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FIRELANDS OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK - Prime time for groundhogs

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:45 PM

Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about groundhogs, pro or con.

With Huron County farmers, it's almost invariably con and therein lies an opportunity. Groundhogs or woodchucks have one-track minds, and once they decide to dig a few holes under a barn, outbuilding, back porch, or garage, you simply cannot discourage them. And I should know because I've tried everything, including boxes of moth balls down their holes.

Last summer I killed four chucks that persisted in burrowing in my detached garage, animals that dug with real abandon, once nearly burying my push mower under a mound of dirt. And I've seen barns and outbuildings that actually were tilting because so many groundhogs had made a home inside. So, it goes without saying, when you ask a landowner with a problem if you can shoot them, he's extremely likely to say "Yes."

And if you're a cautious, polite and persistent hunter who at least partially solves his problem, when you go back this fall and ask about deer hunting or in spring about wild turkeys, he's likely to say "yes" then, too. So, chucks have a good side, for hunters, at least. Then, there's the old study that shows one groundhog eats an average of $50 worth of soybeans each year, so farmers who don't have a problem with barn chucks are still losing money and happy to have you kill them.

They're out there right now munching down rows of small, young and tender soybeans, which makes now a good time to hunt them since they're highly visible in short foliage.

Do the animals have other uses beside cementing farmer-hunter relations? Sure. They haven't survived in Ohio fields and woodlands by being stupid, and with cougars, bears, wolves, coyotes and native Americans seeking them constantly, survival of the fittest has made them super wary.

So, if you're looking to hone hunting skills for fall, try going after these sharp sighted and cautious animals with a bow. If you can bag some, you'll have little trouble with deer. Seek them with a hand gun too, which means shots of 30 yards or less. Even with full camouflage, this brand of hunting will test your skill. And if you're a target shooter, long, long shots can produce plenty of satisfaction. I know a professional groundhog hunter whose clients make shots out to 500, even 600 yards. If you can do this, too, you've a good rifle and a good eye.

There are other uses for groundhogs. When I was a kid, a big one moved in under our pig pen, and I mentioned it to a neighbor. He picked up a rifle, headed for the pen, and two hours later I heard a shot, then saw him walking home carrying the animal. Next day I asked the man "How was he?" "Mighty good" I was told. " Ma baked him slow with onions, potatoes, and carrots. Tasted just like prime pork." Which is why some call them "groundhogs"

Obviously, many readers would not eat a young and tender this years fryer even if they found it at the golden arches listed as "McChuck" on the menu. But, if that's out, your dogs would love the meat and it saves on food bills. Some use tough old animals for turtle bait too, and I knew one old timer who filled a burlap bag with stones and groundhogs, and tossed it in the Big Scioto River, then fished for catfish just below it. It sums up to lots of reasons to hunt these furry pests, and now is a good time to do it.

Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at richmart@neo.rr.com

Hunters checked 17,005 wild turkeys during Ohio's four week spring turkey hunting season. The preliminary total represents a 7 percent decrease over last years harvest of 18,262. Ashtabula County again led the state in the number of turkeys killed with 831. Other counties with high harvest numbers were Athens - 571, Harrison - 562, and Tuscarawas - 554. In our area, Huron County hunters killed 124, Richland -308, Seneca - 89, Lorain - 140, and Erie - 44.

Is hunting and shooting losing popularity in this country? Apparently not, according to recent studies. For example, hunters spent $723.7 on licenses, tags, stamps, and permits in 2005, a 2.8 increase over 2004. According to the National Safety Council, over the last decade, fatalities involving firearms have declined by 40 percent. And the latest survey shows 78 percent of the American public approves of recreational shooting sports, up 3 percent since 2003. Finally, several studies show more women are target shooting and hunting.

A series of organized events is scheduled for Ohio State Parks this summer, encouraging visitors to get involved in a wide variety of outdoor physical pursuits. According to Dan West, chief of Ohio State Parks, "With the "Get Fit Naturally" program, we can encourage adults, teens, and youngsters to get together and improve their physical fitness." Upcoming events include a 10 a.m. June 16 program at John Bryan State Park and a 10 a.m. July 8 program at Findley State Park in Wellington.

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