FAQs About Trapping

  1. I have tried everything: pellets, poison grain, gas canisters, sonic emitters, and vibrators. Nothing has worked. What am I doing wrong?
  2. How does the Gophergoner trap work to kill moles and gophers?
  3. Where do I set the traps for a mole? Where do I set the traps for a gopher?
  4. How can I tell if the mound of a mole is fresh? How do I tell if the surface tunneling created by a mole is fresh? How do I tell if the gopher mound or feed hole is fresh?
  5. If I catch the mole or gopher, won’t another animal take its place?
  6. Once I set the traps, how long should it take to catch a mole or gopher?
  7. When is the best time to trap a mole or a gopher?
  8. Can you tell how big the mole or gopher by the size of the mound?
  9. How can I tell how many moles or gophers I have on my property?
  10. Are there any natural remedies that will it keep gophers out of my lawn, vineyard, orchard, garden and away from my plants?
  11. Does erecting a Barn Owl box really help to rid an area of gopher?
  12. What if I decide not to get rid of the moles and gophers?
  13. How can I protect my underground cable & irrigation lines from gopher damage?


I have tried everything: pellets, poison grain, gas canisters, sonic emitters and vibrators. Nothing has worked. What am I doing wrong?

Let’s begin with identifying your pest. It is important to distinguish between mole, gopher, and possibly vole activity. You will not be successful using the Gophergoner trap to control voles. Gophers and moles seal their entire tunneling system. When a gopher or mole smells or feels air and sees light entering a tunnel, an alarm goes off. Gophers and moles must keep water and predators from entering and must prevent their scent from leaving. When we open any portion of their tunnels, we set off their alarm. Voles are small field mice. Voles do not seal their tunnels. In fact, voles will take over abandoned gopher and mole tunnel systems. Gophers and moles are very territorial and will defend their tunneling system, or territory as I like to call it, to the death. Voles are not territorial. Voles live in colonies. The colonies can begin small, 10-20 mice, but the colony can become very large, 200-300 hundred. Populations will rise and fall naturally with conditions and availability of food. Voles store seed and grasses in their tunnels. After reading my FAQs, you will understand why it is important to identify your pest before you purchase traps.

Next possible problem may be the size of trap you use. When trapping moles and gophers, the size of the trap and trapping methods are different. You might be surprised to know that a mole is not a rodent. A mole is an insectivore, basically a carnivore and related to a bat or a shrew. Its diet consists of earthworms, grubs, beetles, ants, pollywogs, slugs, any insect or larva found underground, and on occasion, baby mice. Moles have sharp razor teeth and big feet with long claws. They are almost blind and use their tail and long snout with whiskers for mobility inside their long vast tunnels and to sense vibration. The fur does not have a knap which allows them to easily run forward and backward in either direction inside their tunnels. Moles cannot store body fat and do not store food. Moles eat 3x or more of their body weight a day. Moles can survive in their sealed underground tunnels with very little oxygen for long periods of time. NASA has studied moles to learn how their bodies adapt to such little oxygen.

A gopher is a rodent and strictly an herbivore. A gopher chews off plant material from above and below the ground resulting in dead and dying plants. A gopher has strong forearms, small feet with long claws for digging. The gopher has two upper and two lower sets of teeth. The teeth are similar to beaver or rabbit teeth. They must constantly chew to prevent the teeth from growing. After chewing off plants or gathering small food, a gopher stuffs the material into its cheek pouches, and carries the roots, tubers, bulbs, small apples, nuts and acorns down to food caches deep in its tunnel system where it lives the majority of its life. The food cache is cool and the plant material will not rot; much like our great-grand parent stored carrots, cabbage and other vegetables in a cellar during the fall and winter months. A gopher maintains sophisticated system of tunnels and caches for food storage, nesting, resting, and defecation. Each day, week, month, and year, it extends its territory vertically and horizontally, but its tunneling becomes denser rather than vast, unlike a mole. A 4-5 year old mature male gopher will control 2000 square feet. The perimeter could vary from in shape, but the size is fairly consistent. The shape of gopher territory in open spaces such as athletic fields or pasture will different than a vineyard with rows of lush grape vines.

Moles and gophers share only a few characteristics, both are burrowing animals and seal their tunnels, and both are territorial and anti-social, but that’s about it. To the novice, these characteristics may seem negligible, but understanding each animal’s habits explain the very different evidence the two animals leave behind.

Mole and gopher activity above ground and also below the ground is very different. Let’s discuss the gopher evidence you can see above ground. A gopher creates crescent shaped mounds with a distinctive plug to one side of the crescent. As you begin trapping, you’ll notice that the location of the plug within the crescent indicates the direction the gopher kicked dirt out of the tunnel. It is important to find the direction of the tunnel. Observe the shape of the crescent and the position of the plug when you use the digging tool to release the plug and open the tunnel.

