I really don't recall if the groundhog saw his shadow this past February 2. It really does not matter if he did or did not. Elkins and Randolph County did not get six additional weeks of winter weather. In the March 24, 2012 column, I stated that the winter of 2011-12 has to be one of the warmest on record. No one has yet to disagree with me on this matter.
For all of you nimrods who like to shoot, this would be a good time to take your varmint rifles out of storage and get out to a shooting range. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has just recently completed a new shooting range at Kumbrabow State Forest. While this may seem like a long way off for the residents of Elkins or Northern Randolph County, it still would be a good way to enjoy some of this unseasonably warm weather we are having for early spring.
In addition to shooting at the range, think about turning the entire outing into a family picnic and exploring some of the trails in this primitive wilderness area.
Most serious varmint hunters I know like to have their centerfire rifles sighted in for at least 150 yards or longer. A good friend of mine who does a lot of varmint hunting considers any target of 200 yards or less point blank. I remember one day when I asked him if he had his 25-06 sighted in. He quick reply was, "it's always sighted in".
The 25-06 Remington has to be one of the best varmint-whitetail deer cartridges on the market today. I had a column on this round a few years ago.
Today, the typical varmint rifle is a specialized type of small caliber, but long range, hunting rifle. A lot of killing power is not needed because most of the targets are rodents like marmots, prairie dogs, and woodchucks (groundhogs). However, high accuracy and flat trajectory are paramount. The small size of the target that is several hundred yards away usually means that telescopic sights are also necessary to be able to see the target clearly. The best time to take a shot at a groundhog is when they are sitting up on their hind legs.
Many serious varmint hunters handload their own ammunition. A slight variation in any of the reloading components could change the way the rifle groups, particularly at ranges of 200 yards or more.
When a rifle is stored in a closet for several months, the position of the cross hairs on the telescopic sight can also change. Here is the leading reason why varmint and deer hunters should try to get their rifles sighted in at least once and maybe twice a year.
Another cartridge that is also good for hunting groundhogs is the plain old .22 rimfire. My first gun was a .22 rimfire. To date, I know that I have taken at least two hundred squirrels, several groundhogs, a few crows, two foxes, two ruffed grouse, and a wild turkey with that rifle.
When I worked at both hospitals in Elkins, several people would ask me what type of gun or rifle is best for a certain type of hunting. During our conversations, I would often say, don't ever underestimate a .22 long rifle rimfire.
Today, there are some more powerful rimfire cartridges on the market, but I think I would still pick a .22 long rifle over any of them from the standpoint of the cost of the ammunition.
It was Christmas of 1963 when I got a scope for my .22 rifle. I got it sighted in the following summer on one of my many trips to Jones Ridge in Roane County. On one day, I got two large male groundhogs. One was at about 60 yards, and the other was between 90-100 yards.
The ammunition I was using was Winchester-Western Super X high-speed hollow-point bullets. The ground hog that I got at 90-100 yard range was sitting up on his hind legs when I fired the fatal shot. The .22 bullet tore through the width of the torso at the shoulders. He simply fell to the ground with a plop.
When I walked up on him, his short tail was straight up and quivering. This destructive ten-to-twelve pound varmint was literally chilled in his tracks at this range. This is why I tell people don't ever underrate a .22 long rifle rimfire.
I have also owned a .22 magnum rimfire, but I ended up trading this rifle off about two years after I bought it.
The .22 magnum gives the varmint hunter an additional 50-60 yards of maximum effective range. The rifle I had just did not have the accuracy of my favorite .22 rimfire.
Varmint hunting is also a good way to introduce youth hunters to the basic fundamentals of hunting, hunting ethics, and gun safety. It is also a good way to spend time with your children and/or grandchildren.