Gopher Problems - Notes from the Field
I'm certainly not a gopher expert, but I have a decent amount of experience with gophers. My gopher experience consists of interactions with all sorts of gophers - West Coast Gophers (California), Southern Gophers (Arkansas), and MidWest Gophers (Illinois). I can only assume Northern and Eastern Gophers are similar!
Also, I'm not condoning or recommending any of the gopher trap methods mentioned in this article. You may prefer to use a certain type of trap or you may prefer to "catch and release." Either of these methods is fine with me. I simply document my experience with gophers in this article.
If you have anything else to add about gophers, please comment below! I'm curious about the Northern and Eastern gophers anyway!
West Coast Gophers
Two West Coast Gopher memories come to mind: traps and the VW Bug Incident.
Traps. West Coast Gopher traps are quite simple. They are a steel apparatus that you slyly locate in the gopher's tunnel. The traps must be "cocked" (be careful!). The idea is the gopher will run through a steel circle on the trap and hit a stop. Once the stop is moved, spikes forcefully come down from above ground and poke holes in the gopher. This either kills the gopher on impact or traps it until it dies. The only real problem I found with these traps is that they are unidirectional. You must be able to anticipate which direction in the tunnel the gopher is traveling, otherwise, the gopher will not move the stop in the proper direction and the spikes will not fire or may fire inaccurately.
Another tactic used to expedite the West Coast Gopher trap method is the water-hose. A water-hose can be inserted into the gopher tunnel and the water can be used to flood the tunnel in an effort to force the gopher to run towards the trap. The main problem with this tactic is knowing where the gopher is currently located in the gopher tunnel. It's probable to force the gopher away from the trap. The key, as I recall, is to attempt to find both ends of the tunnel and put the water-hose at one end and the trap at the other end.
VW Bug Incident. This is a strange, yet highly memorable incident for me. I was a mere 10 or 12 years old at the time, but this whole situation was burned into my mind. My uncle had this very nice white VW Bug that he was very fond of. One day he drove over to my house in the VW Bug. I was out in the front yard, checking the gopher traps, when he pulled into the driveway. He had a very distressed look on his face. I recall him parking quickly, getting out of the VW Bug very quickly, and slamming the door behind him. I was like "Uncle Chris, is everything okay?". He was like "No, there's a goddamn gopher in the car". When he said this I didn't think much of it, as my Uncle and my mother typically got together to get stoned or do other drugs. I figured this was just an "acid flashback" or something similar. Regardless, I got curious and went and looked into the VW Bug. I noticed a lot of the upholstery was ripped to shreds. There was also poop all over the place. At first glance I didn't see a gopher, but then a very hyper and rabid looking gopher jumped from the passenger floorboard towards me bearing large sharp teeth and menacing claws. I was scared and backed away from the VW Bug. After a half hour or so, I snuck up to the car and slowly opened the passenger-side door and backed away. I sat and watched the car for about 30 minutes and finally saw the gopher emerge from the car. He landed on the driveway and looked towards me with a menacing look. I have no idea how he knew where I was sitting, but he seemed to know. After the look he ran around some shrubs and disappeared. To this day I still don't know how the gopher got into the VW Bug to begin with!
When I first moved from California to Arkansas I noticed a lot of things were different. It was like a time warp. Gophers were a problem in both areas, yet in Arkansas the tactics were very different. There were two main tactics in Arkansas - pitchfork method and using the dog.
Pitch Fork. This was a very boring, yet effective tactic. The principle is the same as the steel trap with spikes for the West Coast Gopher. The main difference is there is no self-operating trap. You function as the trap. Essentially, you sit on a lawn chair with a pitch fork in one hand and watch the ground. This can last hours. If you notice the ground starting to pop up a little, which is indicative of a gopher tunnelling, you slowly get to your feet and quietly sneak toward the ground movement. The key is to move very quietly and slowly. Once you get to where you see the ground popping up, you forcefully stab the pitchfork into the area where the ground pops up. You do this repeatedly in front and behind the popping up ground. When you finally pull the pitchfork out of the ground, you inspect it for blood. If there is blood on the pitchfork, you assume you got the gopher and return to your post - the lawn-chair.
Dogs. Using the dog to hunt gophers is typically a last resort. Dogs can actually exacerbate the problems that gophers create. The idea with the dog is to attempt to get the dog to learn and track the scent of the gopher. This means leading the dog to the gopher tunnel and pushing the dog's nose into the tunnel. The problem with this approach is the dog may dig up the entire gopher tunnel while searching for the gopher. This tactic should be a last resort, as the yard will end up looking worse, but the gopher problem will be solved!
When I moved to the Midwest, the gopher issue seemed more subdued. I learned two tactics for MidWest Gophers - poison and lawn ornaments.
Poison. This is actually a very simple tactic. You purchase gopher poison and simply put the poision at random locations in the gopher tunnel. After a few days, the gopher dies and the tunnels go away.
Lawn ornaments. Apparently, MidWest Gophers are somewhat skittish. The idea with this tactic is to strategically place spinning lawn ornaments in the yard. A spinning lawn ornament is one that "spins" when the wind hits it. The idea behind this tactic is that the spinning lawn ornament causes the ground to vibrate, thus scaring the skittish MidWest Gophers. I doubt this tactic would work on the West Coast or Southern Gophers.
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