The gopher or mole mound is evidence of underground excavation. As the gopher or mole excavates, it must dump the soil it is excavating underground above the ground. How the gopher creates its tunnels creates a a mound with a distinct shape. The mole mound looks quiet different. The mound is a symmetrical cone shape. The plug is not visible unless you clear all the mound and look for a single small hole centered in the once cone shaped mound.  A gopher also creates 2-3 inch holes and plugs them immediately. These small plugged holes are called feedholes. The gopher sticks its head out above ground only to feed around the opening it created. You will see how the clover or grass has been eaten away only around the opening. Please refer to the photos: FAQs About Identifying Gophers and Moles, Questions #3: How do I know if I have a gopher? There you will find photos of fresh feed holes and the crescent shaped mound.

A mole is not a rodent. Look for evidence of round, symmetrical, conical mounds and surface tunneling. Surface tunnels are created by the mole as it swims a few inches under the surface of the soil. Both gophers and mole mounds represent underground tunnel excavation. Moles also dig two kinds of surface tunneling, foraging lines and causeways. Foraging lines are usually found in lawn and landscape beds. In lawn, you can see a browning snake like raised tunnel. The discoloring is caused by the mole borrowing just under the sod to pluck earthworms and grubs from the sod. Its best to step on the tunnels and fatten them. Once flattened, you will be able to see when the mole returns. The causeway is also a raised tunnel, but it follows man made boarders such as bender board, sidewalks, patios, and foundations. Causeways are “highways” that connect one feeding area to another. A mole will feed in one area and when the food is no longer plentiful, will use a causeway to travel to another feeding area. Both foraging lines and causeways are not prime locations to trap for two reasons.

 

The foraging lines twist and turn like a snake. Moles do not return to foraging lines with any consistency and these tunnels are not optimal places to set a trap. To find out if a foraging line is fresh, flatten the tunnel with your shoes or a shovel and continue to recheck the surface tunnel for repairs by the mole.
Causeways are also surface tunnels, but they are generally straighter than a foraging line and follow manmade boarders such as sidewalks, driveways, bender boards, stone boarders, flagstones, and patios. To check if the causeway is fresh, slightly open the causeway tunnel with a screwdriver or small spoon. Check the opening for several days. If the opening has been repaired, the evidence supports that the mole is in the vicinity. Fresh mounds are the best location to set a trap. A fresh mound is evidence the mole is excavating tunnels as part of its permanent burrow. If the mole is in the vicinity of the set traps, it will detect the draft of air and come to the trap.

Be aware of the evidence of both mole mounding and both types of surface tunneling. Look for evidence of surface tunneling in moist areas because insects cannot survive in dry soil. Earthworms are the favorite diet of moles. Heavily fertilized and watered areas such as lawns attract earthworms. In the summer, as the soil dries, the insects are drawn to lawns, emitters, under patios, sidewalks, flagstones; wherever there is moisture. A mole cannot store its food and cannot store body fat. Thus a mole must extend its territory 10x the distance of a gopher to feed.

Moles are also territorial and anti-social, but not to the extent of a gopher. During mating season, moles can be found sharing one tunnel system. Also, moles have been known to share common causeways, but they leave a scent at the causeways to warn other moles of their presence. It is believed that moles emit a sonic pitch that resonates inside the tunnel to communicate with other moles.

After taking the time to read this answer, you can understand the importance of identifying your pest before you purchase traps or use other abatement options.

There are several poison abatement options. Some are more effective than others.

  • Registered toxicants include Strychnine alkaloid and in some states, Chlorophacinone.
  • Fumigants include aluminum phosphide and gas cartridges.There are no registered repellents that have proven scientific results. The plants known as caper spurge, gopher purge, or mole plant (Euphorbia lathyrus) and the castor-oil plant (Ricinus communis) have been sold as gopher repellents, but there is no evidence that they actually repell moles and gophers. We do not recommend them since they are both poisonous to humans and pets.
  • Ultrasonic and vibration devices are ineffective.
  • Car exhaust is dangerous and illegal in some states. In addition, the carbon monoxide levels have been substantially reduced in gasolline due to environmental regulations.
  • Drowning is impractical.
  • Shooting is not advised.
  • All other methods, none tested have proven effective.

Read more at the University of California website FQA #989

Trapping guarantees that the culprit is physically identified and removed, but don’t take our word. We encourage you to read about each option. Go to the Agricultural Extension Programs sponsored by several universities. Seek out the opinions of experts who are not paid to sell you something.

You can read more about control options and their effectiveness at the these

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How does the Gophergoner trap work?

