Tuesday marks the halfway point of winter and is celebrated in Pennsylvania with the largest Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney; a celebration that according to Wikipedia has drawn as many as 40,000 revelers.
Not being one for large crowds, I have never attended the celebration and have no plans to in the future, however I did decide to share some of my thoughts here about these burrowing rodents.
Growing up on the family farm I learned at a young age that groundhogs were pest. Their offences ranged from borrowing under outbuildings, burrowing in the pastures as well as a minimal amount of damage from feeding on crops like corn and hay.
Consuming a steady diet of outdoor magazines like Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Pennsylvania Game News I learned that indeed the lowly groundhog did have one good use, as a target! I learned that a class of rifle was built specifically for hunting these critters as well as other “undesirable” creatures. With that knowledge the words varmint and varmint rifles were added to my vocabulary. With that my early groundhog hunting career was launched, first with a .22 and later larger centerfire rifles.
With these rifles I shot groundhogs everywhere from close range out to ranges exceeding 500 yards, all the while feeling that doing so was the right thing to do; besides the groundhog was just a pesky varmint. Killing 40-60 each summer I was doing my part to improve our area. As my proficiently and equipment improved I began to notice that finding groundhogs to shoot was becoming more difficult requiring me to travel further from home seeking my quarry.
Slowly ever so slowly the obvious truth began to dawn on me. My desire to kill more and more groundhogs was being thwarted by both a decline in population and their increasing fear of humans. In short I learned a very simple but obvious lesson; if you shoot it today you cannot shoot it again tomorrow.
Today I know that although in some circumstances the groundhog is a pest, he also comes with benefits. Groundhogs serve as a food species for numerous species of hawks as well as foxes and coyotes. Their burrows provide homes for other animals such as rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and opossums. With the benefits this stocky little critter provides I now prefer to allow them to live as long as they aren’t undermining an outbuilding or harvesting my garden a little too early.