If you're pulling your hair out because of gophers, and you want to get rid of them, we can help!
In this Pest Strategies guide you'll learn:
- How to prevent them in the first place
- How to identify them
- How to get rid of them
- PERC: what it is and how to use it
Gophers on your property can cause untold amounts of damage to your yard, crops, trees, and flower beds. Their mounds are unsightly evidence you're not in control – they are.
It's time to regain that control. We'll cover the principle methods, discussing the pros and cons of each one as we go.
We've got a lot of ground to cover, so let's get started!
Can Gophers Be Prevented?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is still yes, but with some caveats. Preventing gophers requires knowing something about them, specifically, what they're after.
Like all animals, gophers are always looking for water, food, shelter, and a mate, in that order. If any of these four exist on your property, eventually they'll try to get it. The main thing you need to look at is their food.
Gophers mainly like alfalfa, dandelions, tap-roots weeds, forbes, bulbs, shrubs, and trees. They want plants that have fleshy underground storage structures, i.e., big roots. They'll eat other roots as they burrow, but that's just a “target of opportunity” kind of a thing.
Habitat modification techniques include the use of resistant crop varieties, crop rotation, and flood irrigation. Grain crops that have thin roots don't produce enough food for gophers to live year-round. If you plant these kinds of crops, gophers won't be a problem. It's a simple equation: no food, no gophers.
If you're unable to change your crops, (for financial reasons, etc.) this method won't work.
Crop rotation, planting alfalfa one time then grain crops the next, accomplishes the same thing by reducing their available year-round food supply below the survival point. Flood irrigation, in rice fields, for instance, will fill their burrows with water. It forces them to leave or drown.
The objection here is the same as above, although maybe not as severe. This brings us to the next possibility.
Exclusion is a fancy word for “keeping them critters out.” It means building a fence, but since gophers are subterranean, at least half the fence has to be underground.
The best material to use is 1-inch chicken wire all the way around the target area. Dig a trench 18-24 inches deep. Place the chicken wire down in it and leave 1-2 feet above the ground. Shovel the dirt back in, then tack the exposed wire to stakes to hold it upright. Stretch it tight the way you normally would with a fence.
The obvious disadvantage here is the time, expense, and labor involved in erecting the fence. If you're trying to protect an area much larger than a normal yard around a house, it'll probably be more than you wanted to do.
A buffer strip involves planting a 50-foot wide strip of grains around the fields you want to protect. It creates an unsuitable habitat around the field and discourages gophers from proceeding any further. They're not smart enough to figure that if they keep going eventually things will change.
But this method presupposes that A) you're a farmer with large crop fields and B) you can afford to lose a 50-foot wide swath of your field to an off-target crop. Most people aren't, or can't.
How Do You Identify Gophers?
Before jumping into the nitty gritty of eliminating gophers once they're on your property, you need to make sure that' what you actually have.
Some species of moles and ground squirrels look a lot like gophers but aren't. Nor do they cause the kind of damage gophers do. There are two general methods of identification.
Method 1: Catch & Comparison
Method one involves catching a specimen and comparing it to a database. The advantage is, you'll know exactly what you're dealing with. The disadvantage is, it takes time to capture, or trap, one of them. Moreover, the available databases online are, sad to say, less than complete. You might have to take your specimen to the County Extension Office in your area for a positive identification.
Method 2: Gopher Mound Review
Method two is a bit more general in nature and applies to a wider number of species. In addition to examining the overall body structure and appearance, it focuses on the thing you'll notice more than anything else, their mounds.
Gopher mounds are almost as unique as fingerprints. Ground squirrels live in underground burrows, but don't make mounds the way gophers do. Moles will make mounds, but nothing like gopher mounds. Furthermore, moles tunnel just under the surface of the ground, leaving clearly visible “runs” all over the ground.
Gopher mounds are often described as semi-circular or horseshoe-shaped. As a gopher digs down into the ground he pushes the dirt up behind him with his back legs and tail. It creates the singular shape that gives away what species he is. Follow this link to see the mounds from different animals.
How Do You Get Rid of Gophers? (5 simple methods)
Method 1: Shoot Them
This the least effective method, and if you live within the city limits, the one most fraught with legal problems. Most towns and city have strict laws about discharging weapons inside the city limits, especially at night. If you want to sit up at night with a flashlight and a rifle, I suggest you check with the police first.
The researchers at University of Wyoming (no shrinking violets) agree that shooting gophers (along with ground squirrels and moles) is largely a waste of time, especially if there's more than one or two of them.
Method 2: Trap Them
Trapping is a time-honored method of catching and killing animals of all shapes and sizes. Done properly it consistently delivers good results. Done improperly, it's a monumental waste of time.
Read More: What's the best trap for gopher removal?