Moles and gophers behave predictably 90% of the time. The GopherGoner trap operates on two very predictable mole and gopher habits. 1) Moles and gophers instinctively close all open tunnels to protect their scent from leaving the tunnel and to prevent predators and water from entering their tunnels, and 2) Moles and gophers are meticulous about keeping their runways clear. As a mole or gopher checks its tunnel openings for weakness in its defense, it will instinctively plug any opening and will be caught in the trap. When a foreign object is detected in a tunnel, the mole and gopher instinctively want to remove it. The trap represents a foreign object. The mole and gopher will attempt to remove the trap, hit the trigger and get caught in the trap. Set gopher traps should be checked every four to eight hours. Set mole traps should be checked once or twice a day.

The Gophergoner trap is the same trap as the 100 year old Cinch trap, approved by the U.S. Forest Service for gopher control and is the best trap on the market for the control of moles and gophers because the trap is set above ground. Less labor that other traps on the market that must be set underground inside the tunnel, chained or tethered and another trap set in the opposite direction. Those types of traps require you to dig up both traps to find if they’ve been sprung. The Gophergoner trap is set above ground. When the trap is sprung, the lever arm stands straight up, a beautiful sight. If the mole or gopher sprung the trap and got away, the lever arm lays flat, disappointing, but easy to pull and reset for another try.

Once you start trapping, you need to follow through. Continue to set traps in all fresh activity in order to reach your goal of total control. Repopulation will occur and successful trapping depends upon whether you trap out every last mole and/or gopher.

Trapping is a lot like fishing. It is possible to catch a fish by putting a worm on a hook and hoping a fish finds it, but if you know exactly where to cast your line, you will have much better results. Here is another analogy to ponder: We have a piano in the house, but no one can play it. Don’t blame the traps if you don’t take the time to learn about how to trap these pests. Learn how the professionals trap, and stay with a consistent trapping program.

You can learn more about how our traps work on our

Gopher Goner Trap page.

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Where do I set the traps?

Traps Set Without Digging Out the Mound
Perfect 2-way Mole Set in Cut Out Turf
Mole Damage in Lawn
Mole Mounds in Yard
Click on photos to enlarge.

Where you set traps are different for moles and gophers. First, let’s discuss setting traps on moles.
Deeper/permanent tunnels, are located 12-18 inches under fresh mole mounds and run parallel to the surface. These tunnels will be the most productive locations to set traps since these tunnels may be used several times during the week. If no mounds exist, the next best place to set a trap is in a causeway surface tunnel. Look for a surface tunnels (causeways) that follow a generally straight line or that appears to connect two mole mounds or two feeding areas. A causeway often will follow fence rows, foundations, landscape timbers, or some other permanent man made border. Moles use these tunnels more consistently than winding foraging tunnels in lawns. To check on which surface tunnels moles are using, slightly open the tunnel and mark it with a flag. Return the next day, if the tunnel has been repaired or there is fresh activity, set two traps in opposite directions, above ground of course.

Mole mounds must be fresh or it is a waste of time setting traps there. The tunnel will be plugged below the surface and you won’t see or feel the plug. Unless rain is forecasted, a mole or gopher plugs the tunnel below the deeper surface when the tunnel is no longer used. Hence the need for fresh mound.

Once you have identified a fresh mole mound, level the mound by fanning the dirt with a shovel. Make a 14 x 14-inch template out of cardboard. Lay the square centered over the area where the mound occurred. Using a straight edged spade to get straight edges. A rounded digging shovel will not yield straight edges. Dig around the perimeter of the cardboard. Digging at a 45 degree angle on all 4-sides. Carefully lift out the square piece of soil. Next, using the digging tool, prob all four sides and each corner feeling for a release which is a tunnel that led to that mound. There should be at least two tunnels. Sometimes three and occasionally 4 tunnels.

 

 

 

The plug is usually 2 to 3 inches thick. You will feel a definite release when as you clear the plug and enter the tunnel. Once inside the tunnel, it is extremely important to probe inside the tunnel with the digging tool to determine if that tunnel forks and has two runs. You will need to set a trap in each tunnel. Avoid setting traps in any tunnels that fork before the trigger of the trap. Backfilled traps are an indication of improperly placed traps. There will always be at least two tunnels under a mound. Moles dig up and straight down. However, there may be three tunnels under the mound, or God forbid, four tunnels. If even one of the tunnels fork, you must either dig back to the source of the fork and set a trap in both runs, or fill that particular mound back in and locate another mound, repeating the procedure. Moles are difficult to trap, but not impossible.

Moles are active both night and daylight hours, so check your traps at least once a day. Some mole tunnels are only used on occasion and the mole rarely returns to them. If the trap is set and not sprung in 3-4 days, move to a new location. If the traps are filled with soil or if the trap is sprung, but the mole is not caught, clean out the tunnels and reset the traps. Also, set the trap a little deeper. Using several traps in the area will usually increase your chances of trapping a mole in 24 to 48 hours.

