Woodchuck or Groundhog
Oh yes, Groundhog Day has long past by, February 2, 2011. I doubt he was able to come up through all this snow that we have to see himself. But, for that day of the year, they are the country’s most celebrated animal. For the other 364 days, most people consider them a pest. Also known as woodchucks, they wreak havoc on unprotected gardens and burrow underneath pastures creating tunnels that can collapse, causing severe harm to cattle and horses.
Depending upon where you may live in America, you might know them by a different name. In our neck of the woods, New Hampshire, “woodchuck” is the common name. Some call them prairie dogs or gophers, but those are more western terms. Some people also call them whistle pigs, but this is an older expression. It derives from a sound the animals emit when cornered or feel endangered.
The truth is that gophers and groundhogs, while related, are different animals. Gophers only weigh up to three pounds while groundhogs/woodchuck can reach up to ten pounds. Groundhogs live in colonies of 4 to 6 animals.
I’ve enjoyed hunting woodchuck/groundhogs for many years. It takes some skill. While hunting them in the East is not as popular as it once was, most farmers welcome those who want to pursue the little beasts on their property. If you go out for them, don’t plan on a day full of shooting. The little critters are more difficult to harvest then people expect. Also, their populations have gone down since the increase of fox, coyote and fisher populations over the years. Here are a few tips:
- Flies found buzzing around a groundhog/woodchuck hole indicates it is active.
- Morning and late afternoon are the best times to hunt them. A groundhog’s den is 15 to 25 degrees cooler than the surface, meaning they will settle in them during the heat of mid-day.
- If you jump one and it runs into its hole, keep an eye on the cavern entrance. Chances are that within 15 minutes (usually sooner) it will poke its head out to see what startled it and if the danger is still close at hand. If possible, aim for the head.
- If you are stalking a groundhog and it turns to look at you, freeze. Most of the time it is the movement that scares them and they will go back to eating in 10 to 15 seconds.
- Groundhogs live to eat. They are vegetarians, and if they have a choice, they will often eat alfalfa over other types of
Why Hunt Groundhogs?
- As stated earlier, groundhogs are a nuisance animal. Farmers and horse owners know this, and if you have ever tried to grow a garden where one is present, then you will understand this fact.
- Groundhogs are also very edible. While it may sound unappetizing, they are vegetarians and their meat is highly prized in some circles, not to mention its as organic as you can get. Most chefs advise that you roast them like you would roast beef. They also make an excellent stew. The younger, small ones, are the preferred table fare.
- The small tail of a groundhog is prized among fly-tiers. Its thickness and texture is unique and is used in the production of a handful of various fly patterns. I have used their tails to much satisfaction throughout my fly-tying career.
Know one knows when this snow will be totally gone for the year. The month of May will hopefully be a good time to scout areas that have open fields where groundhogs can be found. Seek out farms and areas having large pastures. Talk to the land-owner and ask if there are groundhogs/woodchucks, on his property and if so, would he/she be willing to let you hunt them.
Riding stables, I have found, often are not friendly to hunters, even though they have large fields that probably harbor groundhogs. They are afraid that the sound of a gun shot will scare their horses. While some horse owners are very anti-hunting folks, others recognize the danger that woodchuck/groundhog holes pose for their horses and riders and may be more willing to allow hunting them.
Hunting groundhog/woodchuck is a fun sport and helpful to the land-owner. If you see an area that looks like a possibility, by all means approach the owner and get permission to hunt his/her land.
Bob Harris can be
reached via e-mail at:
Columns by Bob Harris
DISCLAIMER: The opinions
expressed by Mr. Harris are not necessarily those of the
Goffstown Residents Association or its members
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