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South Dakota gopher trapper says caught 22,000 in 22 years

May 25, 2019

HOUGHTON, S.D. (AP) — An 88-year-old man has made his mark on a farming community in northeastern South Dakota as a prolific gopher killer.

Clayton Sanderson of Houghton estimates he has caught 22,000 of the varmints since he started hunting them down in 1997.

Sanderson told the Aberdeen News that he doesn’t poison the animals, because poison is expensive and he can’t reach their bodies if they go deep into their gopher holes to die, making it harder for him to turn them into profit. So he widens the top of the hole and sets a trap with two pressure-triggered arms.

“Find the last hole they made, open the hole, set the trap in. They don’t like the hole open so they come back to close that hole, and that’s when you catch them,” Sanderson said.

He said he has been bitten only once in 22 years.

Farmers hate gophers, he said, “with a passion,” because of the damage wrought on their farm equipment when they hit the mounds at the entrance of the gopher holes.

Sanderson said he earns $3 for every set of gopher front paws that he hands over to Shelby or Lansing township officials — $1.50 from the officials and the same again from the grateful landowner.

And the gophers’ bodies?

“I feed them to the cats,” Sanderson said.

The retired farmer started catching gophers with his son, Jackie, who suffered brain damage during an illness when he was very young. Jackie Sanderson has lived in an assisted-care facility since September, so his father soldiers on alone. He refers to his role as both a hobby and a full-time job.

Sanderson admits he is slowing down. He has trapped 27 gophers this year after 125 in 2018.

“My get up and go got up and left me, so I don’t last very long,” Sanderson said. “Then I just get back in my car and go home. That’s all.”

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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