Regarding where to set traps on a gopher, as we mentioned earlier, we recommend watching the GopherGoner™ DVD. Three chapters are devoted to setting traps on gophers in gardens, open spaces and lineal spaces such as vineyards. We also send a brochure with each order explaining how to use the gopher digging tool in conjunction with the trap. Always set a trap in a fresh mound. We try to set 2-traps on a gopher system. We recommend locating two fresh mounds at opposite ends of a series of mounds. The purpose of setting two traps at opposite ends is to create a strong draft that the gopher will detect. If the gopher springs the first trap or backfills the trap, it will be instinctively drawn to plug the opening at the second trap. However, it is not necessary to set more than two traps. Remember, the purpose of setting only two traps is to create a draft. It is not necessary to create a whirlwind if you get our drift.

The markings on the digging tool indicate where the jaws are resting inside the tunnel. The instructions for preparing the tunnel and setting the trap are similar to the mole. Use the tool to probe for forks or second runs. Never set a trap in a tunnel that forks before the jaws. The gopher will inevitably enter the tunnel you have prepared at the trigger instead of the jaws of the trap and you will miss the opportunity to trap it. Sprung and backfilled traps are an indication of an improperly set trap. We include a paper listing common mistakes setting the GopherGoner trap with every order. Finding your trap buried in soil is disappointing, but a sprung, empty trap is worse. The sound of a sprung trap will create a “trap shy” animal. If sprung, empty traps occur too often, you may have to pull the traps and wait a few days for the animal to forget about the trap.

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How can I tell if the mound or feed hole is fresh?

The best time to look for fresh activity is early morning. The fresh dirt will be darker and wetter because the sun has not bleached the soil. The soil will be fluffy and loose, free of footprints, leaves and grass. Sprinklers and rain will not have pounded down the dirt.

Unfortunately, moles are not so cooperative when you open their tunnels or level their mounds. A mole tunnel system is much larger and its inhabitant are different from a gopher. A mole may not return for 2-3 days, or it may have sealed off the tunnel portion you opened and left for an indefinite period of time. To check for the freshest mole mounds, fan all the dirt from the mound excavated by the mole with a shovel evenly across the lawn. This prevents the sod underneath from smothering and dirt from dulling machinery. Then recheck the leveled areas for several days to see whether the mole has been active. It is a waste of time to set a trap in a mold mound or a gopher mound or feedhole that is old.

Fresh gopher feed holes will also have dark, fluffy dirt plugging the hole. If you open a very fresh gopher plug and watch for a few minutes, a gopher will sense a draft and come to the opening to investigate. You will see the gopher plug up the opening again if you wait long enough. When this occurs, it is the best opportunity to set a trap.

Fresh versus old gopher mound
There is a fresh gopher plug<br />
Fresh gopher feed hole
Old gopher mound with fresh plug
Fresh series of mole mounds
FreshMole Mound
Old mole mound do not set here
Fresh mole activity fluffy dirt
Click on photos to enlarge.

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If I catch the mole or gopher, won’t another take its place?

Yes. Once the tunnels are established, another mole or gopher will move in eventually. Experts call this re-population. No matter what abatement method you use, there is no permanent fix to the problem, especially if your property adjoins woodlands or open space. Trapping is the only effective way to keep up with a mole or gopher problem. Other animals such as voles, will take over an abandoned mole or gopher tunnel. Also, the nursing female of both moles and gophers will evict the pups from the nest as soon they are weaned. Her actions force the pups to travel overland in search of their own territory.

Construction and heavy machinery can cause moles and gophers to seek new territory. As experienced mole and gopher trappers, we recommend a consistent trapping maintenance program. We return routinely to the same customer once, twice, sometimes three times a year. The alternative is to learn how to trap and maintain your own property.

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Once I set the traps, how long should it take to catch a mole or gopher?

Moles are far more difficult to catch than gophers. Since moles are such voracious diggers and eaters, their tunneling system is very extensive and they move from one feeding area to another finding earthworms, grubs and other insects. Moles cannot be depended upon to return to the same surface tunnel (the tunnels you can see above ground) with any accuracy. Surface tunneling can show up in a rich green lawn or along man made boarders such as sidewalks, foundations, patios where the work digging is easier. The snake like surface tunneling in lawns is a result of mole literally swimming under the sod plucking the earthworms. The surface tunneling along man made boards are causeways or highways used to get from one feeding area to another. A mole can dig to your neighbor’s property overnight and not return to your property to feed for a month or more. Deeper permanent tunnels are located under fresh mounds and are the most productive trap places for setting traps since these tunnels may be used several times daily when the mole is feeding in that particular area. If you’ve set your traps correctly, by “correctly,” I mean you have located all the tunnels under the mound, you’ve carefully cleaned out the debris so the mole doesn’t come with a load of dirt to plug the tunnel or worse back filled the entire trap, you haven’t enlarged the tunnel by digging out too much, and you’ve carefully checked the traps for 3-5 days without activity, pull all the traps and wait for another fresh mound. When you check your traps, don’t be lazy. Get down on your knees and really look to see if the tunnel is back filled. The mole might have moved to another feeding area where the earthworms are easier picking. Be patient. The mole will return. It could be a week or maybe four, but it will be back. A mole cannot store insects underground like a gopher stores roots and other vegetation and a mole cannot store body fat. A mole eats three times its body weight a day. Use all these habits and characteristics to improve your hunting and tracking skills.

