How to Get Rid of Gophers

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Rodents are one of the most common types of lawn and garden pest out there. But while mice and rats are the ones you probably think of first, they’re not nearly as destructive as the gopher.

Let’s dive into various ways to get rid of these common pests, as well as how to prevent them from taking up residence on your property. Then we’ll get to know these critters a bit better and discuss why they’re both good and bad to have around.

Getting Rid of Gophers

Normally this is where we point out the importance of most critters to the ecosystem and discourage kill methods. Sadly, gophers are so intelligent that it’s nearly impossible to remove them without resorting to kill methods.

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Let’s begin by looking at some reliable kill options, then discuss some alternatives for those willing to try their luck at live removal.

Kill Traps

Gopher traps are, by far, the fastest and easiest method. Let’s look at a couple common categories of trap as well as a more unique product with a good reputation.

Spring Traps

gophinator
The “Gophinator” trap

This is my personal favorite. Somewhat related to the classic mousetrap, these wire traps are no joke. While designs can vary, they all consist of a small frame, a spring-loaded snap bar, and a lanyard cable to anchor the trap. You can easily fit these killers into a gopher tunnel, then pull the lanyard to retrieve the trapped corpse.

While not always cheap, spring traps such as this one or direct from Trapline Products are a great choice because they’re small, effective, and made of stainless steel. Alloy steel versions are cheaper but you’ll be dealing with corrosion after a couple uses and they won’t work as smoothly.

While most professionals will tell you bait isn’t required, I’ve found that a small dab of peanut butter directly behind the trap works incredibly well to lure them into the trap. 

Box Traps

gopher getter box trap
Gopher Getter” box trap

Box traps can be a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, they’re fairly easy to use and contain the kill. On the other, they can sometimes be finicky, jamming up or even swelling in the case of wood-based models.

Still, when handled properly and with a little planning, a box trap such as the DK-2 Gopher Getter can take care of your infestation at a lower cost than many other trap options out there.

GopherHawk

gopherhawk
GopherHawk” trapping set

The GopherHawk is a great choice for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time or risk digging up their lawn. It comes with a probe that makes finding tunnels a snap.

Once located, use the wedge to create a hole and insert the trap. Pull up on the trap’s black tube to set it. When you see yellow, the trap’s been activated.

While not the most durable trap on the market, the GopherHawk is perfect for smaller gophers, as well as voles, moles, and other tiny rodents.

Fumigation

carbon monoxide sprayer
Carbon monoxide machine

Fumigation of gopher tunnels should only be attempted by trained professionals due to safety concerns and potential environmental impacts.

Carbon monoxide (CO) fumigation is a method used by some pest control companies for gopher control. Carbon monoxide sprayers (such as GopherX or BurrowRX) are used to introduce the gas into gopher tunnels.

The pest control tech first uses a probe to identify the main tunnel runs in the area. The carbon monoxide sprayer is then used in strategic areas to deliver the carbon monoxide. Most techs will allow it to run for 5-10 minutes to allow the CO to make its way through the tunnel system.

Effects are fairly quick. While CO fumigation can be a good way to deal with a gopher infestation over a large area, it’s by no means perfect.

Gophers may simply escape through other exits or even wall-off affected tunnels. Cost is another issue as treatment is often $100-$200 per application.

You may have heard of individuals using their lawnmower or car exhaust connected to a hose for this purpose. However, this DIY method is extremely dangerous and strongly discouraged.

Lawnmower exhaust can be unpredictable in its carbon monoxide content, while modern car exhaust is less effective due to catalytic converters. More importantly, handling any source of carbon monoxide without proper equipment and training poses severe risks of poisoning to the person applying it and to others in the area.

Pesticidal fumigation is even worse. While fine for homes, the last thing you need is a large amount of poison in the soil where it can harm beneficial critters, plants, or even pets and children.

For these reasons, gopher control through fumigation should only be performed by licensed pest control professionals who have the necessary equipment, training, and safety protocols in place.

Natural Predators

Consider inviting some of the gophers’ natural enemies to your property. Barn owls, hawks, and snakes are both effective predators.

