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Groundhogs can be a nuisance for farmers

In West Virginia, I have not yet found a farmer who likes groundhogs. These critters may look cute on Feb. 2 (National Groundhog Day), but for the remainder of the year this is one destructive rodent. I don’t know how many times I have had a farmer to tell me, “Having a groundhog on your farm is like having a nest of rats in your house.” One groundhog can wreck a well-kept vegetable garden in a very short period of time.

I was in my early 20s when I went groundhog hunting on my distant cousin’s acreage in Roane County. I was only using a .22 rimfire rifle but was able to get two large male groundhogs that were close to a cornfield.

When I showed my much older cousin the groundhogs, he looked them hard for several seconds and then asked if I liked corn on the cob. When I said yes, he quickly tossed me over a dozen ears of freshly-picked Silver Queen. When I tried to pay him for the corn, he stopped me and said, “Son, just one of those groundhogs would of done twice that amount of damage. You have already paid me for that corn.”

Groundhogs are generally despised by farmers, ranchers and anyone who depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Quite often, farmers in West Virginia will welcome groundhog hunters, who present themselves as respectable and responsible people, to go after these varmints. Helping a farmer clear his crop fields of groundhogs during the summer is a good way to develop a hunter-landowner relationship and at the same time for hunters to keep their marksmanship skills fully tuned-up.

Just what is the best rifle or weapon to hunt groundhogs with is a subject that is highly debatable. While I have not done any serious groundhog hunting in well over 20 years, in my younger days, I have taken them with rifles as small as a .22 rimfire to as large as a .44 Magnum with several calibers in between. I have also known people who have got them with bows and shotguns.

The best time of the day to hunt groundhogs is during the coolest parts of the day. I have people to tell me they are very active during the early morning, just after daybreak. I have always preferred to hunt them in the late afternoon and early evening. Groundhogs are like most rodents, they only have sweat glands in their feet. If it is too hot, they will seek the coolness of their burrows.

I have always enjoyed taking long shots at these varmints using a scope-mounted centerfire rifle that has been sighted in for at least 100 yards.

However, one of the best shots I’ve ever made on a groundhog was with my favorite .22 squirrel rifle. It was back in the mid 1970s when I was hunting in a large open meadow, in Randolph County. I spotted a groundhog that was well over 100- yards away. The scope on that bolt action .22 was only sighted in for 40 yards at that time. The shot was slightly downhill and I held the cross-hairs about ten to twelve inches above the shoulder area of the critter and let drive.

I could not believe it when I beard the bullet go, “Paloop.” The groundhog slowly crawled into a hole that it was about a foot away from. When I got up to the hole, its tail and hindquarters were still sticking out.

I touched the varmint several times with the barrel of my rifle and it did not move. So I took a chance and quickly yanked it out of the hole by its tail. It was very dead. The little .22 hollow-point bullet hit the lung cavity as pretty as any varmint hunter would want. I was quite pleased with myself from that shot, yet when I looked around, there was no one in sight to applaud.

Groundhogs are not only notorious crop thieves, but they also dig holes in open fields which is dangerous to livestock and can damage expensive farming equipment.

Here are some of the many reasons why the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has unrestricted, continuous open season on these rascals.

When summer hunting hunting groundhogs, hunters need to remember that the hunting is limited to open fields, meadows and marshes.

It is unlawful to carry a loaded or uncased firearm in the forests on woods during the closed season on regular game animals.