Guzzler Basics

If you’re thinking about installing a wildlife water system, it process usually begins with “what is your water source”.

These days, wildlife watering systems tend to be divided into two broad categories.  The wildlife “guzzler”, also known as a water catchment system, and the “drinker”. Guzzlers are self-contained rain collection systems, whereas drinkers are connected to a plumbed water line.   


Note from Rainmaker: If you have plumbed water or large storage tanks available, please take a look at the blog “Wildlife Water Drinker Basics - Float-valve and Equilibrium Systems”.

Guzzlers are basically a man-made rain and snow collection system that provides supplementary water for wildlife.  They’ve been around for years, in various forms, but the concept remains the same. Collect rainwater and store it in a reservoir to be consumed by animals during dry periods.

Guzzler Design

A guzzler system usually consists of two parts: The collection lid and the storage tank below. When it rains, the water is collected by the lid and gravity feeds it down into the reservoir tank. Animals are able to access the water by walking down a ramp that is built into the lid.  About 75% of the lid covers the water reservoir to reduce evaporation.

Guzzlers are commonly available in 200, 500, 1000 gallons and larger.  The size, design, and features really depend on the animals you’re targeting.  While upland bird and wild turkey prefer a gently sloping, unencumbered access ramp, large animals like elk, that consume a lot of water, prefer a more open drinking area.  Some of the big walk-in guzzlers and drinkers even incorporate steps to allow animals to walk down into the drinking area.

One thing is for sure, if you make water available in a desert area, all animals large and small will eventually find it. As such, one thing that any guzzler should incorporate is an escape ramp. While this ramp does give small animals easy access to water, it also provides an exit so they don’t get trapped and drown.  Aside from keeping the water cleaner, it also reduces the unnecessary toll on frogs, bats, lizards, and birds whose numbers are often stressed.


When you are considering the size and scope of your guzzler system, there are three real considerations.

Rainfall Collection (amount & frequency) - Guzzler Capacity (storage) - Animals (number & size)

Rainwater Collection

A guzzler is only as effective as the size of the water collection area.  The larger the square footage of the collection area, the more potential you have to gather and divert rain into the guzzler reservoir. For every inch of rain, each square foot of surface area will collect .62 gallons.  Therefore 150 ft. will collect about 93 gallons. If your area receives 10 inches of rain per year, it will collect 930 gallons.

Since the guzzler lid itself has a limited surface area, it makes perfect sense to expand by adding a simple rain-shed collection roof.  These roofs are generally made of common materials, such as corrugated metal roofing, mounted onto a wood or metal frame. See roof examples here.  

Where you actually position the roof in relation to the guzzler makes a difference.  For example, situating the roof directly over the guzzler will provide cover and shade for upland bird and reduce evaporation.  However, if you want to give deer unencumbered access, you’ll need to position the collection roof off to one side so they can access the drinking area.

Instead of building a collection roof above ground, another option is to construct a “collection field” directly on the ground.  This is done by laying impervious material, such as a tarp, and covering it with gravel or rock. This low profile method is unobtrusive, inexpensive and allows you to make a collection area as large as you want.

Storage Size & Animal Demand  

Since a guzzler is primarily used by animals in the summertime, it’s important to have enough storage capacity available in the critical dry months.  As nearby creeks and ponds dry up, animal visits to the guzzler will certainly increase.

Knowing the type and number of animals in the general area is helpful in planning out a water catchment system. It makes sense that configuring a guzzler for elk is very different than one for upland bird and small animals. Larger animals will, of course, consume greater quantities of water. A single deer will consume about 1-2 gallons of water per day; a flock of pheasant will consume about 2-3 gallons and elk a whopping 5-8 gallons a day.

It’s not always clear how to do the calculation for all the local and semi-local animals in the area because their movement patterns will change based on the availability of water. Deer will travel 1-3 miles and pheasant .5 to 1 mile for water.  The more dependable the water source, the more it will tend to hold animals in the vicinity.

With time, you’ll be able to get a better handle as to the actual amount of water being consumed and you may decide to make changes to the system. Or perhaps add another system to the neighborhood.  See Rain Collection for examples and calculations.


Estimated Wildlife Water Use


Installation & Siting

While guzzlers can be installed above ground, most traditional guzzlers are installed in-the-ground.  This will give animal’s easy access to water at ground level and the subsurface soil temperature will help keep the water cooler. In certain instances, it might be advantageous to install the guzzlers above-the-ground, like when excavation isn’t practical.  This is often the case in Texas where the soil conditions are extra rocky or in the remote regions or the Rocky Mountains for Bighorn sheep.  Other times a temporary installation is preferred so that the guzzler can be relocated to a different area.

A real siting consideration should be to avoid areas subject to flash flooding and the resulting increased in hydrostatic pressure.  During periods of heavy rain, it is possible to create a situation where the soil around the guzzler becomes so saturated with water that it can pop out of the ground. Make sure there is proper drainage around the storage tank.  If necessary, anchor the guzzler into the ground with a footing and retaining straps.

Since many arid areas have winter conditions with snow and ice, it’s helpful to locate the guzzler on a south-facing slope, as opposed to a north-facing slope, to help with thawing.

See “Guzzler Installation Tips” at Rainmaker Wildlife website. Give us a call if you have questions about this step of the guzzler process.


Although guzzlers are generally low maintenance, they should be inspected at least once or twice a year.  The main thing to watch for is debris that has been blown into the drinking area, or small, dead animals. Be sure to lift the lid to inspect the reservoir tank as well. Some areas have occasional issues with bees seeking water. If nesting has occurred nearby, the bees should be cleared if possible.

Particular areas, such as Hawaii and California, may be more prone to algae forming in the drinking area of the guzzler, which is largely due to UV exposure. While it might look funky, algae blooms are not normally toxic and won’t deter animals from drinking. There are several different ways to control these blooms which will be discussed in future blogs. If you’re concerned at all that the algae might be toxic, please consult a local wildlife biologist. They can help answer any questions as well as monitor the region for any toxic algae outbreaks.


Aside from the cost of the guzzler itself, you’ll want to factor in the materials for constructing the rain collection roof, the excavation costs for in-ground installation and perhaps some fencing to keep cattle out as the damage cattle might cause can be considerable.  Building a short cattle fence is often a good solution as deer can easily jump over.

Game Camera

This is really the fun part. Once the water is available to wildlife, a game camera will show you that a guzzler is a real 24-hour hub of activity.  Owls, fox, deer, cougar, bear, and bats can be exciting to see at night and nighttime is a whole other world. There is a wide range of high high-quality cameras available these days. The digital format has lowered the cost and increased the storage capacity to where video bursts are practical and easy to access. Find a full range of quality trail cams and get some honest information from the professionals at Trail Cam Pro.

If you have questions or comments regarding wildlife habitat water systems, please feel free to contact us here at Rainmaker Wildlife.

Related Articles: Calculating Animal Water Consumption, Wildlife Drinker Basics