As I said before, when I first moved out here to the edge of civilization, I wanted to live and let live, and I do still believe that way, but it hasn’t quite worked that way.
First I had to block the deer from eating my trees. Each tree needed its own fence. My god what a job that has been.
Today I will talk about gophers, specifically, the pocket gopher. This is one tough little critter, and one heck of a worker. I didn’t mind the countless mounds of dirt, seemingly everywhere. I was going to live and let live, right? Right.
You remember the old Bugs Bunny cartoons and his endless raids into Elmer Fudd’s garden. You remember how Bugs, underground, of course, would go right down a row of carrots, pulling them right down into his burrow? Didn’t even have to put himself in danger by going above ground, right? Right.
Something similar began to happen to my trees, especially the evergreens. I’d start noticing a color change from green to grayish, but would think little about it, as I had no idea what was happening. Finally the color would have changed so radically that I checked a little closer, and tugged on the small tree, which yet hadn’t reached even eighteen inches—up it came! Absolutely no root left, and it was surrounded by pocket gopher mounds! Well, evidently the gopher had eaten the root. Lost a few trees like that.
Pocket gophers are built for living mostly underground. They have claws, well, how do it describe them? The middle claw is longest, about one inch, and reminiscent of your middle finger. And they have teeth—you guessed it: Two large front incisors just like our old pal Bugs Bunny. With claws and teeth like those you don’t want to let it get a hold of you.
Anyway, these little fellow don’t spend much time above ground, only if they want to travel overland to new territory…but why on earth would they want to leave me? So, I had no choice but to trap them, and not with a Havahart trap just to release them somewhere else. No, there was only one answer for these guys: A trap called the “Death-Clutch.”
Except I didn’t have any. I had them back on the farm fifty years ago, where us local kids trapped those gophers for a $0.25 bounty, but those traps all went somewhere by the wayside. Strange how all things one once had will disappear, but that subject is for another blog posting.
But Henry Field Seed & Nursery had them. I ordered four, and for the rest of that summer and the next I took over one hundred pocket gophers off my seven acres. It was kind of fun actually. I would go out in the morning before work, set them (and they can snap your fingers if you aren’t careful) and then after work I would check them, remove the catches, find a fresh mound and reset for the next day.
I’ve been saying “mounds” without explaining what I mean. It would be a mound of dirt, thrown out of the hole from the endless tunneling. I’ve seen them at work at a still-open hole. They bring up an armful of dirt and push it out, and so grows the mound, from about a gallon in size to several gallons.
When trapping I would scrape the mound flat. There’s always/usually a slight depression where the actual hole is. That I would dig out and place the trap in. But sometimes that gopher would plug the hole so well that I could not find it. So I’d have to go to the next mound, or start looking for another series of mounds. I’ve seen up to a dozen mounds from just one gopher.
The thing that was fun was the hiking and seeing nature. I didn’t like dispatching the little critters, and sometimes that old “Death-Clutch” did not finish them, or they would be caught just by the foot, and I would pull them out of the hole and they would come out fighting mad. Oh, yes, as I said, they were tough little critters, and then I would have to dispatch them with a club. And I’m sorry about that. I would always stand for a few seconds in silence, for taking the life of another living thing.
My trees, though, are now safe, at least from the deer and pocket gophers. But there’s still possible drought, hell-bending wind, insects, disease, but I guess that’s what life is about: A never-ending battle.