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The Latest Dirt - July 2022

Interview with Mr. Gopher Bob Archer

by David George

Photo by David George. UC Master Gardener Bob Archer stands ready to battle gophers.
Photo by David George. UC Master Gardener Bob Archer stands ready to battle gophers.

I caught up with Contra Costa’s UC Master Gardener volunteer “Mr. Gopher,” Bob Archer, the other day in Walnut Creek’s Our Garden. Even though Bob is relatively new to the program, he is an experienced gardener and successful gopher trapper. He worked with UCCE scientists to approve a new and effective device to eliminate destructive gophers from gardens. He shared with me both his background and trapping techniques for gophers and other rodents, and even demonstrated the new device and technique in a video.

What did you do prior to being certified as a Contra Costa Master Gardener, Bob?
“I flew heavy lift helicopters while serving in the Army during the Vietnam war until I was shot down about three years into my tour of duty. Those copters were very important to the war effort and could lift as much as 15 tons, like damaged fighter jets or bridge segments. After that, the Army paid for my college education where I earned a master’s degree in environmental science at UT Houston. I used my degree in various roles at both Kaiser Aluminum and Ford Aerospace (Loral) until retiring in 2007 with a permanent disability caused by PTSD. I gardened for therapy until joining the UC Master Gardener program in 2019—where I still garden for therapy! I’m also interested in large-scale composting, irrigation systems, and growing great citrus—I donated 1,500 lbs. of citrus to Our Garden last year.”

What rodent pests do you focus on controlling?
“Well, gophers of course are my primary focus now, and also garden rat control. The traps I use also state they work on moles, but I don’t waste effort on moles. Unless they are digging up your lawn, they really are harmless to your garden. They eat earthworms, grubs, and other small creatures in the ground and don’t eat plants.”

Photo by David George. Example of one of our local gophers.
Photo by David George. Example of one of our local gophers.

What’s the best way to control gophers in an eco-friendly and effective fashion?
“Not with poisons. Poisons have a “last alternative” role in the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. Victor snap traps are effective for mouse, rat, and vole control. Use peanut butter or almonds as bait and cover the set trap with a box or other covering to protect pets, kids, or untargeted wildlife from being injured or killed. For gophers, you can use spring-loaded or wind-up traps that capture and kill gophers in their tunnels. Macabee spring-loaded traps are popular and can be found in local hardware stores and garden centers. Cinch makes a popular gopher trap, and there are other alternatives that can easily be found with a web search.

My favorite, and the one I worked with UC scientists to get approved by UCANR is called the “Gopher Hawk.” It is spring-loaded with a trigger also, but works in a completely different—and I think easier—way for most gardeners. It’s a 2-foot long post with a trigger and snare at one end. Once you find a tunnel with a probing rod, you lower the snare end of the post vertically into the tunnel then cock it. You’ll know the trap has sprung from a distance because yellow markings appear near the top. I demonstrated how to use it in a recent video, which everyone should watch!”

Okay, we will. But first, what are some of your more interesting stories coming from working on rodent control?
“Just a few weeks ago, I volunteered in the Brentwood Farmer’s Market AAMG booth. Afterward, my son and I went cherry picking in one of the famous orchards out there. After a bit, my son came over and said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to come see this.’ Right in broad daylight in front of us, a gopher poked his head out of his feeding hole, ran about 2 feet over to a ripe cherry on the ground, grabbed it with its jaws, and ran back into his tunnel. No doubt, he had eaten quite a few cherries that day, because he was a big one! And at another market AAMG booth, a guy swore that all he had to do to kill gophers was to shove a steel pipe into their tunnels. I don’t recommend that approach!”

Thanks, Bob, for sharing your gopher techniques and stories. We’re fortunate to have you as one of our ambassadors to the public. And yes, we’re going to watch that video right now!