The History of “Dak Rats”

Written by: Rodney Wilson

Quite often the discussion between a resident of Minot, and someone who lives and works on base will come to the existence of Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, aka gophers, or as they are referred to by military personnel on Minot AFB, Dak Rats.

One of my first memories of exterminating a gopher from our yard came from my Dad, a Northwestern Bell telephone employee who had little, if no, love for gophers. As you all know, these little rodents do not have a lot of value to those who raise gardens, have pastures with cows and horses or to those of us who do upland game hunting. Reason? Well, it’s those darn gopher holes.

You could hear my Mom scream with disgust when she found a gopher hole in the midst of her garden. There was also a lot of angst among cattlemen who did not want their pastures riddled with gopher holes that cows could step in and either strain a ligament or break a bone. That was true for us upland game hunters who would trip in a gopher hole and fall flat on our faces.

Later in my life, say about high school, my Dad was involved in burying telephone lines underground and removing miles and miles of overhead lines. It was certainly a positive transition, as the lines were no longer subject to damage by ice storms and in theory these underground lines would require a lot less maintenance, “They should last forever” my Dad would explain to people.

I said, in theory, as maybe the engineers who designed the first underground cables were not aware of the destructive nature of gophers. Yep, those gophers could chew right through those cables terminating service to a home or farm. Later on, the cables would be wrapped with a metal ribbon that at least slowed down the gophers a bit.

So back to a little bit of history on the control of gophers. My first experience with eradicating a gopher was called snaring. A thin piece of wire, with a loop on the end was buried around a gopher hole. At first you would whistle or chirp. Gophers are extremely curious little creatures, and they would stick their heads out of the hole to look around and with a jerk you would have them. My Mom would have a 5 gallon pail to throw our captured rodent in, and then we would haul them about ½ a mile to an out of town location, and now they became someone else’s problem.

It took a lot of patience to wait out the gopher, but in most cases, there was only one in our garden at a time, so the capture and remove method worked fairly well.

Now on to gopher eradication method #2. The local farmers and ranchers came up with a bounty on gophers as the populations had risen to the point of concern. There were signs in local businesses that informed hunters, like me, that for each gopher tail that was turned in to the local county office, you would receive a penny. Yep, a bounty of 1 cent. There wasn’t enough time in a day to make any money snaring the gophers, so a BB Gun was the choice of weapon for us kids. You just talked to a farmer, found out which fields were not being grazed on this particular date, and you went to work. I could explain the details, but to make this story a bit shorter, a penny for a gopher tail would not pay your college tuition. Heck, it hardly paid for a bottle of pop and a candy bar in the local 5 and dime. (In today’s world, this is a dollar store).

So like mosquitoes, I am afraid we are stuck with Dak Rats unless someone comes up with a better solution for controlling the ever expanding population on Minot AFB. BB guns are not allowed inside of Minot AFB, or for that matter inside the city limits of most communities. If you have an idea, I am sure base officials would certainly like to hear it. Who knows, you may have the perfect solution to the never ending problem of Dak Rats!

Best Kept Secret
I am going to make my annual appeal for those who have not taken the time to visit any one of the 4 large National Wildlife Refuges that are within an hour’s drive of Minot AFB. Upper Souris/Lake Darling, Des Lacs, Audubon & J Clark Sayler are an easy drive. Check out their websites for their auto, hiking and canoe trails. Great for sightseeing and photography.

Today’s Chuckle
There’s one good thing about ignorance — it gives rise to 90% of the world’s conversation.

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