Don’t Let Gopher Mounds and Vole Holes Get You Frustrated

Voles are mouse-sized rodents that live in colonies in shallow burrows with multiple opening. Voles will set up their colonies in a vacant mole burrow. Voles eat roots, bulbs, seeds, plants, dead animals and tree bark. Many open holes with trails leading to and from are evident in a small patch of ground. Voles are nocturnal. Their tunnels are open and show wear around the opening where grass is worn and dead from many voles going in and out.

Woodland-Vole_web  voles using abandoned gopher feed holes  Vole damage 3_lg

Pocket gophers and moles have the ability to dig deep extensive tunnels. You can tell a gopher mound from a mole hill by the location of the tunnel under the surface. Mole hills resemble volcanoes, with the earthen plug in the center. Moles are carnivorous and do not eat plants. Moles prefer earthworms and other invertebrates. Some mole tunnels are so shallow you can often see a ridge of earth on the surface. A gopher digs up from its tunnel and pushes the dirt to the side creating a crescent shape. An earthen plug leading to the tunnel will be at the edge of the crescent.


Equipment for Trapping Voles   Vole Traps Set   Vole Trap Steps #3-Place gutter over set mouse traps

I have used mouse traps set under a 2’ piece of gutter secured to the ground over the vole opening. This trapping set up forces the voles to exit their tunnel one of two ways; however one vole will meet a “set” mouse trap either direction. I place rocks in other openings to force the voles out fewer holes. Unfortunately, I can only trap one or two per night. Trapping voles is not effective because there are so many. Vole populations fluctuate. Owl boxes are very effective if you have an ongoing problem. Grain cover strychnine is not an option for me under any conditions. Not only can the grain can be ingested by birds and other mammals, beware of the effects to natural predators –osprey, eagles, and mammals eating the carcass of a poisoned gopher. The beneficial creatures will suffer the effects of the strychnine as well.


Home Made Tools to Increase Trapping Success

baseball bat dowel

Attached is a photo of the homemade tools I recommend to prep the tunnel AFTER the plug and debris have been carefully been cleaned out. My friend has a wood lathe and sharpens my bats and dowels. Be creative if you don’t have access to a lathe. File, whittle or otherwise sharpen the tip as the photo displays.

Insert the sharpened end of the baseball bat in the gopher tunnel about 10” and lift up-down-right-left. This action creates a reverse funnel leaving the area of the tunnel 10” inside undisturbed. The funnel is slightly wider at the surface where you will be inserting the trap. DO NOT set the wires yet. Open the lever arm so the tines of the jaws are just touching. The lever arm will be at the 12 or 1 o’clock position. This position is the smallest circumference of the jaws and provide the best opportunity to get the jaws inside the tunnel with the least disturbance.

I have a YouTube video of me setting the wires and checking the trigger wire AFTER inserting the trap. I’ll show you how to hold the trap open while inserting the jaws. I show you how to set wire #1 with the left hand freeing the right hand to set wire #2 and so on. Go to my channel: Gophergoner.

Creating this reverse funnel hardens the soil and holds the earth together while you set the trap inside the tunnel. This method is particularly important if you live in areas with high sand content in the soil. In Florida, for example, the soil is almost all sand. It may be necessary to dig deeper to find enough moisture to hold the sandy soil together while the trap is set.

Do the same steps for preparing a mole tunnel, but use a 1-1/4″ dowel cut about 16 inches long. Dowels can be purchased from any big box store. Wooden baseball bats are becoming scarce. I scour all the thrift stores regularly. If you can’t find a baseball bat, purchase a 2” dowel, but cut it 30 inches, the approximate length of a baseball bat. You will need the 30 inches as a lever to create that natural 45 degree angle. Gopher surface tunnels come off an underground lateral, but the tunnels are never straight. Broom handles just won’t give you the same results as a bat or 2” dowel. Using the baseball bat (or 2” dowel), packs the soil and straightens any crannies and crooks only for 10” so the trap sits neatly with little disturbance.

Note: If the gopher tunnel is 3” in diameter, the gopher who dug the tunnel is an adult male. In this case, setting the wires after insertion is not necessary since the set trap fits easily into the tunnel without disturbance. Sometimes, I will grab a clump of dirt or a small rock and set under the sheet metal to gain a proper angle on the entire trap. Gophers dig up from their lateral at an angle. As you look at the crescent shape of the mound on the surface, you can image the gopher kicking dirt to create that crescent shape. Open 10 or 20 plugs. Use the tool to locate the direction of the tunnel. Practice and you’ll begin to learn which direction the tunnel leads.

