Does your lawn more closely resemble a putting green at Augusta or the course on “Caddy Shack?” If it’s the latter, chances are that little critters are tearing up the lawn. These small undomesticated animals will seek out the yard in search of food and a place to hibernate.

Understanding the eating and living patterns is essential to controlling critters. Here are some tips on managing the worst yard offenders, including moles, gophers, skunks and raccoons.

Munching Moles

Moles are about six inches long with dark velvety fur, sharp teeth and large front claws. They visit yards from neighboring woods, pastures or fields in search of grubs, worms and other insects.
Telltale signs of mole damage are long tunnels, which they make when looking for food, and mounds of soil, which indicate that they are creating even deeper tunnels to travel to underground nests. Moles can cover an amazing amount of territory – an acre of land with several tunnels or mounds are often created by only two or three moles.

Moles are extremely habitual and look for food at the same time each day (early morning and/or evening), so the best way to control them is by trapping. To pinpoint the area to trap, push down tunnels in the yard and watch for moles to repair them. If the tunnel reappears, it is a good place to trap. Place traps where moles must move soil out of the tunnel. Once captured, moles can be released in woody or weedy areas away from the house.

Eliminating a mole’s food supply might seem to be a viable deterrent, but is an impractical approach because they feed on several types of insects. If one type of insect is eliminated, moles may leave for a short period but will likely return looking for a new food source.

Gluttonous Gophers

Gophers mainly pose problems for yards in the West and Southeast. They are eight to 12 inches long and brownish-black in color. Gophers have large yellow front teeth and huge cheek pouches for storing food like roots and bulbs.

Despite our reverence for wildlife, many of our most favorite species raise havoc in lawns and gardens from city to suburbia. This book solves backyard problems with squirrels, raccoons, deer, crows, insects and a host of other “pests” who raid backyard bird feeders and garbage cans, nest in chimneys, eat shrubbery, dig holes and tunnels in lawns, and attack garden foliage. George H. Harrison, award-winning nature writer, photographer, book author and consultant in the field of nature and outdoors, provides a natural history of squirrels and other problem critters so that readers can better understand the enemy. Topics covered include squirrels and deer raiding bird feeders, eating shrubbery and carrying Lyme disease; woodpeckers drilling holes in siding and roofs; rabbits destroying young trees, shrubs and other cultivated lawn plants; ticks, yellowjackets, wasps and ants biting, stinging and dominating sugar water feeders meant for hummingbirds; bears; raccoons; and more. Informative tips, devices and methods are explained that will lead to a peaceful coexistence with all animals, great and small.

Like moles, gophers push up large mounds of soil that can range from eight to 12 inches in diameter. The mounds are C-shaped around a hole plugged with turf or soil. They make extensive underground tunnels in the yard, but only external mounds are visible.

Trapping gophers in the spring before females breed is the best way to manage them. Spring-like traps (such as Victor Easy Set) work well if used properly. Locate a main tunnel two feet behind a mound of soil, excavate the tunnel with a shovel and insert traps on both sides of the hole. Cover the hole with a board or turf to keep out daylight.

Another type of trap is a box trap. Place the trap just inside the hole at the surface and cover all areas that let in light around the trap except for the hole in the box trap. The gopher will want to cover the light and will move into the trap.

Starving Skunks

These nocturnal animals are found in most parts of the United States, with the exception of the desert Southwest. Skunks are about the same size as a cat and are black with a distinctive white strip down their back. They live in wooded areas, but will occasionally rest in woodpiles, brush piles or building crawl spaces.
Skunks rip up the lawn in search of insects. Damage from this animal can be extensive as the grass may look like it has been rolled back or chewed on by insects.

To eliminate skunks, remove their primary food source (grubs) and they will eventually leave the yard. However, if they reside under the home’s foundation or in a woodpile, trapping may be necessary. To find out if a skunk is under the home, place baking flour at likely entry points before dark. They will then exit looking for food, leaving tracks so entryways can be easily identified and sealed.

If trapping, cover the trap to reduce likelihood of the skunk spraying. Also, be careful when handling skunks as they may carry rabies.

Ravenous Raccoons

Raccoons are rarely seen because they’re nocturnal, but they can be quite abundant. They have a distinctive black mask around the eyes and a ringed tail. Found everywhere in the U.S. except mountainous western states, raccoons will tear up yards looking for grubs and other insects. Like skunks, controlling a grub problem will encourage raccoons to go elsewhere looking for food. To further control raccoons, keep garbage in a tightly sealed container. When they’re not digging up yards, they like to rummage through open trash.

Undomesticated animals like moles, gophers, skunks and raccoons can damage the lawn if not treated properly. In most cases, the problem can be solved by trapping. Remember, once the animal is captured, be sure to release it in woody or weedy areas away from the yard. When practical, removing food sources (grubs or other insects) can help keep them away. A combination of these methods is sure to have critters feasting their eyes on a late night snack somewhere other than the yard.