Gophers are common animals in backyards, and unfortunately can cause a lot of damage to plants and hardscape elements. There is no one easy way to solve a gopher problem, but by combining multiple approaches, you can avoid conflict with gophers as humanely and effectively as possible.
When Is One Gopher One Too Many?
With many backyard animals, seeing one or two show up in your yard is not generally a problem, and does not need to be treated as one. Gophers, in many cases, are the exception. While they are harmless in undeveloped areas and even act as an important link in the food web by being prey for larger animals, in backyards their tunnels can damage the landscape. Without taking steps to control the gopher population, what starts as one gopher moving into your yard can turn into a yard overtaken by these animals. If you see a gopher or its holes in your yard for the first time, start trying out control methods soon to avoid letting the population get out of hand. Even if this means trapping the gopher, it's more humane to trap a single gopher than wait until you need to trap a dozen of them.
Nonlethal Deterrent Options
There are many gopher repellent products available for sale that claim to work by smell, sound, or vibration, including but not limited to:
Battery or solar powered vibrating lawn stakes
Spinning windmill-like devices that send vibration into the ground
Devices that mimic predator calls
However, people have had mixed results with such methods. They may be worth a try, especially if you're trying to keep gophers out of a small, limited area for a short time (e.g. to keep them out of a seasonal garden patch). They may lose their efficacy over time as the gophers get used to them, and they probably won't keep gophers off your whole property, rather drive them away from one area and into another.
Lethal Control Options
If nonlethal deterrents don't work, you will need to turn to other options, such as traps, to get rid of the gopher(s) in your yard. Not all traps are alike, and it's best to choose one specifically designed to kill the gopher quickly and humanely. The Skunk Corner does not endorse any specific brand or type of gopher trap, as none are perfect, but rather recommends that you take the time to read reviews, both good and bad, that other users have left about the trap you are considering. Red flags to look out for in reviews include live gophers being caught when the trap is retrieved, gophers moving the trap after being caught, and traps wearing out easily or being difficult to set. You want to avoid any trap that causes a trapped gopher to suffer before being killed, and traps that don't work properly or are difficult to set have more room for error that can cause this problem.
Even though many exterminators and landscape professionals will gladly trap your gophers for you, it's best to do it yourself so you have full control over the type of traps used and can actively monitor the gopher situation in your yard. You'll also save a lot of money this way. Gopher traps are generally designed to be user-friendly, so you won't need a professional to help. If you do choose to hire someone to trap the gophers, make sure you ask them about their methods and research the type of traps they are using to ensure they are relatively humane.
Whatever trap you choose, it should be placed in an active hole for best results. These holes will usually have mounds of fresh soil next to them, and the hole will sometimes be open. Don't place a trap in a hole you know is old- it won't catch anything. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for setting the trap. Cover the hole with a brick, a piece of wood, or another flat object to prevent injuries to people or nontarget animals. The gopher will be caught when it comes back to fill the hole.
Just Say No to Rodenticides
Rodenticides, or poisons, are commonly used to control gophers and other rodents, but the costs outweigh the benefits. Not only do they cause a slow and inhumane death for the target animal, but they also can be harmful to nontarget species (including pets) and the environment. They can even be counterproductive. With certain types of poisons, a predator that eats a poisoned rodent will be poisoned as well (this is called secondary poisoning). These predators are important members of the ecosystem, and can benefit you by controlling the gophers and other rodents themselves, so you wouldn't want to accidentally harm them.
What About Livetraps?
Livetraps may seem like a humane and effective way to get a gopher out of your yard, but in reality they're generally not a good idea, for several reasons:
The nature of a gopher tunnel as the location for the trap makes it hard to design one that the gopher is attracted to and won't be able to escape. This is why it's very difficult to find gopher livetraps for sale.
If you do catch a gopher, it may not survive until the trap is checked and then transported to a new location, and even if it does, it will likely become prey or die of exposure to the elements once introduced to an unfamiliar place.
Any livetrap compact enough to fit into a gopher tunnel would likely require close contact with the live gopher to release it, which can lead to the user being bitten.
Traps may help you by getting rid of a couple gophers before they multiply (or controlling the population once they have already multiplied) but there are better strategies for avoiding conflict with gophers in the long term. These strategies are especially important if you live next to an open space or in another area that gophers naturally live and will never go away. Excluding gophers from your garden using barriers is one of the best methods, and can even be done proactively before you even have gophers in your yard. Some ways to implement this include:
Building raised garden beds lined with half-inch or smaller hardware cloth to keep gophers out.
Forming cups or buckets out of hardware cloth and putting these around the roots of small plants. (Don't make them too tight, and don't do this with trees or shrubs, because that can inhibit the growth of the plant.
Inserting hardware cloth "walls" under the ground by digging a trench a couple feet deep and lining it with hardware cloth.
In addition to using barriers, consider making your yard more attractive to the natural predators of gophers, such as owls and snakes. Never relocate a snake or other animal into your yard from somewhere else- it likely won't survive. Instead, focus on making the habitat more suitable for them, and hopefully they will come on their own.