Hunting those rascally rodents

Last week, I made a brief mention about doing some groundhog hunting for the first time in several years. Here is one way any hunter who hunts with a rifle can keep his shooting skills tuned up.

Several years ago, I read an article in the Saturday Evening Post magazine titled, “Woodchuck, it’s war.” The farmers throughout Central Pennsylvania and Southern New York State were having all kinds of trouble with the woodchucks eating their vegetable gardens. Varmint hunters were being welcomed with “open arms.”

Some people may not like groundhogs, but it’s the professional farmers who bitterly detest these little beasties. I have had more than one farmer to tell me “having a groundhog on your farm is like having a rat in your house.”

In West Virginia, farmers are always having problems with groundhogs digging under their barns and outbuildings, which causes structural issues. In an open field, they are capable of digging a network of tunnels with several holes that livestock can step in and break a leg.

When I was just a young teenager, I had a second cousin who had a prized breeding bull that had tripped in a groundhog hole and broke a leg. Cousin Roy was ready to go after these critters with dynamite. Every year in the agricultural region of the United States, groundhog tunnels are accountable for thousands of dollars of damage that is done to expensive automated farm equipment.

This critter may look cute on Feb. 2 when he emerges from his hole in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. or French Creek in Upshur County, to predict the spring weather. For the remainder of the entire year, this rodent is just simply a downright pest.

In the last 10 to 15 years, the groundhog numbers appeared to be on the decline in this area. This summer, however, I think that I have seen more groundhogs than I have in the past five years. Most people agree with me that the coyotes have been working on the groundhogs, but this year they appear to be making a comeback. One thing is obvious, the coyotes did not “get ’em all.”

During the summer, many like to indulge in shooting skeet or trap. For me, groundhogs are more of a worthy opponent. I have a groundhog rifle with a custom Douglas barrel that is capable of taking groundhogs as far away as 400 yards. ust being able to hold this heavy rifle still on a target as small as a groundhog at this range is the real challenge.

The groundhog, woodchuck, whistle pig or whatever anyone chooses to call this little rascal damages crops and vegetable gardens by eating fresh growth. One groundhog can wreck a fairly large vegetable garden in a very short period of time.

It was back in September of the mid-1960s when I asked another distant cousin if I could hunt groundhogs for his acreage in Roane County. This person was very reluctant about letting people hunt on his land because of a careless squirrel hunter who had shot one of his work horses with a shotgun a few years before.

However, this person knew my father and grandfather well. He also remembered me as a small boy. He then pointed to a large open field and said, “There are a few groundhogs in that meadow that I need to get rid of. Try your luck over there.” I went to this certain field, and in about three hours I managed to get two large male groundhogs using a .22 rimfire rifle. I saw two more, but they were just too far away for my .22 rimfire.

I brought the groundhogs back to show the farmer. He looked at them for a moment and said nothing. Then he looked at me and asked, “You like corn, son?” I told him that I did. He then said, “Well, have some fresh-picked Silver Queen.”

He then started tossing ears of corn in my direction to the point that I had to stop him by saying “this is plenty.” I then wanted to pay him for the corn, and here is where he stopped me by saying, “You have already paid me. Just one of those groundhogs would have done twice this amount of damage.” Here is just a mere example of how any responsible sportsman or woman can develop a good hunter-landowner relationship.

By the way, I did not leave the dead groundhogs on the farmer’s land. I took them home and buried them in another open field not far from where I lived.