Gophers, Twine, Alfalfa, and Snipes

I don’t know if my mother knew much about hunting the mythical snipe, but she did know a thing or two about young boys on a farm, twine and gopher holes.

Our farm was situated on the prairie in North Dakota. It was so-so land, that was at least good enough for a small yearly grain crop, if the rain came. To supplement the grain, we kept a small herd of beef and dairy cows which provided milk and cream for our household. They also added hamburger to our meat, mixed with ground venison that somehow was caught on our land and supplemented our food supply.

To provide feed for the cows, one of our fields that was more rock and slew than black dirt, was seeded with alfalfa. While the grass and alfalfa didn’t take well to the land, the gophers did.

That part of North Dakota that we lived in had two types of gophers, the “Pocket” Gopher and the” Striped” Gopher. Both types feasted on our crops, but only one was a danger to our cows and horses. Those little striped gophers dug and left holes all over the pasture. The holes were big enough that a horse or cow could drop a leg into one and break an ankle (A fatal condition). A pocket gopher filled in his hole behind him leaving a soft mound of dirt, that while the dogs were keenly interested in them, they posed no risk to the animals.

It was our job, as the young men of the farm, to man the small collection of gopher traps and manage the striped species. We would secure the traps with chains and spikes in or near a gopher hole, and then leave it till we got results. Then the tails were collected for the bounty and the traps were redeployed. The traps were checked twice a day and the whole job took about a total of one hour tops.

That left us a lot of free time, time in which we investigated, poked and fiddled with the old and broken farm machinery. I guess we just want to see how it worked, but more and likely it was just a contest to see who could get the most bolts off the old junked machinery. When we would get too close to the old hay sickles, mom always managed to find us something else to do. That something usually involved baling twine, the alfalfa field and gophers.

She would get us a nine foot length of twine and would tie a slipknot on the end. Then we would run the twine back through the knot to make snare. Mom would then show us how to place the snare around the gopher hole and get back to the end of the twine and lay quietly on the ground waiting for the sneaky gopher to appear. Mom told us if we were patient and quiet enough, we could catch a bunch of gophers to increase our tail profits.

That “snipe inspired” woman would get us set up on the holes and get us to lie down in the soft alfalfa field, with the summer sun on our back and she would go back to the house. It would take less than a half an hour of the sheer boredom and the sweet smell of the grass to put us to sleep in the sun.

Mom would come out at lunch time and would send our dog to go wake us up for sandwiches and cookies and listen to our tales of hunting.