How To Catch A Prairie Dog

© Lightpoet |

© Lightpoet |

It’s Friday! We’re almost at the weekend! So what better way to celebrate imminent fun than to tell a Fun Friday story? This one is a childhood memory that always makes me smile….

I lived in Minot, North Dakota as a small child. My dad was in the air force and we lived on Minot Air Force Base. For various reasons, I have a lot of extremely vivid memories of North Dakota, even though I was only about 5 when they happened. I swear I actually remember them though. I remember summers that were so hot you couldn’t move and winters that were so cold that you couldn’t be outside for more than a few minutes without getting frostbite. And yes, I remember the snow being deeper than I was tall!

But this particular memory takes place in the summer, I think. I know it was warm enough to be outside and the grass was still more or less green. I remember sunflowers reaching up to the sky with heads bigger than mine. I remember wide, flat land with hardly any trees at all and huge, blue skies that went on forever.

I also remember prairie dogs.

Now, I don’t know if people who have never lived out west can truly appreciate prairie dogs. I think here in Philly the closest thing we have would be squirrels. Maybe groundhogs. But as I understand it now as an adult, prairie dogs are something of a menace. They wreck gardens and yards.

Of course, when I was 5 I just thought they were kind of cute. We had a lot of prairie dog holes in our backyard. I don’t recall ever tripping over one, but I think someone in our family must have at some point. One way or another, my dad decided one day that he’d had enough. He was going to catch prairie dogs.

The thing about my dad, though, is that he would never do anything the standard way if he could find a more fun way of doing it. And so, this particular childhood memory begins with my dad, me, and my two older brothers, K.C. and Kelly, marching out into the backyard … with a fishing pole.

Because of course you catch prairie dogs with a fishing pole.

Seriously, this is the kind of thing that you can’t make up. I have distinct memories of watching my dad with this fishing pole, cutting the hook off the end. Knowing my dad, he was giving a running commentary the whole time, but like an old 8mm home movie, I only remember the visuals and not the sound.

Dad took that fishing line and tied it into a noose. He found a prairie dog hold and circled the clear fishing line noose around the hole. He had some sort of treat. I’m not sure what it was, but in my mind it was a carrot. He put the carrot just inside of the noose, right where the prairie dog could sniff it. Then he let the line out and walked backward several yards to where my brothers and I waited.

We lay down on our stomachs, holding our breath, lined up like logs. I’d watched enough Wile E. Coyote cartoons to know what was going to happen. The prairie dog would stick its head up and Dad would yank on the fishing rod and snap! The prairie dog would be caught.

Watch out, prairie dog! © Vitaly Maksimchuk |

Watch out, prairie dog!
© Vitaly Maksimchuk |

And so, we waited.

And waited.

Memory time passes differently than actual time, so I’m not sure how long we waited.

But wait we did.

Until the prairie dog poked its head up out of the hole.

I was sure my dad would go for it. I mean, the prairie dog was right there! But Dad waited. He watched. We all watched.

The prairie dog poked its head up a little higher. It sniffed at the carrot. It ducked back down, sensing a trap. I thought all was lost, but no, a few seconds later it stuck its head out of the hole again.

Then a little further.

Then a little further.


Dad yanked back on the fishing rod, and lo and behold, the noose tightened and the poor, unfortunate prairie dog went flying into the air!

We all jumped to our feet. Dad reeled in the prairie dog as it squirmed and struggled and we all jumped and shouted in triumph. Sure enough, the fishing line was too tight for the prairie dog to get away.

My memory jumps a little here to inside of our garage several minutes later. My dad had gardening gloves on and held the prairie dog tight. I remember him asking me if I wanted to pet it. I don’t remember if I did or not, but shortly after that I was sent inside. And that’s where my memory ends.

It wasn’t until years later that it dawned on me that that prairie dog probably didn’t meet the best end after its fishing experience. All that stuck with me was the pure wonder of a simple ploy actually working. It seems so simple, so obvious, that it couldn’t possibly work. But I swear to you today that it really did work. How do you catch a prairie dog? With a fishing pole. Obviously.