Gophers are much easier to trap than moles. You should be able to trap a gopher in 24-hours or less. A gopher’s territory is less than 2000 square feet. The territory has a main with lateral tunnels coming of the main. A gopher will check all the tunnels leading off the main and the main every 24 hours. A gopher is meticulous about cleaning debis that has fallen in its tunnels. The debris must be kicked out above ground. A gopher mound is crescent shaped. You can tell the direction of the tunnel by observing the offset plug in the mound. If you successfully trap a gopher, you should observe the open tunnels to see if the tunnel is plugged again or set a second trap. If you return to the area where you successfully trapped a gopher and there is fresh activity, there could be a bunch of pups running around down there. Set a second, small trap, if the trap remains empty after two nights, the tunnel is empty.

It is also important to note that both gophers and moles are hemophiliacs. If the tine of jaw caught a foot or pierced muscle, it could get away, but bleed out down in the tunnel. If you find a sprung trap, check the tine for muscle or fur. Set the trap again, if the mole or gopher bled out or is too weak to return to plug the opening, the trap will remain empty. If you’re really lucky, the gopher or mole will be snared by the tine and as you pull out the supposed sprung trap, you’ll pull a gopher or mole out with the trap. If this occurs, you have about 3 seconds to grab your digging tool and give it the cu-de-gra before it runs back into the tunnel. It’s a good idea to sharpen the moveable tine to a sharp point. As you move the lever arm, you’ll see which tine moves and which is stationary. Only one side of the jaws move. That’s the one that does the damage.

Frequently, we have opened a fresh gopher mound or feed hole, set a trap and caught the gopher within a few minutes while the customer is standing there. When this happens, the customer gets the impression that trapping is easy. We attribute this situation to luck, not skill. Early, early morning is the best time to observe activity. And to set traps. As the sun rises, the earth gives up its heat. When you open tunnels, the draft is greater during this heat exchange.

Seriously, my biggest catch in one day was 97 gophers. Each trapper carries 100 traps on one of our Honda Ranchers. When we trap gophers on small area, say an expensive horse ranch, we leave try to leave the traps in the ground overnight, return the next day, reset any traps that were sprung or backfilled and look for fresh activity to set more traps. Of course, we trap more if the traps remain in the ground 24 hours. We either pull all our traps or leave the traps another day. Returning each day can get expensive. Travel is a big expense. When we trap on a larger scale, say a 25 acer vineyard, we may have three Hondas each with 100 traps. Each trapper will be assigned certain rows. After the 100 traps are set, we take a break, leave them in the ground an hour, pull traps and continue working across the rows of the vineyard continually rotating the traps until the entire vineyard has been covered. Our last set of the day, we leave the traps in the ground overnight. When we return the next morning, we pull all the old sets and begin another row. Public schools and sports fields are tricky because we must stay with our traps, both to avoid theft and to keep people away to avoid injury. If you learn to trap, you have the advantage of leaving the traps in the and moving them as often as you see necessary.

Warning: do not leave your traps in the ground during or just before rain. Gophers and moles can sense a change in the atmospheric pressure and will plug all the openings to their tunnels to prevent water from entering. You may not see or feel the plug. It could be plugged 12″-15″ below the surface. It’s just a waste of time. The mole or gopher can’t feel the draft or see light. Wait for clear weather. After a long rainy spell, the moles and gophers will open tunnels to get needed oxygen and dump debris that has collected over the rainy spell. That’s the time to set traps! These traps are galvanized steel, but if you leave them in the rain for weeks, they will begin to rust. Once oxidation begins, it tough to stop the rust. A little wire brush and oil will help stop the rust. Best to not leave your traps in the rain.

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When is the best time to trap?

As far as time of day, the best time to trap both gophers and moles is early, early morning. The earth gives up its heat as the sun is rising. When you pop open a plug, the draft will be greater in the morning. If you can find two fresh gopher mounds within 15′-20′ apart, pop open both plugs and set traps. You have just created a huge draft, AND if the gopher springs the first trap, he will go to the other. You have doubled your chances. This is not the case with moles however. Refer to “how to set traps on moles.” Also, both gophers and moles are very sensitive to vibrations. Lawn mowers, machinery, autos during the day all create tension with gophers and moles.  Moles and gophers avoid water and will plug up their burrows during periods of rain. If you are lucky, get traps set in the ground just before the rain, but pull them once the rain starts. Moles and gophers are more active on days that are overcast or foggy. This may have to do with the barometer, but it is a good time to set traps as well.

