Friday, January 7, 2011

Moles, Voles and Pocket Gophers

(Y'all be sure to check out the picture of the squirrel cook, by clicking on the link, in the recipes section at the bottom of this piece. A picture is indeed worth 1000 words.)

Zombie Gopher and the 22 mag Derringer
Once many years ago, when I was working at the jail, I came home one afternoon and was engaged in conversation by my neighbor across the street. As we spoke, literally over her fence, we noticed a common pocket gopher bobbing its head up out of its hole in her flowerbed inches from my feet. He was chewing on one of her flowers!

Since the cultivated rockless ground offered no ricochet potential, I slowly drew my .22 mag derringer and, taking careful aim, fired one shot from approximately 18 inches (muzzle to varmint). The shock to the gopher was so great it actually bounced partway up out of the hole with a small drop of blood where the .22 magnum hollow point bullet had entered the little beastie's cheek and, I presumed, gone on in to finish the rodent off.

My neighbor congratulated me on my shooting skill and I felt rather proud of myself as I went over to my place, grabbed a shovel, went back and scooped up the gopher. I took it to a spot behind my place and started to dig a hole to bury it in.

Imagine my surprise when I glanced up from my grave digging duties to see the intended internee crawling away! No time for fancy shooting now! I took the flat of the shovel and whacked it a couple of times returning the situation to the point I'd thought it had been a few minutes before. When I was sure it was really dead this time I examined the zombie gopher to determine what had happened.

My field autopsy revealed the hollow point .22 magnum bullet had entered its left cheek pouch and expanded against the hard seeds the critter was storing in the pocket. The flattened bullet had transmitted all its power, through the seeds, to the varmint's skull knocking it out. The shock of the shot had caused the gopher's body to spasm, tossing it out of the hole.

And people wonder why I carry a .45 now.

Many of us (me included) don't see the coming troubles as a Mad Max movie or a No Blade of Grass world, but rather a slow lowering of living standards as availability of resources contracts and our infrastructure collapses probably due to hyperinflation or other economic malfeasances by our leaders.

Think Argentina nine years after their economic collapse.

In the aftermath of an Argentina style economic breakdown food and / or the wherewithal to purchase food may become scarce. Hunting in remote areas is a gamble which involves expenditures that often won't be recovered by the value of the game (if any) harvested. Hence hunting in urban areas may appear desirable until you consider the complications arising from carrying guns around and shooting in an urban or suburban environment.

There's also the problem of size. Any animal (pets or wildlife) large enough to be loose on urban/suburban streets is likely to be hunted in hard times. (There are precious few stray dogs on the streets of cities in countries where dog is on the menu.) As the sole predator of any urban / suburban creature you're likely to do better than if you duke it out with all the other predators for popular game.

As a retired businessman I can tell you that you don't want to be competing -- head to head – with a crowd. For the small businessman success if found along the edges of markets. Find the part of the market that isn't being exploited and market into that void. The little guys who go head – to – head against Walmart go under while the little guys who sell something Walmart doesn't sell thrive right next door to the big boxes.

Hence the desirability of urban trapping and snaring to supplement your diet. If you find yourself looking for protein in all the uncivilized places and wish to forgo Fricasseed Fluffy or Roast Rover traps & snares have several advantages over hunting in an suburban environment:

• Traps & snares can be in as many places as you set them so you can be hunting in dozens of places at the same time.

• Traps & snares operate 24 hours a day so you can be gathering food while you're sleeping.

The disadvantages of traps and snares are:

• Traps and snares have to be checked every day.

• Traps and snares can be stolen when you're not around.

First the quarry

Gophers (sometimes called "Pocket Gophers" because they store food in fur lined pockets in their cheeks) can be up to 12 inches long and may weigh up to two pounds. Their fur is semi-water repellent and they are vegetarians eating the roots of plants then sometimes pulling the upper part of the plant underground to eat it too.

Gophers will do serious damage to your garden so trapping them not only protects your vegetables, but can add protein to your diet.