18-inch tool locate plugs and clean debris from gopher or mole tunnel   Gophergoner cinch trap medium

I recommend spending $5 to buy my digging tool. Notice the marks on the digging tool. The marks refer to the medium trap – used for trapping gophers. The mark closest to the spoon shows where the TRIGGER sits when inserted inside the tunnel. After you have inserted the jaws of the trap inside the tunnel, gently open the lever arm so the jaws are at the open position. Now, set wire #1 over the lever arm. Hold wire #1 with your left hand so your right hand is free to set wire #2 over wire #1. Let go of wire #1 with your left hand and grasp wire #2 with your left thumb. Now your right hand is free to grab the trigger wire. Test that the trigger glides smoothly inside the tunnel. If the wire is stuck on a root or rock, the trigger will not perform its function. The gopher will not become ensnared in the jaws because the rock or root stops the jaws from collapsing. If the trigger wire is stuck, gently take the wires apart, hold the lever arm so the jaws are barely open, and remove the trap from the tunnel. Check the trigger. There will be evidence of the obstruction on the trigger, either 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock or 12 o’clock to three o’clock. Now, use the spoon to gently scrap or clean ONLY the area where the trigger was catching inside the tunnel. Do not clean the entire 10 inches of the tunnel! Enlarging the entire area will create an opportunity for the gopher (or mole) to avoid the jaws, circumvent the trigger and spring the trap. Reset the trap and check the trigger wire.

The mark closest to the handle shows where the JAWS sit when the trap is inserted inside the tunnel. Check for forked tunnels inside the 10” area where the trap will be set. Gently run the spoon down one side of the tunnel checking for a second tunnel or fork in the tunnel you have chosen to set your trap. Turn the spoon over and run the spoon up the other side. You will feel a release. Remember feeling the release when you were searching for the plug in the crescent shaped surface mound? The same release you felt when you found the plug will alert you to a forked or second run off the tunnel you are using to set the trap.

The next step is very important! If there is a fork inside the tunnel BEFORE the second mark on the tool, the gopher will enter the tunnel at the trigger instead of below the jaws. A couple of things can happen. One, the gopher will back fill the entire trap and return to its lateral to live another day. Two, the gopher will spring the trap and return to its lateral to live another day. If you discover forks BEFORE that mark in the area you want to set the trap, you have two choices. One, close everything up and find another fresh mound. Two, dig deeper and find both tunnels. Set a trap in each direction. I’m lazy. I don’t like to dig, but sometimes this unfortunate situation is your only option, and one must dig. Given the choice, I close up the opening I just created and look for another fresh mound.

However, if there is a fork AFTER the second mark on the tool, no worries. No matter which tunnel, the gopher will enter the tunnel below the jaws and be directed up the wires of the jaws, hit the trigger, and bang! A hit is obvious from the surface. The lever arm will be at 12 or 1 o’clock. If the trap is sprung, the lever arm will sit at 3 o’clock.

Sprung Trap Notice Lever Arm Position   Trap is Sprung Lever Arm Standing  Gopher Caught in Medium Trap Notice Lever Arm Position   Mole Caught in Trap Notice Lever Arm Standing Up

If the lever arm is in the 3 o’clock position and the wires are sprung, the trap appears to be empty, but don’t give up. The gopher (or mole) might be caught by a leg, a foot, fur or muscle. The trap will look like it’s empty, but you might have your animal by fur or muscle. Gently, gently, pull the trap from the tunnel. Have the digging tool on the ground next to the tunnel. If the gopher (or mole) is caught by the point of the jaw, it will fall off as you pull the trap. You’ll have a second or two to give the cu-de-gras before it runs back into its tunnel.

Disregard the marks if using the small traps. Moles don’t dig forked tunnels like gophers. Use the tool to locate the plug and clean the debris from the mole tunnel. Insert the 1-1/4” dowel lifting up-down-right-left as I described for prepping the gopher tunnel.

Small and Medium Size Comparison of Gophergoner Traps

If you find you’re trapping a gopher and find the trap sprung several times, and you know you’ve set a good trap, switch to the small trap. You may be trapping a juvenile gopher about the size of a mole.

Sharpen the jaw that moves to a sharp point. Both gophers and moles are hemophiliacs. If you wing them hard enough, they will bleed out in their tunnel. If you find a missed trap, always check for fur and muscle on the tine. Insert the trap again. If no activity for 24-hours, you know the gopher (or mole) bled out.

The West Coast is in the heat of MOLE trapping.

All breeds of moles reproduce once a year. February is mating season for the West Coast. Those property owners in the Mid-West and East Coast have another month. Notice all the fresh mounds? The male is searching for females. Moles are active throughout the year and can be trapped at any time, but using the mating instincts to our advantage is a must. Moles are tough enough to trap. Let’s get started.

