Some Groundhog facts
The Woodchuck (Marmota monax) is also known by the names Woods pig, Ground hog, Whistle-Pig, Mountain Marmot,
Whistler, Hedge-Hog, and even the curious designation of Whatnot. The common moniker of Woodchuck is actually an anglicized
corruption of this species' Indian name. The origin of its other most frequently used title, the Ground hog, is of course
self-evident from the heavy, squat body and waddling gait, as well as the practice of living in the ground.
The Woodchuck is a stout-bodied marmot of the family Sciuridae (of the order Rodentia). Woodchucks are black-footed,
reddish and yellowish-brown to brown animals, ranging from 17 to 20 inches in length, with 4- to 6-inch tails. They weigh
an average of between 4 and 14 pounds, though some corpulent specimens have been known to exceed 25 pounds!
Said to have actually originated in South America, the Woodchuck is distributed far and wide, and from the eastern
and central United States northward across Canada and into Alaska, they are known as animals of the open fields and woodland
edges, where they feed mainly on low green vegetation (their favorite of foods is clover.) When North America was first settled,
woodchucks were relatively scarce, but as timbered areas were opened and woodland edge, fence row and meadow increased, range
expanded and the animals prospered. At present Marmota Monax is common everywhere in North America. The Woodchuck is also
said to be found in Europe, inhabiting the lofty alpine meadows of Switzerland as well as the Carpathian mountain ranges,
Africa, and the Far East. In fact, one may find a Woodchuck in all parts of the world save Australia, New Zealand, and both
Woodchucks are first and foremost excellent diggers, constructing an elaborate system of burrows, each with both
a main entrance and an escape tunnel. They are mainly land dwellers but are also on necessary occasion good swimmers and climbers.
They feed quite heartily and heavily in the summer, storing the thick layers of fat that they need to see them through their
winter "hibernation," though they are not in point of fact true hibernators. They will slumber for extended periods due to
temperature, whereas true hibernators follow their cycle due to the length of solar exposure for a given time of the year.
Woodchucks are solitary except during the spring, when litters of four to five young are born. The young stay with the mother
for about two months.
Feb. 2nd, Groundhog Day, is loosely based on the date of the first Woodchuck sightings of the year, and more
culturally speaking, Groundhog Day was originally based on an old Scottish couplet which went: "If Candlemas Day is bright
and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." During this time, the male Woodchucks emerge, and seek out the dens of the
females in order to mate. The gestation period of the female Woodchuck is roughly 31-32 days, and the young are born in early
to mid March, with some born towards the end of March. During the first 3-4 weeks after the birth of the young (they may bear
from two to six in the typical litter) the female will stay with her offspring and seldom if ever come out of the den to feed.
The mother and young stay together for a total of a little over a month and a half.
Thus, one will seldom see a female in the early spring. After this time, Woodchucks are for the most part solitary
animals. Though they do not roam together in herds, they are nonetheless plentiful in the areas in which they dwell, if one's
eyes are trained to spot them. By the end of November, most Woodchucks are curled up in a profound sleep in their underground
cavern. So deep is this slumbering that even if an animal is warmed, it requires several hours to awaken. Woodchucks usually
slumber all winter, although during periods of mild weather, some individuals may awaken to feed for brief periods.
The Woodchuck as a Varmint Species
In an agricultural area the Woodchuck does considerable damage to crops; in other uninhabited areas he is probably
beneficial, since his burrows are refuges and homes for many other game, furbearing, and predatory species. Weasels, Skunks,
Opossums, Foxes, and Rabbits all exploit abandoned Woodchuck burrows for use as their dens. Also, because a great measure
of subsoil is moved in the course of burrow formation, the incalculable generations of woodchucks which have inhabited North
America have played a significant role in the aeration and mixing of our topsoil.
Hunting the Woodchuck
This author hates to see Woodchucks exterminated by contaminate or toxin. Poison usually takes several days and
two or more doses to take effect, and in process usually harms other species as well, not to mention the several days of excruciating
pain it causes the planned recipient. Marmota Monax is worthy of a better end. The Woodchuck is one of the extraordinarily
few emancipated Americans! He sits on his mound as sovereign of his little meadow. He curls into a ball and dozes the winter
from beginning to end, indifferent to the concerns of the humankind, while many of his more decidedly erudite (or are we?)
neighbors quiver through a long frozen winter, too unintelligent or too unwise to orchestrate our political and fiscal dealings
so that we might have a passable reserve of victuals and fuel to endure the winter, too irresponsible to supply ourselves
passable secure and clean lodging. Simply investigate the measure of existence in any American municipality!
