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Now is the time to hunt groundhogs

June 20, 2009
By Kenneth Cobb

I am dedicating this week's column to all the nimrods that enjoy hunting groundhogs during the summer months. In the 1970s and 80s, hunting groundhogs was one of my favorite pastimes. I still enjoy hunting groundhogs on a pretty summer day.

The groundhog is often call a woodchuck or whistle pig and is one of the most distributed animals in eastern and central United States and Canada. They have been found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Alabama.

In areas with few natural predators and large quantities of alfalfa and clover, groundhogs can get as large as 30 inches in length and weighing more than 35 pounds. Their short, but powerful, limbs have curved thick claws made for digging. An average groundhog is capable of moving 35 cubic feet of dirt when digging a burrow. Most groundhog burrows will have at least two and as many as five entrances that provide a means of escape from predators.

They may look cute, but most farmers consider these rodents pests. Their burrows can have more than 40 feet of tunnels that pose a threat to agriculture. Such an arrangement can be damaging to expensive farm equipment and a danger to valuable livestock. When a large farm animal trips in a groundhog burrow, it often breaks a leg.

The farmer has no choice but to shoot it, which is a big loss. A small number of groundhogs can wreck a vegetable garden in no time.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has a continuous open season on these rascals, but the hunting is restricted to the open fields and meadows. It is unlawful to have an uncased firearm in the woods this time of the year.

This is the way it has been when I started hunting more than 50 years ago. The whistle pig hunter must also have a valid hunting license in their possession unless they are hunting on their own land.

In the early 1970s, we had some family friends who owned a large hay farm on Morrison Ridge in Mason County. Just about any weekend we could get away, my father and I were out there trying to bag a few groundhogs.

Over the years, I have taken several groundhogs using rifles as small as .22 rimfire and as large as .44 Magnum with several calibers in between.

This is a good way for deer hunters to keep their rifles sighted in and at the same time keep their marksmanship skills tuned up.

In this state, the groundhog had very few natural enemies until the eastern coyotes wandered in. I was talking to a neighbor a few days ago.

He told me he has not seen very many groundhogs for several years. Varmint hunters need to remember West Virginia has continuous open season on coyotes as well.

Groundhogs usually live from two to three years, but can live up to six years. In captivity, they have been known to live up to 20 years. An adult female will have one litter annually containing two to six young. They are usually weaned at the age of 5 to 6 weeks and are ready to seek their own dens.

The best time of the day to go groundhog hunting is in the early morning at daybreak or in the late afternoon about four or five hours before sunset. A person who wants to do some serious groundhog hunting must have the landowner's written permission.

Most farmers usually welcome groundhog hunters who are responsible people. This is also a good way to develop a good hunter-landowner relationship.



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