Sunday, March 05, 2006

Varmint Hunting

I have to begin today’s post by defending myself:

My name is Paulius, and I shoot Groundhogs.

Yes, Groundhogs are cute. They’re also very destructive.

Behind my house (In fact, it’s the property border), is a railroad track, the embankment of which has been turned into Swiss cheese by groundhogs. Every single year, they have to spend hundreds of thousands to repair it. This also has the unpleasant side-effect of us having to put up with a full work crew, complete with machinery, less than 80 yards from our back door.

If you still think it’s cruel, put it this way, it’s fairly common for the weakening of railroad embankments by groundhogs to buckle the tracks, and de-rail trains…and I don’t want a mile-long locomotive ploughing  into my kitchen for breakfast.

So, at this time every year, I go outside, sit on my back deck and shoot the little buggers.

So, read on if you wish, if you don’t, don’t.

During the Summer, the kudzu on the embankment grows up so much, that you can’t even see the Groundhog burrows. It also means that you will rarely spot a Groundhog, and if you do, you can’t see enough of it to allow for an ethical shot.

In other words, I only pull the trigger if I’m absolutely certain that my shot will kill the thing instantly. As much damage as the things cause, I’m still human, and I don’t want to put a bullet through the thing’s stomach or leg, so it can crawl back into its burrow and slowly bleed to death.

Also, they hibernate in the winter, meaning that when the kudzu has died off, they’re deep underground, sleeping.

At this time of year, however, the kudzu is still dead, and they’ve just started to move around. If you shoot, say five of them, it stops them reproducing out of control.

So ‘hunting season’ began a few days ago.

Usually, with small game hunting, (Although I have to admit, considering I can shoot just a few feet from my back deck, this is more of a very slow shooting gallery), a little research tells you when they get up, when they’re most active, what weather conditions usually brings them out.

However, these groundhogs never read that article. You never know when they’re going to be out and about.

The first day was an absolute wash. I sat outside for three hours, and didn’t see a single one.

Day two was exactly the same. The only thing I bagged was slight sunburn on my forehead.

After that, I gave up for a while. They normally only start to move around in April, but the 12 burrows I counted, and the well worn tracks in the Kudzu lead me to believe that they were all out and about early.

I decided I’d try again in a month or so.

Then, today I spotted one.

(Typical, you sit outside, perfectly silent, staring at the embankment for 3 hours straight, and you don’t see one. Then, the next, you’re out playing with the dog, and they pop their heads out to ask you to keep the noise down.)

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted movement. I looked over, A groundhog was sitting on top of the embankment, perfectly still, just chillin’.

I ran to the house, grabbed my rifle, took the clip out of the cupboard, and took some ammo out of my lock-box (Too many kids come in and out of the house to leave the rifle, ammo and clip in the same place…and not under lock and key.)

I loaded the clip as quickly as I could, put the rifle on safe, and inserted the clip (I wouldn’t actually cock it until I got outside).

Groundhog, nowhere to be seen.

I should point out here that their apparent rarity doesn’t mean there are only one or two of them, it just means they spend most of their time underground.

I cursed at myself.

I started to turn to head back inside, and I saw it move from behind some of the dead kudzu. I raised my rifle.


I was about 90 yards away, and because I could only see it while I was standing, my crosshair was jittering all around it. If I pulled the trigger, I had about an 80% chance of hitting it, but I couldn’t pick where to put the bullet.

Again, it comes down to hunting ethics. I’m not Luke Skywalker, and I can’t “Bullseye Womp Rats” from a T-16. Bear in mind that a Groundhog is only about 12-18 inches long, and I’m shooting a completely stock rifle, and using a $20 Walmart scope at about 90 yards, nearly the length of a football field.

I had an idea, if I took one of the lawn chairs, moved it a little closer, I could use the back of the chair as a rest, and get in a good shot. I decided to give it a try.

The rifle was still safe (No round in the chamber), so I leant it against the side of the house, and picked up a lawn chair. I got maybe 8 paces, before it ducked back in its hole.

I silently cursed again, and put the chair back where it was. I reminded myself that it’s better to miss a shot completely, than to take pot shots and only wound an animal.

As soon as the chair was replaced, I couldn’t believe it. The damn thing came out of its hole, and started walking along. It headed for another hole, but just sat next to it.

I picked up my rifle, and sat on the ground.

GREAT! Where I was sitting, I could still see it, and could use my own knee as a rest.

Moving slowly as possible, I raised the rifle. The crosshair stayed steady on its outline.

My right hand came up, I cocked the rifle, and my right finger disengaged the safety.

I re-aquired it’s outline. It started to move. I held my breath. I had my rifle scope perfectly zeroed for the distance, but I wasn’t confident to hit a moving target. It headed for a hole…and stopped.

I got the crosshair and lined it up with its head. I held my breath again, and slowly squeezed the trigger.

The rifle barked, and despite the recoil making my sight-picture jump, I saw the critter go instantly limp. A perfect shot. The 22 LR bullets I use are supersonic. The Groundhog didn’t even hear the gun go off. Closer inspection showed the bullet went in between it’s left eye and its ear, you can’t get better placement than that.

Anyone know any good Groundhog recipes?


MC Etcher said...

As a city boy who's never killed anything bigger than a spider, I wouldn't presume to judge your varmint hunting.

If it needs done, it's cool that you're so careful with the one-shot-one-kill philosophy.

delmer said...

Before moving to the city I'd hunt groundhogs as well.

As in your case, they always seemed to sense the slightest movement on my part.

T. said...

Every spring and summer we host a party at our home where my husband and his gun happy friends take to the field and shoot gophers. Except they are a lot less humane about it than you. There is always twitching involved.

And then of course is coyote and badger hunting days. Lots of fun around here!

Paulius said...

My philosophy is simple. I only kill something if:

a) I'm going to eat it.
b) It's a vermin or destructive.
c) I'm as confident as possible I can kill it with a single shot.