Most of us who think we are serious shooters have a dirty little secret: We do not shoot enough. We talk about it and make a lot of grandiose plans but maybe spend a few hours on the bench all summer. The rut comes around in November, and we are no better prepared than last year.
We need a better reason to get out there and shoot, something that will get us off that bench and away from the air conditioning. Deer hunters, I present to you the lowly groundhog.
The groundhog’s proper name is woodchuck (probably a Native American derivation); some also call it whistle pig. Groundhogs are found over much of the eastern U.S. and are usually seen around fields and farms in agricultural areas. Most farmers and cattlemen have no love for the groundhog and see it as a destructive pest. Groundhogs are voracious diggers, and their dens are considered a threat to livestock, machinery and the farmer’s general peace of mind. Here is where you come in.
You can hunt groundhogs like you hunt deer. This isn’t rocket science. Check the zero on your deer rifle and go groundhog hunting. Start early in the morning, and make a day of it. Find a good vantage point to begin glassing with a binocular. Open areas next to brushy fencerows, rocky protrusions in pastures and lush hay meadows are all good areas to find Mr. Groundhog. Try to relate everything to your deer game. Do you spot and stalk for whitetails? Groundhogs are great practice for this and a lot of fun to boot.
You can practice field positions—with live targets. What is the shooting position you have the most trouble with in the deer woods? Standing offhand? Sitting? Work on that in the groundhog fields. This is the way to prepare for the woods of November. When you are consistently taking whistle pigs with your deer gun at 200 yards, you are going to be deadly in the whitetail woods.
You can test all your gear while hunting. Think about it. Groundhog hunting lets you get all the kinks out of the system. Everything from sling swivels, shooting sticks, your bino and rangefinder, even your pack can be put to test against whistle pigs. You’ll also be able to confirm bullet drop and practice running your bolt gun. How adept are you at firing three quick, well-aimed shots with your rifle? A groundhog running at 75 yards is going to give you the answer. (As with any hunting or shooting, always be sure your bullet has a suitable backstop and you know what is beyond the target.)
Once upon a time I traveled with some pretty fast company in the varmint-shooting world. These guys shot heavy custom rifles with scopes almost as long as the barrel. They could shoot a gnat’s left wing off at 300 yards with some consistency. This is not what we are talking about here. Hunting groundhogs with the rifle and gear that you will carry in deer season is going to get you ready for this fall.
Did I mention this can be heck of a lot of fun? If you get the groundhog bug you are going to be shooting and hunting all summer long. Wasn’t that our goal from the start?