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Whistle Pigs?

Whistle pigs? What are you talking about? Granted, today, there are likely a lot of people who have no idea what I’m talking about, but some other names for a groundhog are woodchucks and whistle pigs. Most people refer to the big burrowing rodent as either a groundhog or a woodchuck, but I suppose the name whistle pig came from the sound it occasionally makes when alarmed.

What comes to mind most when I spot a groundhog in my travels is that it was one of my main hunting targets as a kid growing up. Throughout my college years, hunting groundhogs was a big thing. My brother and I, along with several buddies, often hunted groundhogs, and the most successful groundhog slayer was often rewarded with a milkshake at the local dairy store. What made it even more enticing was that it really didn’t require any specialized equipment; you could use the same rifle used in deer hunting. At close range, we sometimes made good use of that old 22-rifle sitting in the gun cabinet.

Years later, I hunted groundhogs with a neighbor who was more sophisticated when it came to groundhog hunting; he preferred long-range shooting with more specialized equipment, and actual bench rests. Shots were often taken at 200-300 yards and often with success.

Groundhogs are found throughout the state in open fields, meadows, pastures, fencerows, wooded edges, and yes, on occasion, even deep in the woods. If you spot one, there’s a very good chance it will be somewhere nearby in the days to come since they rarely move a long distance from the safety of their burrows.

If you’ve hunted them, I don’t have to remind you that they have a keen sense of sight, but they also can hear well and smell. Take note that the sense of sight, hearing, and smell are all located along the top of the skull, so a groundhog can quickly pick up danger by simply sticking its crown slightly up out of its burrow. I might add that they can run at a pretty good speed in spite of their short legs.

Another interesting and probably less known fact is that groundhogs are pretty efficient climbers. I have, on a couple of occasions, seen them part way up in trees with low branches. Recently someone told me of a groundhog they spotted quite a distance up a tree without a lot of branches.

Back in my groundhog hunting days, I wasn’t hunting them as table fare; to be honest, it never entered my mind that I might want to eat one. When you think about it, though, their eating habits aren’t bad; they prefer vegetation, green grasses, and especially a lot of the stuff that farmers plant. No doubt, for that reason, many farmers will welcome responsible hunters to help eliminate some of the problems caused by foraging groundhogs. I have actually eaten groundhog at a wild game dinner somewhere, and to be honest, it tasted fine — no, not like chicken but not bad.

The woodchuck is one of the wildlife species that has actually benefited from the growth of civilization since our farms, fields, and pastures have provided more suitable habitat and a great food source. When it comes to hunting, they are readily available and generally in good supply. Also, if you are anxious to get out and do some hunting, the groundhog is about the only thing available throughout the summer months. It might also be a good way to get a little long-range rifle practice in before deer season.