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Groundhogs can be a wily target for a summer hunter

June 27, 2014
Bob Madison - Special to the Chronicle , Shepherdstown Chronicle

They may not be the same targets as deer, turkey or even squirrels but hunting wily groundhogs can be a summer day full with reward.

Farmers don't want them pockmarking their pasture land with entrances to their underground homes. With dairy cattle, beef cattle, alpacas and horses afoot, a hidden entrance could cause a broken leg for an animal. If the varmints choose to live in a hayfield, field of barley or wheat or one growing alfalfa, when the crop is harvested a farmer's wagon could fall prey to a broken axle.

If a hunter comes to a farmer with a plan to carefully map out his day chasing the groundhogs, then he will likely be told to rid the area of all the "whistle pigs" he can count.

That detailed plan is important. Increasing numbers of housing developments, strip malls and inhabited buildings of many kinds mean hunting critters on farmland has to be carefully done . . . and done with the knowledge of where any missed shots will go.

Groundhogs eat a farmer's alfalfa, corn, the ripened heads on stalks of barley or wheat and any vegetables planted near their grazing area.

Experienced hunters have learned the habits and ways of the whistle pig.

The marksman will take all the time necessary to scout out a field and its boundaries before ever attempting to draw a long-range bead on a groundhog. Taking note of the entrances to the underground chambers, the planned hunt will also be undertaken from the highest ground possible. All the field's boundaries will be checked to see if the varmints have holes near rock fence lines or where fence is nailed to sturdy honey locust trees. Mounds of debris piled with fallen tree limbs, stones cleared from a hayfield or dead bushes will be memorized.

Groundhogs favor taller grass rather than pastures clipped close by cattle, horses or other grazing animals.

Hay fields with uneven ground, maybe a rock break or two and clumps of taller weeds are favorite real estate for home-tunneling groundhogs.

The patient and intelligent marksman will know his backstops from every angle he might be firing from. He'll recognize the dangers if he misses his smallish target. No houses should be in danger. No barns. No fields of grazing animals. And certainly no highways or roads.

Once he has scouted the field and seen its surroundings, the hunter can come after the wily targets. Getting close to them will be difficult. Firing from 100 yards away could be the best that can happen.

Getting any closer takes knowledge and preparation.

The hunter should be dressed in olive, brown or green clothing if at all possible. Groundhogs can easily spot a white t-shirt and light gray sweatpants.

When moving as close as he can, the hunter should stay as much to any shadows as is feasible. He won't be as easily seen or detected as a human.

If he is actually hunting and not on a reconnaissance mission, the marksman should never walk directly over an occupied entrance hole. No groundhog will emerge from the hole until the night passes if the entrance is passed over.

Groundhogs usually leave mounds of dirt piled close to an entrance, but not always. And each animal will have two entrances to his underground home.

Knowing a groundhog's habits will help bring success to the marksman.

Since whistle pigs don't drink water from puddles, creeks or standing wet spots, finding them outside their chambers after a light rain is often the case. They get their water from tall grass, weeds, or other vegetation still wet from a rain.

The groundhog is not a "village" animal like the prairie dog. There will usually be no more than four or five inhabited holes in a given area. The adults don't give out with a series of warning signals that benefit the community. There might be one yelp or "whistle" as they scramble away from danger to their entrance.

Youngsters might emerge from their underground chambers if a hayfield has just been recently mowed. But if a red hawk or other raptors are soaring above when you arrive for your hunt, then the groundhogs will be below ground.

While cautiously feeding, the animals often move from a distance away from the entrance back toward it. They will "stand" and scan the area for possible trouble. Keen observers and successful groundhog hunters have clocked the average "stand" at 10 seconds, knowing that their aim and shot needs to come in that compressed time frame.

When scurrying back to his entrance, many a groundhog will stand one last time before going underground. The veteran hunter will be waiting for that last look-see by his quarry and get the shot he wants.

The summer is lacking in deer and turkey, waterfowl and squirrels. But it doesn't have to be a season without hunting.

And the farmer whose land you are partially ridding of groundhogs might just be receptive when you want to use his land in the fall or winter to hunt the much bigger and more attractive game animals.

 
 
 

 

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