By Mark Fike
Groundhogs are the scourge of many farmers’ livelihood.
Their holes are responsible for a number of tractor repairs, horse and cattle leg injuries, and other problems.
You can always tell if a field is infested with groundhogs too. The area around the hole is mowed down quite short and the mowing is less frequent the farther you get from the hole.
Trapping groundhogs is time consuming, and time is one thing a farmer does not have much of.
Hunters, however, do have time to hunt and the shooting is good practice, plus it helps the farmers and gardeners out.
You may even secure a new place to hunt if you are successful enough in eradicating the groundhogs.
If you want some early summer shooting practice, keep your eyes peeled as you drive along the countryside. Most farm fields suffer from groundhog damage.
I have known very few farmers that will turn down an offer to shoot groundhogs for free.
Gardeners with big gardens may also be in need of some groundhog shooting too.
Where To Look
After permission is obtained to shoot groundhogs, begin scouting the edges of the farm field, but pay attention to the areas within fifty yards of the edge as well.
Sometimes a hog will burrow in the field, but close to the perimeter. Pay close attention to hedgerows, knobs in the field, or other obstructions that would offer a good place for a groundhog to dig a den and not be under the barrage of a tractor.
When you see a groundhog in the field, watch where it runs. That is a dead giveaway as to where the burrows are located.
Most holes will be located within fifty yards of the edge of the field, but in the woods. This is particularly true if the woods include some hilly terrain.
The hogs seem to like an embankment where they can easily dig out a good hole. There will be well-worn narrow trails that will give away their travel corridor. When you find one hole, be sure to look for the second and even the third hole. They often have a back door entrance.
The Set Up
Safety is of importance when setting up the shot. Once the scouting is done and the groundhogs are located, you can rest assured there will be more than one hog living and using the area.
In fact, in the spring, you are more than likely to see upwards of a half dozen hogs within shooting range of the first hole.
Keep your bullet impact area in mind. Make sure there are no houses in the backdrop and be sure to consider ricochets if you are using a high powered rifle.
Also, watch for farm workers and tractors in the area you are shooting in. If possible, get above the target and shoot into the ground.
Old barn buildings, sheds, unused tractors, hay bales and even a treestand offer great vantage points from which to shoot.
If it is legal in your state you can set up a shooting table or rest over the cab of your pickup if you are permitted to park in the field and shoot. The higher you are, the better the visual and the safer the shot.
When shooting groundhogs for homeowners with gardens, be sure to ask about domestic animals. No one wants to mistakenly take out a cat or small dog that is sneaking through the grass or edge of a weedy area.
Be sure to ask where nearby houses are through the woods and if there might be children playing nearby. It is your responsibility to know these things before shooting.
Tools Of The Trade
Basically there are three ways to equip yourself regarding firearms. You can go high power and get a flat shooting rifle for those long bean field shots. Preference dominates here, but anything of the .22 caliber is likely to be favored. A 22-250, 223, 220 Swift or similar caliber will work great.
A second high powered, but safer bet with a bit less range, would be the .17 HMR. These tiny rounds are fast, flat and deadly. They generally explode or fragment on impact, negating ricochets. The only issue some may have is the fact that they are very loud. They do the job, though!
A .22 rimfire is my favorite method of taking out the varmints. The rounds are cheap, the rifle is inexpensive, the range is sufficient but not so much that you need to really worry about a house hundreds of yards away, and they do the job when they impact a groundhog.
There are many varieties of rounds, rifles and speeds. I prefer to use a high velocity hollow point to be sure the job is done humanely. The hollow points tend to weigh less and fly a little flatter. Effective range of these rounds is about 100 yards. In the hands of a skilled shooter, shots to 125 yards can be taken effectively.
A pair of binos, a stool if hunting from the ground, shooting sticks if desired, and a rangefinder if taking very long shots will be helpful.
Take the time to give the landowner regular updates on how the groundhog removal is going. Take pictures if you can. Sometimes a landowner wants proof they are having groundhogs removed.
If there are a lot of groundhogs, then the damage may continue for a while and it’s good to have proof you are thinning the population.
So enjoy your quiet time this late spring and sharpen up those shooting skills, and do a little deer scouting.
Who knows, you may end up with a nice place to deer or turkey hunt come fall!