Groundhog Day: Woodchuck as Chuck

In tribute to Groundhog Day, this is a story about groundhogs, otherwise known as woodchucks or whistle pigs. They got their whistle pig nickname because they whistle to communicate with fellow whistle pigs. They aren’t called woodchucks due to their ability to chuck wood; rather, from the word “wuchack,” the Algonquin tribe’s name for groundhog.

Around here perhaps due to sandy soils or high water tables, groundhogs have never been abundant. Still, even one groundhog foraging in your garden or digging under the foundation of your garage is one too many. In many other areas they are very abundant and very much a nuisance.

Farmers dislike them. They are prone to digging holes and tunnels in many areas where farmers have no need for a hole or a tunnel - like under a fence, in the middle of a pasture or under a barn. They also like to eat green things and prefer green things such as soybeans and alfalfa to green things like weeds.

These same attributes work to make them equally unwelcome at baseball diamonds, golf courses and backyards. Whether in a rural area or in town, groundhogs have few fans.

Thus, when state wildlife laws to protect both non-game and game animals were being codified, groundhogs were exempted. “It’s illegal to hunt animals unless you have a license – except ground hogs.” “It’s illegal to hunt any animal with high-powered rifles – except ground hogs.” They are by exception, just a varmint.

As such, groundhogs enjoy the same protections from being hassled by people as dandelions and mosquitoes - possibly Norway rats – but I actually think there are more statutes dealing with people wanting to deal with rats than for people wanting to deal with groundhogs. All the laws written to protect game or non-game animals, all the laws written to regulate people wanting to gas, bomb, drown, head-smack or otherwise handle nuisance animals and most plants, always excluded ground hogs.

Got a bazooka? Let’s go ground hog hunting!

One would think animals almost universally hated by both rural dwellers and urbanites, and not given any protection from gassers, shooters or bazooka wielders would soon become extinct or at least endangered. Not ground hogs. Not only are they prolific breeders, commonly having a half dozen or more ground “piglets” in a litter, but they often live and breed six to eight years in the wild or until the bazooka gets them.

Groundhogs hibernate during the winter, but somewhere along the line, they got their calendar off kilter. Most hibernating animals head for their winter den when food gets scarce in late fall or early winter, then sleep until spring when food supplies become once again abundant.

Defying normal animal logic, wuchacks go to ground in early Autumn, when food would seem to be relatively abundant, then emerge from their sleep in late winter, often to a still frozen and seemingly barren landscape. This is the origin of the Groundhog’s Day legend.

From a groundhog’s point of view, the one good thing about an early bedtime, is they are gone from the landscape when rabbit hunters and most other hunting seasons are open. Other than the (thankfully) small number of bazooka hunters active earlier in the year, they are immune from incidental harvest.

Except for me. Earlier this fall at the beginning of the trapping season (mid-November) I had traps set to catch raccoons. I was using body-grip traps that snap down on the raccoon, instantly knocking it out and quickly killing it. Instead of a raccoon, I caught a groundhog. This was a first for me and quite unusual since whuchacks in this area are normally hibernating by trapping season.

There’s no value in woodchuck fur. The groundhog was dead. It was far from the nearest barn, golf course or soybean field so I felt some remorse for the capture. I could only think of one ethical recourse. Turn the woodchuck into people chuck - chuck as in chuckwagon - chuck as in wuchack pot pie. At least that’s the recipe my wife and I decided to try. How was it? Actually, it was quite good.

Anyone know where I can buy a bazooka?