Before setting mole traps, determine which runways are currently in use and/or where fresh excavation is occurring. Moles dig a system of deep tunnels that are more or less permanently used as well as a network of surface runs used for feeding. Some of the surface tunnels are only temporary so they may not make a good trap set. Moles are more likely to be trapped in the deep runways, which they reuse almost permanently.

To determine where moles are active, clear the freshest looking dirt mound. Fan the soil equally over the lawn area around the mound with your shovel. Probe for the exit tunnel about the center of the area, and gently open the earthen plug. Observe the area 2-3 times daily. Locating fresh activity, either new excavation, a return to previous excavation, or finding a frequently used runway is very important to the success of your control efforts. You will set up to 4-traps only in the area that you cleared. Here’s how:

Cut a 14”x14” cardboard template. Lay the cardboard on the ground you have cleared so the tunnel opening is in the center of the square template. Use an irrigation shovel with a 7-inch flat nose blade and no angle. Make two cuts on each side at a 45 degree angle. Grass roots will hold the square sod together while you expose the area for setting traps. Gently lift out the square piece of sod and wrap with plastic while you are trapping. After you have finished trapping, return the sod, gently tamp, watering if necessary. I promise. You won’t see a scar in a few weeks. ++++++You will not achieve the same angle and cut with a digging shovel. Do not disrupt the area by digging more or deeper. Be gentle.

The 3D trapping site should now be approximately 14”x 14”x 6”. Using the digging tool, probe along the 4-sides of the square and each corner – 360 degrees. You will feel a release when the spoon finds less dense soil. Pop open the earthen plug of each tunnel. The tunnel will be about 1 ½” in diameter. The first set is your best chance of trapping the mole. Set a trap in each exposed tunnel. Insert the jaws of the trap gently into the tunnel up to the sheet metal, open the lever arm so the jaws are fully open inside the tunnel and set the trap wires. Check the trigger wire is sliding freely; no roots or rocks obstructing the trigger. Setting the wires AFTER inserting maintains the smallest amount of space needed to get the jaws inside the tunnel.

Perfect 2-way Mole Set in Cut Out Turf

Why 14”x14” and why 4-traps? Picture the location of the mound before you cleared the fresh soil. Now the sod is set aside. The mole will dig an entrance (1-trap) and an exit (2-traps). However, the new excavation could have 2 more tunnels. If you miss setting a trap in any of the tunnels leading to the exposed area, you risk a missed opportunity. Moles are extremely cautious and will abandon activity. Moles are almost blind, but light and air will enter the tunnels causing havoc for the mole.

My mole traps are $10 a piece. Some people tend to buy only one or two. Although one trap may catch the mole, increasing the number of traps to FOUR will increase the speed and overall success of your trapping program. Maintain the traps and they will last your lifetime. My $10 digging tool will aide you in finding the earthen plugs and clearing debris inside the tunnel with only slight disturbance to the trapping site. The mole tunnels are still under your property. Each year the tunnels remain vacant, gravity and erosion will collapse the tunnels. Be diligent in trapping. Watch for fresh activity.

Hire an exterminator $200-$400? Ask if he uses poison worms? There will be no guarantee. Trapping? Ask for the carcass. Or DYI for $50 and keep all the equipment.

Mole Activity Identification 101

Mole mounds are circular. The mounds often remind me of a volcano with stubby cigar shaped clods strewn on top. The characteristic shape and clods are created as the mole pushes the earth to the surface up through the center of the mound with its front paws. The earthen plug that is so characteristic of a gopher, is not visible in a mole mound. However, if the soil is cleared, the earthen plug sealing the tunnel will be found in the center of the cleared area. Mound size can range from 4 to 24 inches across. Deep excavation produces larger mounds. Heavy mounding in a small areas indicates nesting preparation. Counting the number of mounds, especially during spring and fall, is not a reliable method of taking a mole census. Experts believe that 2 to 5 moles per acre is a lot of moles!

Fresh Mole Mound on Old         Mole Clods are the Giveaway     Mole Mounds Series of Five

Foraging tunnels winding like varicose veins 1 to 2 inches under the surface. Foraging occurs particularly in lawns and mulched areas. These winding tunnels allow the mole to feed on earthworms, grubs and an assortment of invertebrates during favorable temperatures. Some foraging tunnels are used only once and the mole never returns to them. Step them down in a few places and if the mole is foraging the tunnel will be repaired in a day or two. During winter temperatures, foraging tunnels are not used because moles feed deeper underground where food is more plentiful.

Mole Foraging Tunnels      Mole Foraging in Mulch

Shallow surface tunnels used as travel lanes. Travel lanes are straighter than foraging tunnels and usually follow the path of least resistance; man made borders such as sidewalks, foundations, as well as mulched areas. This system of travel lanes to numerous feeding areas supply a large amount of worms, grubs, larvae, etc. once established.

