A Ground Hog's Life: Traditions, Hunting, and My Fond Childhood Memories
What is a Ground Hog?
When anyone mentions the words "ground hog", most people think of that creature that comes out of his hole just so he can see or not see his shadow. And it is true that the age-old tradition does exist, but what really is this animal?
According to National Geographic, the groundhog is the largest member of the squirrel family and is one of 14 species of marmots. It is a giant rodent that gorges itself on food during the summer so that when the first frost hits, it retreats into its burrow hole. They tend to weigh 14 pounds or less and reach 25 inches long. When a groundhog goes into hibernation, its body temperature is not much warmer than the ground surrounding it.
The groundhog is also known by the names woodchuck (yes, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if woodchuck could chuck wood?), whistle-pig, and land-beaver, depending on your geographic area.
Phil the Groundhog
Every Year on February 2nd
Each year in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania crowds gather around the home of Phil in anticipation of whether or not he will see his shadow. This tradition goes back quite a way in history.
This event is associated with Candlemas Day, when the clergy would bless candles and distribute them to the people. It followed a similar belief that a sunny day would mark the continuing of winter, or a second winter. "According to an old English song:
'If Candlemas be fair and bright Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.'"
The "seeing shadow" tradition was supposedly brought by Roman legions to the Teutons, also known as the Germans. They applied the 6-week time frame to the hedgehog, which is the native European equivalent of a groundhog.
Many Germans settled into the Pennsylvania area and, as such, brought this tradition with them. An abundance of groundhogs in this state gave rise to the home of this celebration and to the popularity of Phil, the Punxsutawney American idol.
Nuisance Woodchucks Can Be Trapped
There are essentially two techniques for woodchuck trapping, which involves two types of traps available to the average home owner:
- Lethal. This type of trap is set directly over the hole and is meant to crush the animal. It is not necessarily recommended to use this method as a means of removing a pest, as it is inhumane. If you choose to use one as a hunting tool, that is your choice. It is not really fair game, though, in my opinion.
- Cage. This type of trap humanely catches the groundhog so it can be safely relocated. The animal is baited with fruit or other food source.
The following is a video showing how to use a trap filled with apples to safely remove a woodchuck.
Trapping a Groundhog
The Second Way to Hunt Whistle-Pig
Another means of hunting the sometimes elusive groundhog is by bow. A hunter can use either a compound bow (one that looks more like Robin Hood's) or a crossbow (an arrow shot from a gun-like bow). Please check your state hunting regulations for laws pertaining to this method of hunting, every state may vary. Usually you can start with the Department of Natural Resources as a guide.
The following is an amazing video that shows the effect an arrow can have on a whistle-pig. It is staged, of course, but it takes quite an accurate shot to do what this man has done.
Bowhunting the Woodchuck
Your Choice of Gun is Important
The third way to capture that prize-winning woodchuck is the use of a good rifle. I am absolutely by no means an expert, or really a novice for that matter, however, I did find some research on the best weapon.
There are essentially four types of guns you can use:
- Center-fire rifle
- Rim-fire rifle
- Muzzleloading rifle
The rifle shown below would make a nice choice for a woodchuck gun in that it is a .22 caliber (laws prohibit anything larger than .25 caliber), has a smooth bolt action, and a mounted precision scope that can zero in up to 300 yards.
I do not remember what guns my dad and his friend used, but I know one looked very similar to the one pictured.
Whistle-Pig Hunting Season
State in the U.S.
Months Permitted to Hunt
Permit & Limit
Closed During Deer Gun Season
Check Ohio Revised Code
May thru December
rifle and hunting, no limit
Open Season Year Round
State Parks, Government Areas
Check Local Laws
rifle and hunting
My First of My Childhood Memories
A year or two before I became a teenager, my dad would take me out practice shooting with various rifles and pistols so that I could get educated about guns, lock, stock, and barrel. It also taught me how to deal with the gun's kick and the most important factor, gun safety. As a reinforcement, we took a safety course together.
Finally, the day came when I could head out to the hilly prairies in search of the fat, furry groundhog. I remember sitting with my dad on the edge of a wooded area looking out across the grassy landscape. With our binoculars, we had each of the holes mentally mapped out before us, waiting for that elusive dark spot to rear its head.
Apparently he had picked a good spot because it wasn't long before we saw some action. Perhaps a little over a hundred yards out, a whistle-pig was rooting outside of his hole. I watched as my dad lay prone on the ground, sighted in the woodchuck through the scope, and then carefully fired off the shot. In the distance I could see our prey drop to the ground. It appeared he had hit him.
As we walked towards the hole, my dad warned me that we had to be careful because groundhogs had a very mean temper, especially when hurt. They will attack with their sharp incisor teeth with the intent to do as much harm as possible. On this day, though, the shot was clean and the woodchuck was dead. This wasn't so much the case on another hunt with his good friend a couple of weeks earlier.
A Close Call
On that day aforementioned my dad, his friend Pete, and I were out in search of more woodchucks. After a few grueling hours, my dad's friend finally spotted one and got off a shot. They walked up to the hole to see if he was dead as I watched from a distance.
Pete felt certain he had hit the hog, but it quickly went back into its burrow. Right when they got to the edge of the hole, the groundhog leaped out and nearly attacked my dad's leg! He, of course by instinct, fired several rounds into the burrow to make sure he was dead. I can remember the reverberation of the multiple shots ringing out across the prairie.
An Immoral If Not Illegal Temptation
Groundhog hunting can really be hit or miss unless you know of a great breeding ground. I remember there were times when we would hunt for hours on end and never see a whistle-pig. And then on some days we'd run into one right after another.
On the slow days there is a lot of frustration that can mount. One of the biggest temptations is to load your rifles into your truck gun rack and just drive around the countryside looking for game. You might see these types of hunters on the side of the road sighting guns of the truck fender, zeroing in a hog for the shot.
Although this is effective, it is also illegal. You must have permission to hunt on the grounds in which you have your rifle aimed. Farmers usually will not like the fact that you are shooting animals on their property and very possibly endangering their livestock. Many have been known to shoot back.
Also, be aware of the regulations for state parks and other government property. The fines for violating these laws can be quite hefty.
I'm Curious About You
What is your preferred choice of hunting woodchucks?
One of my favorite sites (besides epicurious.com and allrecipes.com ) lately to find good recipes is on Pinterest.
The recipe below is taken from this site and represents a very common way to prepare woodchuck in stew or roast form.
- Four or just One Squirrels or Woodchuck, cut into serving pieces
- 1 Quart Water
- 3-4 Whole Bay Leaves
- 1 Onion, cut into quarters
- 2-3 Carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 Large Can or 1 lb. bag frozen Stew Vegetables
- 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
- 1 can Cream of Celery Soup
- Salt and Pepper To Taste
- Place all ingredients in a Dutch oven and slow cook at 350 degrees for about 35- 45 minutes.
- Another great way to serve woodchuck is to cut him into serving pieces, dust with a good seasoned flour or breading and either pan or deep-fry until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.