By Mark Barnes
I have an image in my head of my grandpa and my father on a hot Texas summer day, leaning across the hood of the farm pickup truck. My father had a cold beer my granddad had a glass of iced tea. Both had a rifle perched with sandbags on the hood aimed at a fresh pile of dirt in the garden, just waiting for something to stick his head up.
I wasn’t allowed to go out there for fear of scaring whatever it was they were trying to kill but I do remember my grandpa advising me, “Killing gophers you must undershoot.”
I’m not sure what that meant at the time but I surmise that gophers are quick, and by the time you shoot, they’ll be “duckin’ on down the hole.” Therefore, a shot aimed just a bit little lower on the dirt pile might get them. I’m just guessin’.
Gophers are a huge problem in gardens and farmland. Last year 32-year-old Sonia Lopez from Melba was killed by gophers. OK, so there wasn’t a pack of rabid gophers running around attacking people. The gophers had dug a tunnel through an irrigation ditch that caused water to run underneath the highway. That, in turn, created a sinkhole. Apparently Sonia didn’t see the three-foot deep hole at 4 a.m. in the morning when she was driving to work at Dan’s Ferry Service to make donuts. She did not survive the crash.
Gophers can do serious damage when their burrows become erosion tunnels for water, especially in farmland irrigation ditches. And this time of year is when we begin to see them become active again.
“Already this year, it is apparent that gopher damage is on the rise,” said Matt Brechwald, owner of Idaho Gopher Control in Kuna. “I have been inundated with calls from heavy gopher damage, and breeding season has just begun. I have spoken with colleagues in the gopher-control business in Eastern Oregon who are seeing high densities of gophers.”
Gophers not only cause damage to farmer’s ditchbanks, but can be the bane of the home gardener when they kill trees and other vegetation by eating the roots.
While sitting with a rifle and a beer waiting for the gophers to show up might not be the most effective way of ridding gophers from the garden or farm, there are other methods available. Luckily, gophers are territorial, so unless you are dealing with a female and her pups, usually you will only be trying to kill one at a time.
Poisoning gophers works well but you might risk dogs, cats, other animals, and even potentially small children, eating the bait. Even after death, a gopher eaten by a bird or other animal can continue to poison.
Explosives, like in the movie Caddyshack, are not only dangerous, but may do more damage than the intended result. And if you remember the movie, the gopher got away.
Water is another method people have tried. Filling gopher tunnels with water may seem like a good idea but it may take a long time. Gophers can make tunnel systems up to 600 feet long. Filling a tunnel system like that could take over 30 gallons of water without factoring in absorption into the soil. And, gophers are pretty smart sealing off tunnels pretty quick. They also can jump out of their flooding holes and make a run for it so you better have a quick gopher-killing dog or fairly fast with a Samuraii sword. You also end up with a big muddy mess.
You can dig out a burrow but plan on spending several days with uncertain results. It also makes a huge mess.
You can buy gopher smoke bombs from nursery and farm supply stores but you have to find an active hole to drop the smoke bomb in to. Once all the holes are plugged, this method suffocates the gophers. Some say road flares work really well and put out a lot of smoke too. But, again, with smoke, a gopher’s keen sense of smell can detect smoke-out efforts and they can seal off a tunnel quickly from the bad air.
When you have a serious gopher problem, it might be time to call in the professional like Matt Brechwald. He is in the business of killing gophers all over the region. His method is similar to the smoke bomb, death by asphyxiation. He inserts a probe into a gopher’s burrow and pumps pressurized carbon monoxide at 110 psi. This floods the burrow with odorless gas quickly that puts the gophers to sleep and kills them. It’s perhaps the most humane method other than capturing them in no-kill traps and setting them free somewhere else.
I don’t recall if my grandpa and father ever got that gopher but they sure had a good time hanging out. It gave me an idea. Perhaps I might take my son out some day for a little bonding over a gopher hole myself. This time we’ll both have a beer.