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CIS 1213

Managing Pocket Gophers in Idaho Lawns and Landscapes

Danielle Gunn, Ronda Hirnyck, Glenn Shewmaker, Sherman Takatori, Lance T. Ellis

Idaho green thumb how-to's


Pocket gophers (Figure 1) are one of Idaho’s most prevalent and destructive vertebrate pests. These burrowing rodents are named for their fur-lined, external cheek pouches or pockets in which they carry food and nesting materials. Pocket gophers are 5–14 inches long, range in color from black to brown, and have small eyes and ears, flat heads with short necks, and large claws on the front paws.

Pocket gopher
Figure 1. Pocket gopher. Photo by Glenn Shewmaker.

Gopher burrows consist of a main tunnel and several lateral tunnels. As they dig their tunnels, pocket gophers push soil to the surface and deposit it in crescent- or horseshoe-shaped mounds that are 12–18 inches wide and 4–6 inches high (Figures 2 and 3). A single burrow system can cover 200–2,000 square feet. Gophers can create several mounds in one day. Fresh soil mounds indicate recent activity.

Fresh gopher mound
Figure 2. Fresh gopher mound. The depression in the mound indicates a plugged hole. Photo by Danielle Gunn.
Gopher burrow system
Figure 3. Gopher burrow system, top (above) and side (below) views. Drawing by Betsy Morishita.

Gophers consume plants or plant materials including green, succulent vegetation, roots, bulbs, tubers, grasses, seeds, flowering plants, tree roots and bark, and pasture plants with palatable roots such as clovers and alfalfa.

Pocket Gopher Control

Restricting Access to High-Value Plants

Fences can be installed around shrubs, trees, and gardens. Use ½- to ⅜-inch mesh wire and bury it 2 feet deep in soil, leaving 1 foot aboveground. Gravel can be laid around cables and sprinkler lines can be encased in metal.


Water from a hose inserted into a gopher hole can push the gopher aboveground to be trapped or otherwise humanely terminated.


Traps can be placed in the main or lateral tunnels. Locate fresh soil mounds as shown in Figure 2 and dig with a shovel, following the plugged lateral tunnel until you reach the main tunnel. Place traps in the tunnel in pairs, facing in opposite directions. Set traps according to the manufacturer’s directions. Farm supply stores sell a variety of traps. Box style traps are typically the easiest to use.

Connect traps to stakes with wire to prevent gophers from moving traps deep into the burrow system and predators from taking the gopher and trap. Some traps work best if light is excluded from the burrow by covering the entrance with soil or plywood.


Poisonous rodenticide baits come in grain and pelletized forms (Table 1). Locate the main tunnel by probing about 8–12 inches from the gopher mound to a depth of at least 4 inches. When the probe is over the main tunnel, it will easily drop about 2 inches. Dispense the correct amount of bait into the probe hole using a long spoon or probe, then close the hole. Handheld gopher baiting equipment (Figure 4) allows the user to probe for the tunnel and place a premeasured amount of bait in the burrow system.

Table 1. Rodenticides for use with hand baiting.
Rodenticide Legal Constraints Timing Comments
Strychnine Cannot be used aboveground. Early spring through late fall. Very effective and lethal in a single feeding. Secondary poisonings may occur if animals feed on gophers killed by strychnine.
Zinc phosphide Cannot be used aboveground. Some formulations are restricted-use products. Early spring through late fall. Use a handheld probe and baiting tool to dispense bait underground in the main tunnel. Do not get this product wet.
Rozol For noncrop use only. Some formulations are restricted-use products. Early spring and late fall. Use a handheld probe and baiting tool to dispense bait underground in the main tunnel.
Handheld gopher baiting equipment
Figure 4. Handheld gopher baiting equipment. Photo by Danielle Gunn.

After baiting, level gopher mounds or mark treated burrows with flags. These practices make it easier to detect new gopher activity and retreat as necessary.

About the Authors

Danielle Gunn—University of Idaho (UI) Agricultural Extension Educator, Fort Hall

Ronda Hirnyck—UI Extension Pesticide Specialist

Glenn Shewmaker—UI Extension Forage Specialist (retired)

Sherman Takatori—Program Manager, Idaho State Department of Agriculture

Lance T. Ellis—UI Extension Educator, Fremont County


ALWAYS read and follow the instructions printed on the pesticide label. The pesticide recommendations in this UI publication do not substitute for instructions on the label. Pesticide laws and labels change frequently and may have changed since this publication was written. Some pesticides may have been withdrawn or had certain uses prohibited. Use pesticides with care. Do not use a pesticide unless the specific plant, animal, or other application site is specifically listed on the label. Store pesticides in their original containers and keep them out of the reach of children, pets, and livestock.

Trade Names—To simplify information, trade names have been used. No endorsement of named products is intended nor is criticism implied of similar products not mentioned.

Groundwater—To protect groundwater, when there is a choice of pesticides, the applicator should use the product least likely to leach.

Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Barbara Petty, Director of University of Idaho Extension, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844. The University of Idaho has a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, age, disability or status as a Vietnam-era veteran.

University of Idaho Extension


Physical Address:
E. J. Iddings Agricultural Science Laboratory, Room 10
606 S Rayburn St

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2332
Moscow, ID 83844-2332

Phone: 208-885-7982

Fax: 208-885-9046



Barbara Petty