Gunning for groundhogs

11 years ago

Gunning for groundhogs


by Bill Graves

    For a large percentage of Aroostook outdoorsmen, May means spring trolling on regional lakes and rivers for trout and salmon, and wandering the wetland flats in search of fiddleheads. Shooting sportsmen, many who have not hunted since deer season six months ago, are itchy to do a bit of hunting. Unfortunately, open seasons on small game, big game and birds are few and far between during May.


    GROUNDHOG HUNTING provides a challenging pasttime for spring sportsmen who aren’t into the fishing scene. The author displays a large groundhog taken by walking field edges with a .22 rifle during May.

    Coyotes and squirrels are fair game year-around, but spring is certainly not the best season for predators and few County hunters have much interest in squirrels. Turkeys are fair game but traveling south is a must for the best opportunities. Groundhogs do present a challenging quarry however, and since they come out of their winter dens as soon as the snow and frost disappear, May is always primetime. Also known as woodchucks, these small, quick-moving animals are sharp-eyed and very wary, providing area shooters challenging targets.
    Groundhogs are distant relatives to prairie dogs, which are found in large groups and form “towns” in the western states. The many holes present a danger on cattle ranches to cows and horses so these smaller cousins are hunted heavily. Our local variety devour vegetable gardens, burrow in lawns, and prove a nuisance around rural houses and yards, so hunters have little trouble obtaining hunting permission from landowners.
    The most common long-gun for woodchucks is the common .22 found in every hunter’s gun case or farmer’s closet. The .22 magnum and the .17 calibers are fast gaining popularity throughout Maine however. All three of these weapons prove optimal with open sights out to 50 yards, but extend to 75 or even 100 yards when properly scoped. Shooters seeking a greater challenge opt for long range rifles with high magnification optics and seek targets to at least 200 yards.
    Roughly 12- to 15-inches tall and six-inches wide, adult chucks provide small targets, and their chestnut brown coloration blends into most backgrounds presenting difficult sight acquisition. High power, flat-shooting rifles topped with at least a 9X scope and loaded with 30- to 50-grain bullets continue to be the favored firearms. Dependable calibers include .22-250, .223 Remington, .204 Ruger, 220 Swift and 6mm Remington, all in bolt-action guns.
    A handful of truly adventuresome hunters seek out groundhogs and attempt to stalk close enough for a shot with a bow, crossbow or handgun. Success indicates the epitome of fine accuracy with a short range weapon, and answering the challenge proves truly satisfying. Groundhogs always have at least two escape routes, their main entrance hole and at least one backdoor. These critters have excellent eyesight and seldom venture far from one of the holes leading to their underground bunker and connector tunnels.
    One of the simplest methods of sighting woodchucks is to slowly drive gravel back roads or farm field roads along grain fields, pastures, or second-growth fields. Long-range shooters can just keep driving once a ‘chuck is sighted and stop a good ways off, disembark, load up and use a nearby tree or portable bipod to steady the rifle for a shot. Long gun shooters need to be very aware of the back drop behind their target, regardless of the fact that most shots angle toward the ground since the target is so small.
    Hunters using bows, shotguns, or handguns must depend on spot and stalk tactics to set up a shot. Slowly walking field perimeters or sitting along a field edge and glassing with binoculars continues to offer the highest percentage of sightings. Then it’s just a matter of sneak and peek until you’re within acceptable shooting distance.
    I tried groundhog meat in stew and in meatballs, it’s not bad, but it’s certainly not venison or moose meat. Many fly tiers use groundhog fur for wings, tails, and spinning bodies for a variety of wet and dry fly patterns. While May is considered a prime fishing month for many Crown of Maine sportsmen, there’s some challenging small game gunning to be experienced as well. Groundhogs offer an interesting spring outdoor alternative throughout Aroostook farm country.