gopher is underground in total darkness. I don't know how adding light near the trap would work? It could be that the gopher would come to plug up whole letting in the light or they might plug their tunnel and stay away? In either case, they would be pushing a bunch of dirt with them and that typically causes the trap to get pushed out of the way without being tripped. What I try to do is keep their environment as close to how they left it (other than the trap) so they would be moving through their tunnel system and just walk through a trap and get caught.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Actually, that might be two today. Not sure. Just checked and found another one sprung and dragged down and around a corner into a tunnel. I'm guessing I got a piece of him (for him to drag it like that), but don't know.

    rod howard

    6 years ago on Introduction

    I like to blow 'em up ... or down ... or sideways. Safety first, always! Ensure you KNOW what's underground in the area i.e.; natural gas lines, electrical wiring, plumbing, property lines etc. If any of those items are present, quit this project and go to another instruct able I then empty a camp lantern sized can of propane gas into their burrows via one mound. (kick dirt away, find the direction clear it out). Wait a few minutes for the gas to settle in. I like yell out 'Fire in the hole' to no one in particular and then light the sumbitch off. Make no mistake, this is the dangerously tricky part, or so I have been told. The gas lays low and follows the burrows and ignites with a formidable "WHUMP!" The ground may lift a little not so unlike Nuke test sites in Nev. in the 60's and 70's. No shock wave or vaporization occurs but I never see another pocket gopher for several months. If ya live in the city don't do this. If you're out in the sticks, you stand a much better chance of disturbing only the offending rodents.

    gopher &amp; traps1.jpg

    9 years ago on Introduction

    why must killing the living being? I think even a gopher have equal right to enjoy their lives as we do. If you feel being bothered by that animal, just think that you also bothered them in their world, because we live in the same space and the same sky with them. Just live peace together with all living being. And stop the killing. May the peace be with you always.