Raised Tunnel Used as a Travel Lane       Mole Travel Lane Along Patio      Mole Travel Lane in Mulch

Gopher vs. Mole

While moles and gophers both live in sealed, underground tunnels, there are clear differences between these pests, their surface activity and the damage they create. Different sized traps and trapping methods are used for moles than gophers, so careful observation and learning pest identification is essential.

The Camas Pocket Gopher is named for its external fur lined cheek pouches.

The Camas Pocket Gopher is named for its external fur lined cheek pouches. Gophers gather and store plant material underground.

A mole is not a rodent, but an insectivore related to a bat and shrew. Moles eat live prey and cannot store food.

A mole is not a rodent, but an insectivore related to a bat and shrew. Moles eat live prey and cannot store food.

The Camas Pocket Gopher is named for its external fur lined cheek pouches. The gopher packs tender plant material in its pouches, the skin closes tightly around its teeth as the gopher digs and packs until the pouches are full must be taken below. Pocket gophers are herbivores. Roots, tubers, grasses, fruits, veggies are gathered in the fall stored deep in the earth similar to our cold boxes in the cellar. We have photos of food caches on the website.

Gophers are solitary and extremely territorial with two exceptions, during mating and while the female nurses and prepares her young to leave the nest. Gophers live deep in their tunnels for up to five years. Whatever the duration, when a gopher dies a new gopher moves in and uses the established tunnel system. A single gopher system includes intricate food caches, waste caches and grass lined sleeping rooms as deep as 6 feet. Every active tunnel and cache is sealed to keep its scent inside and predators and moisture outside. Adult male gophers often defend territories of up to 2,000 square feet. A series of gopher mounds in one area is the work of one gopher.

Gopher mounds are crescent or horseshoe-shaped and the earthen plug is off to one side. To determine the direction of the tunnel, image how the shape of the mound and placement of the plug is created as the gopher digs up from a lateral at a 45 degree angle that runs 6-12 inches underground. Gently, pop open the plug and probe for the direction of the tunnel. The tunnels will be 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches in diameter. The entire system of tunnels is sealed with earthen plugs.

Fresh-vs-Old-lg  A-Perfect-Gopher-Mound-lg  Fresh-Feed-Hole-lg

Sometimes, a gopher will feed above ground, venturing only a few inches from the tunnel opening. These feed holes look like plugs of dirt with a clipped band of vegetation around the hole.

Pop any fresh earthen plug open. If you opened a vacant tunnel, it will remain open, but if you breached an occupied system, the tunnel will be resealed within a few hours.

Gopher activity: 1) plant damage 2) crescent or horseshoe shaped mounds with a visible plug at the outer edge 3) feed holes marked with 3-4” earthen plugs especially in areas of clover and alfalfa with clipped vegetation around opening.

Stay tuned for moles.

The Love Life of the Pocket Gopher: Sex, Myths, & Facts of the Pocket Gopher Part 1

Angry Gopher Caught Outside the Burrow

This Gopher is in Defense Mode

Nothing steams up a boy gopher more than meeting another boy gopher. They squeal and hiss and clatter their teeth. Each tries to grab the other one by the nose with their long upper and lower front teeth. They hang on until the other one or both of them bleed to death. Sometimes they give up and live another day, but gophers are hemophiliacs, so it’s a bloody battle.

It is hard to understand why gophers have such a rotten disposition. They are cute, dark, furry animals about the size of a rat with long front teeth, whiskers, small little feet and tails, and tiny little ears. They live in an underground burrow with many rooms, including storerooms full of more food than they can ever eat. They even have a room for an inside toilet. Gophers are constantly rearranging their rooms. They are like underground bulldozers, closing off one room and building a tunnel to another new room. When their toilet gets full, they close it off too and build another toilet. Gophers are really very clean. They only go in their toilet.

Gopher Stash of Acorns

Food cache of acorns.

The only time the boy gopher wants to be near a girl gopher is when the she wants to mate. Usually, there is abundance of food and usually in the spring or the fall, but if there’s lots of food, they mate as much as they want. The boy gopher gets the urge and goes hunting the girl gophers. The girls stay in their burrows and wait to meet boy gophers. When the boy finds the girl, they make it together. Then he returns to his own burrow. If they should meet again, they would go for the nose and hang on. Is this love? Freaky.

The pregnant girl gopher has a lot to do. She fills her storerooms with fresh roots and green, juicy stems, which is why farmers kill gophers. Gophers eat roots and leaves and seeds and stems and can do extensive crop damage. So farmers trap them and poison them. Men are not the only enemies gophers have to worry about. Owls, foxes, skunks, and other animals will hunt the gopher while she (or he) is out gathering food. And snakes and weasels can come into her burrow and kill her or him when they are at home.

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