While cats and dogs are also good at taking on these little rodents, there is some risk of injury, as a cornered gopher can be quite vicious.

Rodenticides

tomcat gopher poison

Poison baits are generally best avoided because they can harm beneficial critters or even your family. However, you may wish to purchase a rodent pesticide product like the popular Tomcat brand and stick it into the tunnels.

The two most effective active ingredients against gophers are zinc phosphide and strychnine. Any rodenticide containing one of these will work wonders. Of course, it’s probably best to stick to the zinc if you have pets or children, as it’s slightly less dangerous.

But while poison bait works fantastic for most rodents, getting gophers to “take the bait” proves to be less of a sure thing in most cases. Kill traps will typically be much more effective.

No-Kill Methods

While often ineffective, you might still have some luck with the following no-kill techniques. Just be warned, gophers will often find ways around these methods.

Castor Oil

This traditional medicine can give a gopher some serious indigestion without truly harming it. Simply dilute castor oil with water and liberally spray into the tunnel entrances. If the little bugger gets it in his mouth, he’ll try to avoid that portion of tunnel.

Some have had good success with castor oil but keep in mind it’s only a repellent and the critter may simply move to another part of your lawn or garden (which can be better or worse).

IF using this method, make sure you don’t use unrefined castor oil, as this is toxic to the soil.

Live Traps

These aren’t very effective for multiple reasons, but can still trap your unwanted guests.  Be warned, gopher blood doesn’t clot easily, so a panicked gopher could easily injure itself and bleed to death.

Likewise, when you relocate it (at least five miles away from your home), there’s a chance it’ll end up in another gopher’s territory and get caught in a life-or-death fight.

Popular Methods That Just Don’t Work

There are quite a few home remedies out there for getting rid of gophers, both kill and no-kill in nature. Here are some of the most commonly attempted and why you should avoid them.

Flooding

garden hose

This is one of those methods that seem to pop up any time a pest nests underground.  While the average person will just shove a garden hose into the gopher hole, others may try boiling water or even dangerous chemicals such as gasoline!

Suffice it to say, using any chemical, especially flammable ones, are just a bad idea all around. They can cause a fire or explosion risk and will contaminate the soil, killing plants until nature’s able to cleanse the dirt (which could take years).

Boiling water will also instantly kill any plant it comes in contact with, either above or below ground.

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But what about that hose? Beyond a hefty water bill, this method will only serve to enlarge the tunnels as it washes away loose sediment. Meanwhile, the gopher will retreat and come back as the tunnels clear.

Gopher tunnel systems are bigger (and deeper) than you think. No amount of water would be enough to flood all tunnels and chambers, especially with soil that has decent drainage.

The soggy earth makes burrowing even easier, and between waterlogging roots and possible tunnel collapses, your lawn or garden will become a disaster area.

Mothballs

These are little more than an environmental hazard waiting to happen. For more information on why they sh0uldn’t be used on burrows (or at all, really), please check out our full guide on mothballs.

Predatory Markers

While using coyote urine crystals or similar deterrents might work on some critters, they won’t deter a gopher. Used kitty litter contains large amounts of ammonia which can harm plants, and (if you use clay litter) can create lasting problems for your lawn and garden.

Other popular markers include human hair, used chewing gum, and dog poop. Sadly, none of these will work on this critter and will only serve to make your yard less attractive to people and pets.

Ultrasonic Devices

While useful against a wide range of pests, ultrasonic deterrents have little to no effect on gophers. However, they can irritate your pets quite easily. Unless you have other critters mucking about in your yard, it’s best to just skip these devices.

Gopher Prevention

 What’s even better than getting a gopher out of your yard? Why, not having one enter in the first place, of course! The following preventative measures will help reduce the risk of an infestation.

Border Trenches

gopher wire trench

This trick will require a bit of dedication. You will need to dig a trench around your garden or property measuring approximately six inches wide and two feet deep. Line the trench with gopher wire, hardware cloth, or a mesh with holes 3/4 inches or smaller. Fill the trench with rock, gravel, or course sand.

