Groundhogs can be one destructive pest

Punxsutawney Phil, French Creek Freddy or Willie Woodchuck may look cute on Feb. 2 (National Groundhog Day), but for the remaining 364 or 365 days of the year, this critter is just one destructive pest.

Groundhogs, whistle pigs, land beavers, rockchucks, woodchucks or whatever anyone chooses to call them, reside in just about all of the 48 adjacent states.

Today we seldom see hunters going after these varmints like we did in the latter part of the 20th century. There may be sound reason for this. The coyotes that have wandered the Eastern United States may have thinned these rascals down.

However, last year several people have told me that the groundhogs are making a good comeback. Groundhogs are bitterly detested by farmers, ranchers and just about everyone who lives in the country. These varmints are notorious for being crop thieves, hole diggers and downright destructive. Quite often, the families who make their living in the world of agriculture will welcome varmint hunters to come out to where live to shoot them.

How well do I remember when I was in my early 20s when I went groundhog hunting in Roane County, where my ancestors are from. I knew my great uncle was having a problem with groundhogs on his farm. For a long time, he was very reluctant to let people he hardly knew hunt on his acreage because of a careless squirrel hunter who had shot one of his work horses with a shotgun.

My great uncle remembered me as a small boy, and he knew my father and grandfather well. He let me hunt in a certain meadow next to a large cornfield for that afternoon. I managed to get two full-grown groundhogs using a .22 rimfire rifle. When I showed him the two groundhogs that I got, he quickly handed me more than a dozen ears of freshly-picked corn. I tried to pay him, and he quickly stopped me and said, “Son, you have already paid me. One of those groundhogs would have done twice that amount of damage.”

One groundhog can wreck a small vegetable garden is a very short period of time.

Groundhogs are members of the squirrel (rodentia) family. They like to eat what a squirrel may eat, like nuts, fruits, grain and just about all of the grasses. Alfalfa, clover, milo, rye and wheat are also among their favorite foods.

When looking for a good place to go groundhog hunting in this area, look for a hay field where the hay has just been cut. Just about any farmer would be grateful to be rid of this cattle leg-breaking hole maker. Always remember to ask the landowner when you spot a good open meadow where there may be some groundhogs.

The best time of the day to hunt groundhogs is during the coolest parts of the day. Groundhogs, like most rodents, only have sweat glands in their feet. If its too hot, they will stay in the cool shelter or their dens or holes.

Early morning or the evening hours are the best time to go groundout hunting. An overcast day is also a good time to go groundhog hunting.

From my own experience, I have found another good time to hunt groundhogs is just after a hard rain shower on a hot day. Here is when they really come popping out of their holes.

Just what is the best caliber rifle for groundhog hunting is a subject that his highly debatable. Over the years, I have taken groundhogs with a .22 rimfire rifle to a .44 magnum rifle, plus a few other caliber rifles n between. Any of the .22 centerfire rifles using a telescopic sight make excellent varmint rifles. Among the cartridges include: the .22 hornet, .222 Remington, .22-250 Remington to the hot shooting .220 Swift. This is another way big game hunters can keep their shooting skills fully tuned up.

The thing to keep in mind is that summer does not have to be three months of boredom. For sportsmen and women who like to go hunting in West Virginia, there is always something out there to hunt.