Gopher bounties still part of life in rural Minnesota


Mar 11, 2001
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Bounty hunters collect dollars for gophers

Associated Press

May 26, 2002

LAFAYETTE, Minn. -- Lafayette Township Clerk Marcy Muchow doesn't always count each gopher tail.

The tails may have been sitting in jars in farmhouse freezers all summer, collected one by one by kids who know each tail brought to the township clerk will earn them a buck.

The tails have been cut off with knives, because storing entire gophers in freezers means there wouldn't be enough room for steaks, frozen vegetables and ice cream containers. By the time Muchow gets the jars, with tails months old, the contents have thawed a bit.

"If I know the kid real well, I just take their word for it," she said. "I don't always take the chance (of reaching in)."

Gopher bounties, popular decades ago, still are a part of rural townships' business. Most local townships offer around $1 and sometimes up to $2 for each gopher.

The reason these rodents have a price on their heads? Farmers consider them to be pests. They leave behind mounds of soil in hayfields that can damage machinery. They eat corn, reducing crop yields. And their tunnels crisscross county ditches.

"Oh, they really are a nuisance. Even in the road ditches they make it so darn rough, you can't mow it," said Narve Nelson, former clerk of Bernadotte Township in Nicollet County.

The rewards were started decades ago to provide spending money for kids.

Bandleader Lawrence Welk, a North Dakota native, recalled in his memoirs that he bought his first accordion with gopher bounty money. Muchow herself would trap gophers when she was young, spending the money during Saturday night band concerts in Lafayette.

"Me and the neighbor boy would go out. I hated baby sitting, so to make up the income, I'd trap gophers and we'd split the money," she said.

Gopher hunting is fairly easy, said Dale Selby, owner of Wildlife Taxidermy in Nicollet. He demonstrated recently, re-creating the way he trapped gophers when he was younger.

"We'd go out and buy about a dozen traps and go out by the creeks and set them. We'd come back and find about six or seven gophers. At a quarter a piece, that really added up," he said.

Gopher hunters find fresh mounds of dirt and dig down to find the tunnel. Traps are placed in the horizontal part of the tunnel, then the hole is closed up. A gopher scampering by would get its leg caught in the metal trap.

Nicollet County townships can submit a bill to the auditor's office to be reimbursed 50 cents on the dollar for bounties. In the past two years, the county has paid out only twice: $45 to Lafayette Township and $43 to Bernadotte Township. The county budgets $200 per year for bounties.

Blue Earth County fully reimburses townships: $1 on pocket gophers and 50 cents on striped gophers. The county ditch system (funded through assessments on property owners) pays $40 for any beaver caught in a county ditch. The county paid $295 for gophers last year and $1,495 was paid for beaver bounties.

Erin Jordahl, executive director of the Minnesota Humane Society, was surprised to know gopher bounties still exist.

"It's appalling to me in this day and age that this sort of thing is going on. We're about promoting a humane attitude toward animals and that we can live in harmony with wild creatures. This barbaric practice flies in the face of that," she said.

Jordahl dismisses the notion that rewarding bounties will solve what farmers call a nuisance.

"If this is a problem, this is not going to solve it," she said. "There are humane methods of control."

Three years ago the annual Gopher Count in Viola Township in southeastern Minnesota attracted publicity and prompted cries of opposition to the practice of turning in gopher feet to collect the $1.25 reward. But across this region, gopher bounties remain uncollected. Nelson speculates kids aren't drawn by the lure of just a dollar anymore.

"Times are different now. You'd really have to raise the bounty. Years ago you could buy a lot for $1. You'd have to pay $5 or $10 now to equal that," he said.


Well-known member
Feb 17, 2002
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back in the 60s as a kid ,my cousins and I would trap gophers for $.25 per tail on the farm we would check that traps daily. We could make a couple of bucks between us and then go to the saturday afternoon movies for $.60 each including a small popcorn and small soda. Many kids today (not all) are not willing to work for a few bucks as their parents just hand them money . It also seems to me that people in their early 20s seem to think they should have all the things their parents have worked all their life for .
In todays world what would be enough bounty to get it going again ?
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