Most traps will do the job provided you follow some simple steps.
- Determine the direction of the tunnel
- Open the tunnel about 1-2 feet from the opening
- Put two traps back-to-back in the tunnel
- Cover them up
- Cover the main opening to the tunnel
When the tunnel opening is closed off, the air flow will stop, prompting the gopher to investigate what happened and he'll run right into the traps.
The downside of using traps is that you have to clean blood and gore off the traps after each use. Sometimes the traps don't finish killing the gophers completely and you'll have to do it. It comes with the territory.
Method 3: Bait & Poison Them
Baiting is another method with a long, proven track record. There are all kinds of good baits on the market, many of which we've already reviewed.
Read More: What's the best bait for gopher removal?
Block baits will have to be pushed into the opening of the tunnel, and the burrow sealed up so the gopher will come to open back up and encounter the bait.
For granular baits, you'll need to poke a hole into the tunnel about 1-2 feet from the opening, pour some granules in, close up the hole.
Also cover up the main opening, once again, prompting the gopher to come and see what the problem is.
The downside with baits is that you never see the bodies so it's hard to tell when they die. The advantage is, you don't have to mess around with dead gophers.
Methos 4: Repel Them
There are two kinds of repellents for gophers, sonic repellents and chemical repellents. Both of them work, neither of them perfectly.
Sonic repellents typically consist of a stake that you bury 4-6 inches in the ground. On top is a solar panel that charges the batteries which run the device. The stake emits a 400-1000 Hz low-frequency sound at set intervals, usually 25-30 seconds, which irritates and annoys the gopher. The effective radius for each stake varies between 70-80 feet in diameter depending on the model.
You'll need to purchase multiple units to cover the area you want to protect with overlapping fields
Chemical repellents consist of granules or pellets made of a material which smells and tastes bad to gophers. Castor oil is popular lately. Normally you'll have to broadcast them with a spreader then put a spoonful down the main opening of each mound in the affected area.
These granules are usually water activated so you'll have to water the area when you're done spreading the granules. You'll also have to pour some water down the mounds you put the granules in. In addition, you'll have to reapply them after a heavy rain.
Repellents – either sonic or chemical – require closer observation of the habits and activities of the gophers than the other methods do. If you observe a change in their movements in response to the repellents, you might have to change the location of the sonic stakes or change the amount of the granules you put out.
Read More: What's the best mole repellent?
Method 5: Fumigate Them
The last method we'll discuss is fumigation. Fumigation is exactly what it sounds like, you're going to gas 'em out. The procedure is simple, but a bit time-consuming.
Using any of several fumigants such as this one or this one, light the cartridge and insert it deeply into the open of a gopher mound. Close the open as tightly as possible to trap the gas inside. Examine the ground carefully, looking for areas where the smoke is escaping. Tamp the soil down to keep the gas in the tunnel, otherwise, it won't do any good.
If the gopher is in the mound when you put the fumigant in the mound, he'll probably be dead in about two minutes. That's a minimum of two minutes per mound, so be prepared to spend some time at it.
Using Pressurized Exhaust Rodent Control (PERC) For Gopher Removal
PERC is a specialized type of fumigation requiring some fairly expensive equipment. It involves a gasoline-powered machine that captures and pressurizes its own exhaust, carbon monoxide, in order to pump it into a gopher mound.
It's not unlike putting a hose in the tailpipe of your car and running the other end into the mound. The main difference is the pressure, which forces the gas further back into the tunnel system.
If you're wondering does PERC work, the answer is yes, but . . .
A California study of gopher control involving PERC admitted that the system works as long as a gopher is in the tunnel when it's used, but the cost – several thousand dollars for the equipment – is prohibitive for most people. In fact, the study had to be conducted with donated equipment because the researchers couldn't afford to purchase it.
Another problem with PERC is that the carbon monoxide from the exhaust is a colorless gas. If any of it is leaking out, there's no visual evidence of it.
This led researchers at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln to propose adding a smoke bomb to the mound when gassing it. The smoke leaking out of the ground would show them where the soil needed to be compacted to retain the gas inside the gopher tunnels.
Final Thoughts On Gopher Removal
All of the methods we've discussed will kill gophers – or chase them away – but none of them are perfect. Most Pest Control Technicians who've been out in the field have come to the conclusion that a combination of methods is the best answer. The specific combination you'll use will depend on the size of the area you're trying to protect.
For the average homeowner, who doesn't want to mess with dead gophers or traps, but just wants to keep them out of his or her yard, the best combination would be bait and repellents. The repellents will discourage the gophers from staying in the area and the bait will get the stubborn ones that do.
Other combinations will also work, so don't feel like you have to use this one. Feel free to experiment!
Other Gopher Guides
Curious about other gopher guides? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.