Before we get into our main topic, what do you think of this weather? As this is being written, there are snow flurries. Yesterday, it was 60 degrees. Go figure.
With spring just around the corner, many of us of the angling persuasion are starting to think about the fishing that is to come. There is, however, another outdoor sport that is soon to heat up, and that is groundhog hunting. About all it will take is an extended warm spell, and the little critters will leave their hibernation burrows and become fair game for hunters. This week, let’s take a little look at groundhog hunting.
The groundhog, also known as woodchuck, is actually a rather noxious pest. Not only do they devour our private gardens, but they chow down on farmers’ crops as well. In addition, their holes pose a real hazard to livestock, which can break legs by stepping in groundhog holes. They also do considerable damage to yards and golf courses. For that reason, securing permission to hunt them is not usually very hard, although permission should ALWAYS be obtained before hunting them on private property.
When it comes to a groundhog gun, you probably own one or more of them. Take, for example, the 22 rimfire. Although I’m not certain of the numbers, I’ve probably taken more groundhogs with this than any other gun. As kids, a 22 was pretty much all my friends and I had with which to hunt them. The little round will dispatch a woodchuck quite nicely, but you have to get rather close before taking the shot. This can go a long way toward honing your stalking skills.
Probably the first true varmint caliber was the 22 Hornet, a personal favorite of the late Don Lewis, the dean of Pennsylvania outdoor writers. My Hornet is a single shot H & R, with a 4X scope. While the range of the Hornet is greater than the rimfire, you still have to a bit of “sneakin’ up.” It’s been my experience that a 45 grain bullet works best in the little round. Heavier bullets just do not perform as well. I’ve written before about a shot my buddy, Old Bub made with a Hornet, but it is worth mentioning again. The range was about 200 yards. I was watching the ‘chuck through binoculars. Bub fired, and, for a couple of seconds, nothing happened. Then, the groundhog just toppled over. It never even twitched.
The late John Gershak, the best groundhog hunter I ever met, strongly favored the 222 for woodchuck busting, and he used it with deadly effectiveness. I saw him make some shots that were the next thing to unbelievable.
Nowadays, my personal favorite when it comes to varmint guns is a single shot 223 with a 4-12 scope and a Harris bipod. With this, I’ve made a couple of shots that really surprised me. I still stick pretty much to 45 grain bullets, although it is really a matter of personal preference.
When you come right down to it, the same rifle you use for hunting deer would probably do a good job at groundhog hunting, too. In fact, the last time I hunted with John Gershak, for some reason, I decided to use a 7.65 Argentine Mauser, which is pretty much my all around rifle for hunting large game like deer and feral hogs. I dispatched a ‘chuck with it with no problem. It really obliterated the critter, so if you’re hungry for a meal of groundhog, opt for something smaller.
If you’re doing a double take, don’t. I really did say a meal of groundhog. When properly cleaned and prepared, they are nothing short of delicious. After all, they are strictly vegetarians. They taste very much like rabbit or squirrel. If you’ve never tried ‘em, you should. You’re in for a real taste treat, although I must admit that I don’t hunt them much anymore. As I have gotten older, I find cleaning them to be more and more of a chore. In keeping with my policy of eating what I kill, I usually just leave them alone.