Seasonally, both moles and gophers are most active in spring and fall months. Moles mate once a year and give birth in the spring. Gophers can mate year round if the vegetation is lush, but generally a female gopher will mate twice a year in the spring and again the fall. Late summer, early fall also marks the time both mole and gopher females will wean their pups and ejected from the nest. The little ones must travel overland searching of a place to establish new territory of their own. Occasionally, you will find moles in your swimming pool. The mole was traveling above ground searching for new territory. Moles and gophers do not hibernate and remain active all year. Moles cannot store body fat or store food and must continue to expand their system in search of food supplies. Gophers dig food caches and store food year round.

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Can you tell how big the mole or gopher is by the size of the mound?

No. As moles and gophers dig, the excavated dirt must be dumped somewhere above ground. Large mounds indicate that the animal is digging deep tunnels and a sophisticated system.

Regarding gopher mounds, it is more important to pay attention to the diameter of a tunnel rather than the size of the mound. Generally, larger gophers live in larger tunnels. If I find a small tunnel close to an obviously larger tunnel, I suspect there are two gophers living in two separate systems close, but sharing the same tunnels. However, it is possible for a young gopher to move into an abandoned tunnel system previously controlled by a large adult male. When that happens, it may be necessary to switch to a small trap. I could be a juvenile gopher has taken over and abandoned adult male tunnel system. It takes a little more investigation, but you’ll catch it eventually.

The size of a mole is consistent, about 5 inches. I do not recommend using a medium trap for a mole. You might get lucky, but generally, it will slip through the jaws. Also, notice the size of the trigger and the distance the trigger is from the jaws. I call that distance the “kill zone.” The trigger on a small trap is the size of nickle and the distance between the trigger and the jaws is about 1.5 inches. The trigger on a medium is the size of a half dollar and the kill zone is 3 inches. Picture the mole hitting the trigger on a medium trap and where the jaws will snear its body. The medium trap is just too big for a mole or a juvenile gopher. Nose to tail, an adult male gopher can reach 12″-13″ you need that 3 inch kill zone so the as the gopher hits the trigger, the jaws grab the gopher around the chest. A small trap is just too small to trap a gopher.

Identify your pest before you choose the size of trap.

Mole mound with trap to show scale<br />
Small mole mound
Gopher mound with trap to show scale
Fresh gopher mound
Click on photos to enlarge.

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How can I tell how many gophers and/or moles I have on my property?

Population densities for moles are estimated to average 2 per acre in woodlands and higher in residential areas. Densities for gophers can reach 60-70 per acre depending upon soil conditions and food supply.

95% of the time, we trap only 1 mole when we are called to a job. That being said, we have trapped three moles overnight in a small backyard that bordered a creek. Two of the moles were trapped in tunnels a foot apart. This leads us to believe that in some situations, tunnels can be shared by several moles at one time. We even suspect that moles and gophers share common causeways because we have trapped a mole in a gopher tunnel on occasion. We have not found a method of estimating mole or gopher infestation.

Moles mate once a year, generally, in the springtime. Generally, gophers mate at least in the spring and fall, but can mate more often if the conditions are favorable. It is not uncommon for us to trap two moles in nearby tunnels during the spring months. We attribute our good fortune to mole and gopher mating habits. In the spring months, we always check for nursing female gophers because pups are surely close by.

How can you tell if you’ve trapped a nursing female gopher? Turn her over and check for matted fur around engorged nipples. You can almost tell how many she is nursing and whether the pups are new born or about to be weaned.

nursing female

We have not found any information on how to determine the sex of moles or whether the female is nursing. We have read that male and female moles may share tunnels while the female is nursing. We don’t know if this is true, but we do trap a lot more moles and gophers in close proximity during the spring and fall months.

As commercial trappers, we have a trained eye to distinguish one gopher “system” or “territory” or a group of connect tunnels from another. The same is true with mole systems. With practice, you will learn to spot the usually lineal group of crescent shaped mounds, in the case of a gopher. In the case of a mole, you can see a series of symmetrical, conical shaped mounds 2′-3′ apart. A simple way to test if the either animal is present is to use a shovel to level all the mounds. Fan that rich soil with your shovel, and check the next day. If you see fresh dirt, bingo.

On large, commercial gopher trapping jobs, we routinely trap 50-60 gophers out of the ground during a 6-hour period. We even get higher catches in some areas where both soil conditions and food supplies are good. We have trapped 4,000 gophers on a 16-acre vineyard over the period of 4-years! My record is 92 in one day at a school athletic field that had never been trapped. The gophers were clueless and so easy to trap.

