“Shoulder your gun and whistle your dog,
Shoulder your gun and whistle your dog,
Off to the woods to catch a groundhog.
Doc Watson’s version of the traditional folk song “Groundhog”
I wish we had more groundhogs. Back then, and I’m talking 40+ years ago, we had lots (and I mean lots) of groundhogs, whistles, groundhogs, whatever you want to call them. The groundhog was the primary target of varmint hunters in the eastern United States. A whole culture of rifle shooters and gunsmiths revolved around this rodent that we long-range shooters of the day loved, but the farmers that they annoyed, not so much.
For some reason, and no one seems to know, the number of groundhogs in my area dropped dramatically several years ago. Why? I really don’t know, but every farmer I’ve asked about this over the past few years has said the same thing — coyotes.
Now, I have no doubt that these farmers know their land, but I find it hard to believe that the disappearance of the whistling pig over such a vast area is solely due to Wile E. Coyote. Coyotes undoubtedly feed on groundhogs, but are they the main reason for the absence of groundhogs? I don’t know, I just wish they would come back but I’m not holding my breath.
Most of us who think we’re serious shooters have a dirty little secret: we don’t shoot enough. I bet you just don’t fire enough rounds from your deer rifle in a year. The rut comes in November and you are no better prepared than last year. We talk about it; we do a lot of grand projects and maybe spend an hour on the bench all summer. You need a reason to get out and shoot, something that will get you off that shooting bench and away from the air conditioning.
So, rifle shooters, I present to you the humble groundhog.
The proper name for this vermin is groundhog (probably a Native American derivation); some call it groundhog, and it is also known as whistle pig. Groundhogs are found throughout much of the eastern United States and are commonly seen around fields and farms in agricultural areas. Most farmers and ranchers dislike groundhogs and consider them a destructive pest. Groundhogs are voracious diggers and their dens are considered a threat to livestock, machinery and the general peace of mind of the farmer. This is where you come in.
It’s not rocket science. Aim your rifle and go on a groundhog hunt. Start early in the morning and make a day of it. Find a good vantage point to start observing with binoculars. Open areas next to rows of brushy fences, rock protrusions in pastures, and lush hay meadows are all good areas to find groundhogs. Try to relate everything to your deer game. Do you spot and track white-tailed deer? Groundhogs are great practice for this and a lot of fun too.
What is the shooting position you have the most trouble with when you are in the deer antlers? Standing casually? Prone? Work on that in the groundhog field. It’s the way to prepare for November’s antlers. When you’re constantly taking whistle pigs with your deer gun from 200 yards, you’re going to be deadly in the deer antlers, my friend. Think about it. This is where you get all the system faults. Everything from slingshot swivels, shooting sticks (if you’re using one), bullet drop, and how your bolt action gun “works”. How adept are you at firing three quick shots from your rifle? A groundhog running 75 meters away will give you answers (and lots of fun).
Once upon a time, I traveled with a pretty fast company in the world of mint shooting. These guys fired heavy custom rifles with scopes almost as long as the barrel. They could shoot the left wing of a gnat from 300 yards with some consistency. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Using the rifle and sights you will be carrying during deer season will prepare you.
Did I mention it can be a lot of fun? Groundhogs, if you can find them, are always a pest for farmers and cattle farms. If you catch the groundhog bug, you’ll shoot more and burn a lot more gunpowder. Wasn’t that our goal from the start?