Eighty-five-year-old Bert Arkman wanted to retire from gopher hunting because of achy knees and an itch to relax, but his clients pressed him to find an apprentice first. Enter Max Merila of Scandia. The 14-year-old liked the prospect of earning $6 or more per pocket gopher, but he was put off at first by Arkman's missing thumb. "I thought maybe it was a dangerous thing to get into," the boy said. Arkman assured him that the injury came from a farm accident, not a gopher bite, and so Merila dug into the training, so to speak. Merila, who watched as Arkman dug a hole to set a trap, caught 51 gophers last year. So far this season, the young trapper has caught about a dozen, mostly on his family's land. Gophers dig tunnels and holes that can cause a horse to break a leg, and they eat the alfalfa roots, causing crop damage. Merila hopes someday to buy a car with his gopher money. For now, he relies on his mom, Lynn, for rides to clients' fields. In the meantime, the young businessman has raised his fee to $7 for each gopher trapped on the family land. "I lost my discount," his mother said with a smile.