The Woodchuck also provides excitement and significance to even the most run down of abandoned farmsteads, and
indeed all he will need is a small piece of land upon which to grow fat, and if truth be told, property upon which we more
often than not might go hungry due to our own lack of precaution.
Yes, the Woodchuck is a living testimonial of resourcefulness, an allegedly unintelligent animal which can yet
live, redouble his breed, his assets, and have a prospect amidst environs in which we, with all our technological aptitude,
have at times failed to make a livelihood.
I usually elect to commence my Woodchuck hunting in the vicinity of mid March, eliminate a few prowling males,
and then refrain for several more weeks. The young are typically weaned by May, but usually at this time the crops are beginning
to grow tall. Around here, the crop and hay farmers also usually try to make their first cutting of hay by May 27 (Memorial
Day.) If one limits ones early spring shooting to fields that will become corn or bean fields, you will reap the many benefits,
because due to the height of these crops, corn and bean fields will be unacceptable for distance shooting of such stubby creatures
as the Woodchuck later in the year. A lot of hunters overlook the bare summer hay fields and herd pastures, yet those fields
can be a valuable source of chucks during the time in between planting and harvest, while the corn and beans are thick and
All varmint species can be tricky to hunt, as they are typically wary of man, and as such must then be taken
at extremely long distances of anywhere inside a thousand yards by the most dedicated and talanted of shooters! Now this author
has little experience at the thousand yard line, however an average range of one hundred to five hundred yards is
not uncommon. Here on the ranch we almost exclusively pursue the Woodchuck (as well as other Varmint species) with
accurized Thompson Center Arms pistols and rifles, and so all the more enjoyable is a long and successful hunt which is culminated
by that one good shot! To be in the fields on an ideal varmint hunting day, with an accurized and scoped Contender single
shot pistol, is truly where this Woodchuck hunter enjoys spending his leisure time.
After many years of practice at the bench and experience in the field, one may find the acquired skill which
is necessary to regularly connect with Marmota Monax at his given ranges, cause him to frenziedly waive his tail,
and appreciate this worthy opponent who is both destructive to our agrarian economic endeavors and yet also worthy of our
Return to Varmint Species Mainpage
Our Virginia Woodchuck Season:
We have a continuous open season on private lands. Groundhog
hunting on some public lands is allowed only during certain time periods, and one must see our National Forest-Game Department Regulations for these regulations.
- State or county hunting license
Additional licenses, stamps or permits that may be required:
Lawful Methods of Taking:
- Modern firearms
- Archery tackle
- Muzzleloading firearms
1. Estey, Paul C. "The Woodchuck Hunter" Published 1936, reprinted
1993 R&R Books, 3020 East Lake RD, Livonia NY 14487
2. Landis, C.S. "Hunting with the .22" Published 1950, reprinted 1993
R&R Books, 3020 East Lake RD, Livonia NY 14487
3. Schwartz, Charles and Elizabeth "The Wild Mammals of Missouri"
Published 1981 University of Missouri Press, P.O. Box 1644, Columbia, MO 65211, ALSO the Missouri Department of Conservation,
P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City. MO 65102.
4. Burt, William Henry "A Field Guide to the Mammals-The Peterson Field
Guide Series" Published date unknown, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1976
5. Baker, R.H. "Michigan Mammals" 1983. Michigan State University Press,
6. Banfield, A.W.F. "The Mammals of Canada" 1981. University of Toronto
Press; Toronto, Canada.
7. Jones, J.K. and Birney, E.C. "Handbook of Mammals of the North-Central
States" 1988. University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis, Minnesota.
8. Kurta, A. "Mammals of the Great Lakes Region" 1995. Revised Edition.
The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor,Michigan.
9. Nowak, R.M. "Walker's Mammals of the World" 1991. Fifth Edition.
The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
10. Virginia Dept of game and Inland Fisheries "Hunting and Trapping in Virginia" Richmond Headquarters,
4010 West Broad St. Richmond VA 23230-1104