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Groundhogs are shy and difficult to shoot

June 11, 2011
By Kenneth Cobb , The Inter-Mountain

In West Virginia, most hunting enthusiasts know that varmint hunting is open year-round, with no bag limit. Varmints include such animals as woodchucks, commonly called groundhogs, coyotes, skunks, weasels, European starlings, and a few others. Most people living in rural areas consider these animals pests.

From my own experience, my favorite time to go after groundhogs is in the late afternoon about 3-4 hours before sunset. Most farmers usually welcome groundhog hunters who present themselves as responsible people.

It was in September 1964 when I went groundhog hunting on my distant cousin's acreage in Roane County. Cousin Dennis was somewhat reluctant about letting people he didn't know hunt on his land because of a work horse that had been shot a few years before by a careless squirrel hunter. However, he remembered me as a small boy so he instructed me to hunt in a certain field. I managed to get two large groundhogs with my .22 rimfire rifle. Dennis rewarded me with several ears of fresh-picked silver queen corn to take home and was quick to tell me "one of those groundhogs would do twice that damage to a garden."

My mother cooked the corn the following day for Sunday dinner. Man, was it good. Fresh-picked corn on the cob has to be one of my favorite veggies.

There are many sportsmen and women in this state who think that at the end of February they should just put their guns in storage and not think about bringing them out until September. But during the summer months, varmint hunting and/or recreational target shooting is an excellent way to keep your shooting skills tuned-up.

Most serious groundhog hunters take great price in being able to hit their targets at long or extended distances. In many cases, the groundhog hunters are the best rifle shots of all of the game hunters in this state.

The woodchuck or groundhog is a rodent sometimes called a whistle pig. A mature groundhog can grow up to 16 inches in length and can weigh up to 15 pounds. They have keen eyesight and hearing that helps warn them of approaching danger. Their best defense is a fast retreat into one of their burrows. They like to feed in the early morning and late afternoon. They eat grass, fruit, leaves, some insects, and vegetables. I have often had a farmer tell me that one groundhog can wreck a vegetable garden in just a few days.

I know when we see these furry critters on television on Groundhog Day (February 2) they may look cute. But remember, these animals are very serious nuisances to farmers. While hunting them today is not as popular as it was a few years ago, most farmers still welcome those who want to hunt these little beasties on their property.

The best time to hunt groundhogs is in the early morning and late afternoon. A groundhog's burrow is usually 15-20 degrees cooler than the ground surface. This means they will settle in there during the heat of the afternoon.

If you jump one in an open field and it runs into a hole, try to keep a close eye on a cavern entrance. Chances are, within 20 minutes (often sooner) it will stick its head out to see if the danger has passed. Try to remain as still as possible. Most of the time it is the movement that scares them. If they think that the danger has passed, they will go back to eating in a short time.

As I have stated, groundhogs are a nuisance animal. Farmers, cattle, and horse owners know this. My great uncle had to shoot his best breeding bull because it tripped in a groundhog burrow and broke its leg.

If you go out for an afternoon of groundhog hunting, don't expect to do a lot of shooting. These little critters are very shy and more difficult to shoot than a lot of people realize. Another thing to remember is that varmint hunting is restricted to the open fields, meadows, and marshes in this state. It is unlawful to have an uncased firearm in the woods this time of the year.



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