We recommend trying this method of clearing the mounds of all excavated soil. It will save the smothering the grass underneath the mounds. Once the grass has died, weed seeds will grow in place of the grass. Also, you will save your mower blades from dulling or breaking. Level the mounds with a shovel and return the next day. In the case of gophers, you can determine how many areas are active at the same time by watching for new mounds that are created.

There is no rock solid way of determining exactly how many moles or gophers there are per acre until the pest is trapped and there is no more activity. We always leave the tunnel open a few days after we’ve trapped a mole or gopher checking if the tunnel is plugged. If there is no activity, we know there was only one mole or one gopher in that system.

These are good reasons to trap all the moles and gophers in the area, not just the easy ones. Trapping is the only effective method of control, but you must empty all the tunnels! Then, “un-invite” neighboring moles and gophers from entering abandoned tunnels by stuffing the trapped animals back into the tunnels and seal the tunnel. The stench from the decaying carcass will ward off others for awhile.

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Are there any natural remedies that will it keep moles and gophers out of my yard and away from my plants?

Most people over water their yards and they wonder why they have a mole and their neighbors don’t. Moles are a water animal. They’re attracted to the wet soil. It’s easier to dig and that’s where the insects flourish. I can’t think of many insect, earthworms, and grubs that can live is dry soil. If soggy lawns are attracting moles, change your irrigation system to water deeply and less often.

For large, open gardens, planting Marigolds and horseradish might help. Both plants don’t have a pleasant odor; we can all agree on that, but have you ever tried tasting the stem or root of a marigold? Don’t. You’ll become extremely sick. Marigolds can make a difference with gophers and also deterring insects in your garden. Remember, moles follow bugs, so Marigolds are a good deterrent for moles too. You can use tall giant varieties and smaller Marigolds. Mix them up and when they die, take off the dead heads and replant, you’ve just doubled, if not quadrupled your investment.

Underground fencing might be justified for valuable ornamental shrubs, landscape trees and precious gardens. To protect existing plantings, bury 3-foot wide ½ inch hardware cloth vertically. Extended at about 6-inches of the hardware cloth above ground bent slightly away from your property to deter moles and gophers from traveling overland, and another 6-inches underground bent away from your planting area, so as they dig downward, they will hit the hardware cloth and be forced away from your planting area. Lap the hardware cloth about 3-inches and stitch the laps with wire or the pests will eventually get through the laps.

It is possible to protect small areas of raised gardens by attaching the hardware cloth to the sides of wooden boards, but again stitch the laps of hardware cloth, or the animals will find their way inside. Unfortunately, hardware cloth is galvanized steel and will rust out in 3-4 years.

VERY IMPORTANT! If you use wire when lying down sod, ALWAYS spread 6-inches of topsoil BEFORE laying the sod to prevent moles from swimming between the sod and the wire. Once the wire is in place, it is impossible to set a trap through the wire. Your mole will have free range until it decides to leave and good luck finding where it got in and left.

Personally, we don’t invest in wire baskets. We find the wire baskets cause the same problems as hardware cloth. They rust. However, if you decide to invest in wire baskets for individual plants, we recommend using stainless steel wire baskets rather than galvanized wire baskets. If your water contains a large amount of iron and your soil is acidic, the galvanized baskets erode in 3-4 years and gopher will eat thru the wire.

The only tried and true method is trapping. It is hard work and time consuming, but you will know for sure that your pest is identified and gone.

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I own 25 acres of quality wine grapes. Does erecting a Barn Owl box really help to rid an area of GOPHERS?

Yes and maybe. People may hope that natural predators will help, but trapping is the only effective method of mole and gopher control.

We definitely encourage customers to attract Barn owls, but if they spot fresh gopher activity and don’t take action with traps immediately, you are asking for trouble. A single GOPHER is capable of causing a lot of damage quickly. It takes three years for a grape vine to fruit. A gopher can kill a vine overnight. You cannot afford to wait for an owl to arrive. Effective action must be taken immediately. Set traps!

The process of coaxing a Barn owl to your box has several stages and requires attention and commitment. The most important factors installing these boxes are heat barriers and placement. Here are some tips for placing successful nesting boxes for Barn Owls.

  • The nest boxes should be at least 10 feet off the ground.
  • The boxes can be located on posts, in trees, or on barns.
  • Keep the entrance to the nesting box away from the prevailing winds in your area and in natural shade if possible.
  • Putting the boxes together in pairs can encourage more brooding.
  • Make sure the boxes are in a safe place where they will not be bothered.
  • The box should be lined with about 2 inches of wood shavings to make a soft place for the eggs.
  • The boxes must be cleaned annually.