Moles are carnivorous eating worms and insects found underground. In ancient times moles were caught in water filled clay pots dug into the ground to a level just below a mole tunnel so that the mole, walking along the tunnel, would fall into the pot and drown.

Although they won't actually eat your garden plants moles can damage plant roots as they pursue their prey. You'll want to balance the need for worms in your food garden with the need for moles to eat those grubs that eat your plant's roots. Or the mole could add protein to your vegetarian diet.

Voles, also known as field mice, differ from the mouse in your house mainly in that voles seem to prefer living in holes in the ground instead of holes in your walls.

Rats are an important food source in some cultures and rats living in underground burrows can be trapped the way you'd trap voles, but with larger traps. Norway rats and Roof rats are prevalent here in America and you can add them to your larder with traditional mouse & rat traps both inside and out of your home.

Ground squirrels (prairie dogs)
Farmers hate them because they ruin fields and eat the crops. Farmers and ranchers often let "varmint" hunters onto their property to kill a few hundred a day. Unfortunately in a prolonged economic crisis the bullets to shoot the little critters may not only be too expensive, but wounded and dying squirrels tend to crawl back into their holes taking their meat and hide with them. An anchored trap, on the other hand… If you have traps and you're fortunate enough to live near a field full of the little beasties you're assured a meat supply.

Tree Squirrels (rats with fluffy tails)
Are beyond the scope of this little treatise, but you can click HERE for information on snaring squirrels on your backyard fence (being sure that the squirrels fall inside the fence so the neighbors won't learn of (and compete for) your protein supply. If you live in an area with enough squirrels you can eat the meat & sell the pelts and maybe even support yourself.

Getting back to trapping underground varmints, in THIS video you'll note that he marks his sets with little red flags (the wire poles of which serve as anchors to keep a wounded varmint from pulling the trap back down into the hole) and in some cases spray paints around the hole. That's great when you're marking something that most people don't want to touch.

But if people start getting hungry that inhibition may tend to get lost among stomach growls so less obvious markers might be in order.

I want to emphasize the importance of anchoring your traps. Many years ago while trapping coyotes in Texas I ran across a trap-wise coyote who evidently scented my trap and dug a hole nearby throwing dirt onto my set until the weight of the dirt triggered the trap.

Not wanting to be outsmarted by a dog I reset the original trap exactly like before; then set a second trap in the sand where the coyote had dug to set it off. It worked the coyote got caught in the second trap while trying to trigger the first one again.

Only one minor little problem, I'd failed to securely anchor the second trap and the dog dragged my trap off through the sagebrush. It was easy to follow the trap's marks in the sand and I eventually found the coyote where the trap's chain had got caught in some railroad tracks. I was lucky, secure your traps!

To avoid detection you'll want traps that can be set completely underground in the gopher's hole so avoid "Box Traps" and those things that look like a guillotine with sharpened prongs in place of a blade.

You'll need two traps for each set since you've no way of knowing from which direction the gopher will come. Also, a bit of bait (dab of peanut butter, sliver of Juicy Fruit gum, slice of fruit) between the two traps may entice the varmint to the traps quicker.

The Macabee gopher trap has been around for over 100 years so you know the design works. Sweeney and Victor both make good wire traps very similar to the Macabee. All of these traps will work on gophers, voles and moles.

The Gophinator gopher trap also sets completely underground and is constructed entirely out of high temper stainless steel wire so it may last longer than the others.

Macabee and the others are sold at local hardware & feed stores, Granger, Sears and lots of places online. Happy hunting and bon appetit


She ain't glad ta see ya' 'cause that's a Squirrel in the Dutch oven and a pistol in her pocket.

Dipped in honey with a sprinkling of poppy seeds.

Gopher stew.

Just cook like chicken Mole

Voles Souris Cordon Bleu

JRG writes:
You can also ‘create’ tunnels by stacking a length or lengths of plywood along a building foundation. Many ‘vermin’ often use protected routes of travel, and this would funnel them into your trap areas.

Good idea, JRG, I've used obstacles to guide field mice into the "right" side of traps in my wife's garden. Your idea not only guides them into the proper part of the trap, but gathers them in from a much larger area.

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