Gopher Control | Gopher Traps | How to Trap a Gopher

Gopher traps are one of the more reliable and tested forms of gopher control used to get rid of gophers. A key step however in using gopher traps is to keep in mind that gopher traps usually differ from mole traps. In fact, very few traps are effective for both ground mole control and gopher control. Accurately determining the type of burrower in your lawn is a critical step.

Why We Need Gopher Control

Gophers move onto our property and into our lawns because our landscapes supply to them a cornucopia of garden crops, vines, ornamental plants, shrubs, trees and more to feed on. Adding to the this, real estate expansion and other types of property development into once suburban areas only drives additional gopher activity.

How Do You Get Rid of Gophers?

Many experts and professionals deem pocket gopher traps to be one of the more effective forms of gopher control and ways to get rid of gophers. Instrumental to the art of gopher trapping, however, is to first understand the biology and behavior of these creatures. Understanding gopher behavior helps property owners improve their efficiency in using gopher traps. You become enabled to more accurately develop strategies on how to trap gophers.

Gopher Biology and Behavior

The pocket gopher is active throughout the year and is a herbivore. As herbivores, a gopher’s standard diet includes a wide variety of vegetation, but generally herbaceous plants, roots, shrubs and trees. In many yards it is often common for these ground creatures to completely destroy the roots and the fleshy portions of plants encountered while tunneling. Hence, if you are trying to determine where to find gophers in your lawn, you should typically first start in areas of dense vegetation. As mentioned in our yard mole trapping article, this is similar to one of those “in order to make money, you must follow money” theorems.

Like that of yard mole traps, gopher traps can be deployed during any time of the year. Gophers are active year round and do not hibernate. Therefore, do not immediately conclude that you have gotten rid of all the gophers simply because you fail to see new gopher mounds or runs.

NOTE: You may indeed no longer have a gopher control issue. We at Gopher and Mole Control HQ simply want to inform you that it has been a common occurrence in the past for people to no longer see surface tunnels, often leading property owners to believe they have obtained gopher control, when in reality the gophers have only gone deeper underground.

Why Gopher Traps are Effective

Gophers unlike yard moles do not leave behind visible surface tunnels. However, gophers too create vast networks of underground tunnels and often their feeding tunnels lay only about five inches below the ground. Should you not understand the difference between mole and gopher mounds, please be sure to take a quick look at our article on the difference between gopher mounds and mole mounds for a brief lesson on the topic.

As gophers often use networks of feeding tunnels as tools for acquiring food, the burrowing herbivores are often compelled to keep such tunnels open.


To be effective, the trap must be set to catch the gopher underground. The goal is to trap (kill) the gopher when it travels through or attempts to plug one of its tunnels. As the gopher maneuvers through its’ gopher tunnel, the idea is to have it trigger the trap by having it press against the trigger pan. In triggering the pan, the gopher trap is released and the gopher is skewered or crushed by the trap. A frequently asked question is why would gophers attempt to plug tunnels that appear to be tampered with or open? The short answer to this question is because pocket gophers are not fond of light in their tunneling systems.

The Key to How to Trap a Gopher and Tunnel Selection

Pincer Gopher Trap

The key to how to trap a gopher is to first determine where the active gopher tunnels are. As mentioned above, gophers dig systems of deep tunnels with the exception of feeding tunnels. The issue is that most feeding tunnels are only used temporarily. Therefore, the feeding runs may not always be the ideal location to set good pocket gopher traps. Permanent or deeper tunnels typically yield the best results since these gopher tunnels may be used several times daily.

To identify such tunnels in your yard or property, look for freshly plugged gopher mounds. In doing this, remember that gopher mounds are not symmetrical like ground mole mounds; instead they are unique fan-like shapes. Gopher mounds are formed in this manner because as gophers dig tunnels and push dirt to the surface, they do so at an angle resulting in crescent and irregular shaped mounds. Also, recognize that you will rarely be able to see gopher tunnels running throughout your yard unlike yard moles.

NOTE: Should you like to view the manner in which pocket gophers tunnel, you can do so by watching our video of a pocket gopher digging.

Probing for the Gopher Tunnel

Here are the three basic steps to probing for a gopher tunnel:

  1. Purchase a gopher probe or fashion one from a long pipe or metal rod. Tools such as screw drivers can also be effective. In the event that you choose to create your own probe, add something sturdy to the end of the shaft such as a small piece of metal. This modification enlarges the tip of the gopher probe and makes probing the surrounding dirt easier.
  2. Gopher ProbeUse the probe to dig into the earth 6 to 12 inches deep, approximately 8 to 12 inches on the opposite side of the hole or plugged opening of the mound. This will help you to locate the active tunnels off of the main gopher burrow. When you locate the main burrow, you will notice a sudden drop of the probe of approximately two inches. This is a great sign that you have discovered the gopher tunnel.
  3. Keep poking around until you find the main burrow. This can require patience. However, once you have located the tunnel, you will have access to the best tunnels to set your gopher traps.

Selecting a Gopher Trap

There are several different types of gopher traps available on the market. The most common types of traps used for gopher control are the two-pronged pincer-style traps and the choker-style box trap. Popular brands include Macabee, Cinch, Gophinator and Victor.

Gopher trap manufacturers often provide detailed instructions, which should be followed carefully.

As gopher traps are fairly expensive, people often choose to only buy one. One gopher trap may very well solve the problem, but increasing the number of gopher traps used can greatly impact the speed and overall success of your gopher trapping program.

How to Set a Macabee Pincer-Style Gopher Trap:

Pincer traps are best when set in one of the pocket gopher’s feeding tunnels. Feeding tunnels usually span anywhere from one to twelve inches underground. The Macabee pincer trap is a pocket gopher trap that allows you to dig into an active tunnel to place the trap directly into the gopher tunnel.

The following steps should be taken:

  1. Swing trigger wire up from under frame.
  2. Spread jaws, using thumbs, by pushing up downward.
  3. Use left index finger to guide trigger wire hook over the end of the frame.
  4. Continuing to push down on the frame, place the straight end of the trigger wire through the small in hole on the silver plate.
  5. Place the set trap into the pocket gopher hole.

Macabee Gopher Trap - Step 1Macabee Gopher Trap - Step 2Macabee Gopher Trap - Step 3Macabee Gopher Trap - Step 4Macabee Gopher Trap - Step 5

Additional Pocket Gopher Trapping Notes:

  1. Use shovels or garden trowels to open gopher tunnels wide enough to set gopher traps in pairs. Such gopher traps placed in pairs should face opposite directions. This method of trapping increases success as it threatens the gopher from two directions. Nevertheless, only using one gopher trap will not compromise your gopher trapping system.
  2. Most gopher tunnels will have a circumference of roughly three to four inches allowing the use of pincer traps. Should you find that your pincer style traps do not fit within the tunnels and you are not comfortable further modifying the tunnel, the box style trap will likely be the optimum solution.
  3. It is not necessary to bait gopher traps although different professionals claim that baiting yields better results. Should you want to bait your gopher trap, try applying peanut butter, alfalfa greens, carrots or lettuce. A yard mole poison (or talprid poison) could even be used.
  4. Last, but not least, be sure to exclude all light from the tunnel after setting your gopher trap or traps. There have yet to be scientific studies conducted to determine whether this last step is absolutely crucial. Nonetheless, we at Gopher and Mole Control HQ believe re-covering the rigged tunnels provides for the best results. You can cover tunnels by laying plywood over the openings or by covering with dirt clogs.

To find out more information and resources about gopher control, continue reading here at the Gopher and Mole Control HQ Learning Center.


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