Not only does this block many  burrowing critters from getting past the barrier, it can also be used as a death zone for surface pests such as insects.

Golf courses often use some form of wired mesh or buried fencing as part of their approach to keep gophers and moles away.

Companion Planting

Planting alliums, daffodils, or marigolds can repel a number of pests. Be warned, they won’t stop a starving critter. However, they could provide some degree of protection to the edges of your garden while being aesthetically pleasing.

Protective Gardening

Plant your garden using raised beds. The gopher will be reluctant to come above ground, but cannot tunnel directly to the plants. Likewise, using homemade or purchased mesh baskets will protect the roots and young bulbs from chewing.

Getting to Know Gophers

pocket gopher

These small rodents are easily confused with several of their kin, especially many species of ground squirrels.

Identifying Pocket Gophers

Pocket gophers (Geomyidae family) are all native to North and Central America. Currently, there are 41 known species that bear a lot of physical similarities. Males are typically larger than females and can be up to double their weight.

On average, a gopher weighs about 1/2 pound, with a few species weighing a little over two pounds. Their bodies are six to eight inches long with another one to two inches of tail. They usually have brownish fur to blend into the soil.

These critters get their curious name from the distinctive, reversible cheek pouches used to store food on the run. Most will live up to three years, but a few species have been documented to live up to seven.

Gopher Lifestyle

These small pests love to burrow, creating complex networks of tunnels deep underground. Their tails allow them to navigate backwards as needed.

Entrances are usually hidden with a thin layer of loose soil. Vegetable gardens and farmland are favorite burrowing locales for this critter, as it prefers digging in soft, moist dirt with easy access to food.

Read Also: Do Gophers Hibernate?

Gopher Diet

do gophers have rabies?

These critters absolutely love root vegetables, shrubs, and low-lying vegetables that contain plenty of moisture or juices. As a result, it’s quite rare to see one above ground. But as already mentioned, peanut butter is an excellent bait when trying to lure a gopher into a trap.

Are Gophers Dangerous?

There’s a good chance these critters will be infested with external parasites such as fleas, lice, mites, or ticks. On top of that, they can be devastating to gardens. Their burrows may also cause structural instability if they burrow under your home or shed.

Benefits of Pocket Gophers

That said, gophers actually have a purpose that benefits farmers, if they can be kept under control.

As the rodent devours plant roots, it leaves denuded patches. The harvested plant matter is stored deep within the tunnels where they decompose and provide rich compost for the soil. Meanwhile, the surface disturbance helps turn the soil and aerate it.

But if you’re like me and take pride in having a nice lawn, their benefits don’t outweigh the damage they can do.

Gophers vs Moles vs Voles

gopher vs mole vs vole

These three pests can easily be confused with each other due to their preference for burrowing and eating roots. Thankfully, there are some ways to tell the three apart with only minor effort.

Burrowing Habits

Gopher entrances are crescent shaped (much like a hobbit home’s main entrance) and has a loose soil plug. While there are multiple entrances to their deep network of tunnels, all entrances are similarly plugged to help deter unwanted guests.

Moles often tunnel near the surface, which can result in a visible furrow in the ground. Their entrances are conical in shape.

However, voles will often create partially exposed tunnels known as runways. The entrances to their burrows are tidy, round, and about the size of a golf ball. Unlike the other two, voles aren’t well-suited for digging and are the most likely to chew on plants while above ground.

Size and Distinctive Features

Both moles and voles are smaller than gophers. Moles are around 4-7 inches long with a little stump for a tail. Usually, they can also be identified by beady or even non-existent eyes and/or an almost pig-like bald snout.

They also have larger front paws and claws designed specifically for digging. Their fur also tends to be short and dark

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Meanwhile, voles look like mice with short tails and measure five to eight inches from tip to tail.

Social and Mating Habits

Moles tend to be solitary outside of the late winter to early spring mating season. Gophers are similarly solitary and highly territorial, with their mating cycles varying by species.

Unlike the others, voles are more social and can create large populations in a small area.

Morgan

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