Fortunately, barn owls are non-territorial, so the number of owls that can be attracted to your property is limited only by the availability of nesting sites and available prey. Barn owls also have huge appetites. A family of barn owls can eat over 3,000 rodents in a four-month breeding cycle.

Unfortunately, although barn owls prey on gophers, they have a habit of hunting over large areas, often far from their nesting boxes, and they tend to hunt areas where the hunting is easy pickings, which can tend to make them unreliable for gopher control. Since Great Horned Owls are predators of Barn owls it is best not to put nesting boxes up where Great Horned Owls are known to live. If you have Barn Owls or any birds of prey on your property then they are probably controlling the rodents for you and it is especially important not to use poison.

Close up shot of owl box<br />
Owl box in a new vineyard
Two owl boxes in an olive orchard
The placement of owl box is very important
Click on photos to enlarge.

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What if I decide not to get rid of the moles and gophers?

If moles are not damaging your lawn, your soil will be well aerated. The earthworm population may be smaller, but so will the less desirable insects. We always prefer to leave these amazing animals alone.

Gophers are another story. We can’t find many good things to say about those rodents except that people in some countries eat gopher. You might try marinating them in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, roll them in seasoned breadcrumbs and pair them with a Pinot.

Seriously, gophers are responsible for chewing through irrigation lines and utility cables. Gophers burrow under foundations, septic systems, swimming pools, and ditch banks. Gophers can ruin the integrity of those structures. Gophers (and moles) digging under driveways and sidewalks create tunnels that easily crack cement under the weight of trucks and heavy machinery resulting in cracks in the asphalt and cement. Soil brought to the surface by gophers have a greater chance of erosion by rainwater. I’ve seen rainwater enter a tunneling system at the top of a hill and create a surge of water as it finds an exit point. If this surge of water can result in serious erosion. This is particularly concerning for vineyards and orchards planted on steep hillsides. One gopher can destroy a 4-year old grape vine overnight. The loss to the grower is estimated at $400. Gophers reduce the productivity of alfalfa fields and native grasslands by 20 to 50 percent. In addition to their mounds smothering crops, farmers must raise the sickle bar when harvesting hay or alfalfa to avoid dulling and breaking the teeth on the bar. A single gopher can destroy an entire garden or landscape if ignored.

The major damage created my a mole is on the surface, particularly in golf courses and manicured lawns. Surface tunneling causes roots to separate from the soil, killing grass and leaving twisted yellow snaking surface tunnels in an otherwise green lawn. The surface tunnels interfere with mowing. If surface tunnels are not rolled or somehow flattened, the exposed soil along the tunnel ridges become “seedbeds” for blowing weed seeds to propagate. We find crab grass and nimble weed often growing along side mole surface tunneling. Bare spots in the grass from mole mounding will also cultivate weed growth.

In neglected orchards, the ground can be infiltrated with tunnels and mounding around tree roots. The mounds of fluffy dirt are the result of soil dug in and around the roots of the tree. Some of the deep/permanent tunnels will eventually work around the root ball of the tree and allow the mole access to the all the organisms living within the root ball throughout the year, since many insects and their larvae live off the root moisture and sap year round.

Since moles are constantly adding on new tunnels to the old system year after year, counting the number of MOLE mounds or ridges, especially during the active spring and fall months, is not a reliable way of taking mole census. A single mole can tunnel 50-60 yards in one night or construct 50 to 100 mounds in a month.

If you must get rid of a mole, trapping is the only way you can be sure you have the culprit. We encourage you to set traps. Check them twice a day. If nothing happens in a day or two, pull them, but leave the tunnel open. Check the open tunnels for fresh activity. If the tunnels stay open, he’s gone. Don’t waste your time setting traps there. Look around. Take a peek over your neighbor’s fence. Talk to your neighbors. A mole’s territory is measured in acres so almost any mole problem is usually a part of a larger mole problem.

Gophers stay in once place, rigorously defending his territory. Trapping does not solve your mole or gopher problem overnight. Trapping is labor intensive, but the Gopher Goner trap is the most effective method of eliminating moles and gopher with the least intrusion and without poisons.

Compromised Hillside
Damage to rose rootballs
Gopher dug through blacktop
Gopher damage to ornamental tree
Click on photos to enlarge.

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How can I protect my underground cable & irrigation lines?

Buried utility cables and irrigation lines can be protected by enclosing them in various materials, as long as the outside diameter exceeds 1.75 inches. Gophers can open their mouths only wide enough to allow about a 1-inch (2.5cm) span between the upper and lower incisors. Buried cables may be protected from gopher damage by surrounding the cable with 6 to 8 inches of coarse gravel. Gophers usually burrow around gravel 1 inch in diameter, whereas smaller pebbles may be pushed to the surface.