Groundhog Days! Fine-Tune Your Skills & Make a Farmer Happy

Starting to feel like you're stuck in a loop this summer? Take a Groundhog Day to keep things interesting.

by
posted on June 20, 2024
Summer Groundhog Lede

Our family has some farm animals, and we grow a lot of our food too … but lately, there’s been a little less to harvest. This past weekend, I saw why when a groundhog trundled out of our garden. The fat around the hog’s midsection was flopping, a testament to my missing rows of corn and green beans! My daughter immediately brought my beloved .22 rifle to me, and I quickly dispatched the groundhog just as it got to the tree line.

Before I was able to secure land to hunt on permanently, I often made a few trades with farmers to be their summer groundhog exterminator in exchange for some limited fall hunting opportunities. Word soon spread that I put in a fair amount of time eradicating groundhogs, and I was quite efficient at reducing groundhog populations.

Why groundhogs?

Groundhogs dig holes and tunnels which can cause farm equipment to suddenly fall in and potentially cause an accident. Groundhogs can and will eat crops extensively. I recall finding a groundhog burrow in the middle of a field of soybeans once. I noticed it because there was a massive bare spot that looked odd from where I was perched some 200+ yards away on the edge of the field awaiting another groundhog. I waded through the soybeans and when I arrived at the location, I was stunned.

A circle a full 30 yards’ diameter of soybeans were wiped completely out. In the middle of the bare spot was a big groundhog hole. Farmers hate to see this, and they hate to have a tractor or other equipment get damaged by a pest. Their bottom line gets hurt quickly by such things.

Although hunting seasons won’t start for several more months, keeping those stalking, observation and shooting skills warmed up is a good idea. Shooting groundhogs and hunting them is fun, and you may end up with a new place to hunt if you do the job well.

Getting Permission

The first step is to find a local farmer and approach them in the morning as they are getting their day started or just after lunch. Time is very valuable to farmers, so keep your proposal quick and to the point. Ask if they have had any groundhog issues (or coyote issues if you live in an area where that could be causing problems), and explain you want to do a little hunting during the summer. Be sure to explain you are careful with your shots and if you have permission from another farmer in the region, mention that too.

The biggest hurdle for gaining access to a farm is fear that a stranger may leave a gate open, shoot livestock or endanger someone else with their firearm or errant shot. It is important to be direct and not talk too much. The farmer will make their decision quickly and often based on need and their first impression of you.

If you are granted permission, ask when a good time to go over any special areas that groundhogs are posing a problem would be. Also, be sure to ask about any other particulars such as closed gates, aggressive livestock and other things that you should be aware of. I also make a point to ask about other structures or areas where laborers or livestock may be present that could be initially out of sight. Last, be sure to ask if there are times or days that are not the best for you to be on the farm. I also ask if the farmer wants me to park in a certain area or send them a text message when I am coming onto and leaving the farm.

The next step is to do some initial scouting and find where groundhogs are entering or exiting a field. Don’t drive all over the fields unless the farmer says it is OK to do so. Be sure to evaluate the shots you might take, zones of fire and stand sites too. Using OnX or Hunt Stand apps can help you determine where property boundaries are if necessary.

Tips and Tricks

Depending on your scenario, you might opt to use a .22 rimfire rifle, or you may find it better to use a centerfire rifle such as a .223/5.56 or .22-250. Just be sure you know where livestock, farm equipment and people are before shooting. Take time to carefully sight-in your rifle before heading out to hunt as the farmer is going to expect that every time you shoot, another groundhog is gone!

I make a habit to send a quick message to the farmer each trip or each week with a tally of how many groundhogs I have killed. This keeps them happy and if they are happy, they may offer to let you hunt other game animals later.

Groundhogs will come out all day long, but they are more active an hour or two after sunrise until just before lunch; they become active again as the sun starts to drop. I don’t see many actively foraging at dawn and dusk though. So, there is no need to get up real early and no need to stay out late.

When there are crops in the field, the easiest way to get shots is to find paths from the woodline into the field and set up a stand with a direct line of fire on the egress point. I have shot multiple groundhogs in the same sitting on such positions. Trying to see a groundhog in the middle of a soybean or corn field is a lost cause. I have sometimes used my climbing stand to get up high enough to see where the groundhogs are in the edge of the woods too.
If you are using a .22 rimfire, use hollowpoint bullets to quickly dispatch the groundhog. A groundhog that disappears into the soybean or corn will soon attract buzzards, which will destroy crops dragging the carcass around as they eat it. Dispose of the groundhog in a good location out of sight and out of the range of the farmer’s family’s sense of smell too. (Young groundhogs actually make good eating ... but that’s a different article!)

 

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