George Block

George Block sits and scan a field on a farm in Scenery Hill while a groundhog pops up from the ground behind him.

When driving along a country road, did you ever notice that chubby close-to-the-ground little animal waddling in the other direction?

Just as quickly as you spot him, he disappears down a hole in the bank. Unlike rabbits and other creatures, he doesn’t depend on others to make his home but instead uses those stout and strong legs to build his home underground. Its hide is no thing of beauty, and would never compete with a wolf or that of a fisher, but it serves him well. While this animal is not a predator, he is a loner. The only time it won’t chase away visitors is during the mating season or when it is still very young and living with its siblings.

Of course, I am talking about the groundhog, or more correctly the woodchuck. While in one sense of the word the chuck is a harmless critter, it can be a damaging animal. Those who live in the city find it hard to understand why most landowners hate groundhogs. Let them drive a tractor through a field dotted with holes and then he or she might hate them too.

The groundhog is built close to the ground and has very strong legs. Those short legs are designed for digging, not for beauty or for running. I once watched one dig a new den. It walked up to a spot in this particular field and suddenly started to make the dirt fly. It was late in the summer and the ground was hard as a rock but within 10 minutes he was completely underground. At that point, I lost sight of him and I knew he was down there creating a sleeping room and a toilet facility.

Many hunters refuse to hunt groundhogs until the end of May, for earlier than that you starve any young still in the den that depend on mommy for dinner. The gestation period for groundhogs is 28 days – a very short time for mammals. This waiting period on the part of the chuckhunter is self-imposed, for the season on groundhog is long. In fact, there is no closed season.

Numbers of this fine game animal is definitely on the downhill slide. It could be caused by disease, but the likely cause of the dwindling numbers of hogs is the presence of the coyote. I have watched farm dogs take groundhogs and they can keep numbers low on the farm. The dog gets fed every day but not so the coyote, who has to hunt some small animal or go hungry. From northern Potter County to Greene County, groundhog numbers have dwindled down to the degree that many of us are on the verge of giving up and selling our varmint rigs. That’s if a buyer can be found.

While chucks are not hunted for table fare like grouse or pheasant used to be, they do offer long-range shooting opportunities across clover and alfalfa fields.

It is this side of the small-game hunting that has made the biggest impact in hunting. The impact this small chubby animal has made on accuracy, rifles, good quality ammo, and loading components and scopes can be traced back to the chuckhunter. Shooting a 10-pound animal at 400 yards and farther is not easy but challenging. The late, great outdoorsman and hunting guru Jack O’Connor once wrote that the eastern groundhog hunter was probably the best marksman that the country could offer. While the hog is not a tiny target, many times one only sees a part of it. A groundhog lying on the mound of dirt in front of his den doesn’t offer a very big target. There is no doubt but this is a shooters game. So, in effect, that little worthless chubby animal who loves to dig is responsible for accurate flat shooting rounds in super accurate rifles. An example is the popular 22-250 groundhog round as is the .222.

Improvement in guns is not the end of this groundhog story. What about higher-powered scopes designed to see the buggers sticking up out of their hole in a field of fresh green clover?

If it sounds like I love the groundhog, its true, I do. I just hope we don’t see another great animal disappear like has happened to the pheasant and the grouse. I plan to go out and see if I can find that great shot at 500-600 yards and take a buddy along so he can be the witness I need to tell the tale. I hope the groundhogs live a long happy time in our area, and if I get a chance to shoot one again at 500-600 yards it will make this tale even better.

George Block writes a weekly outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.

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