Keep your eye on the groundhog population

Punxsutawney Phil has spoken and the little varmint predicted an early spring.

I sure hope he’s right, but I don’t give much credence to groundhog weather forecasters. But then I don’t depend on forecasts by meteorologists either. Even the best weathermen and women sometimes get it wrong.

Weather is just too changeable for anyone to be totally accurate. Barb and I will never forget the predicted scattered showers that turned out to be a Lake Erie squall line that scared the heck out of us for over 12 hours as we fought huge waves trying to get back to our home port. But that’s another story.

Have you ever wondered how groundhogs became the predictors of spring? I had not really thought about it until I read Froma Harrop’s column in the Morning Journal on Groundhog Day.

Ms. Harrop outlined it well and it got me thinking about my own history with groundhogs, or as some like to call them, woodchucks. Somehow woodchuck stew sounds more appetizing than groundhog stew. By the way, does a woodchuck really chuck wood? Does anyone really care?

My love/hate relationship with this underground varmint goes back to the time I was about 10 or 12 years old and actually managed to take my first groundhog with my bow and arrow. I am not talking about a modern hunting bow with razor sharp broadheads.

What parent in their right mind would trust a kid like me with sharp broadheads? Not mine. I was forced to hunt the wilds of East Palestine’s Reservoir Hill armed only with a lightweight bow and a couple dull field arrows. But they worked and I took the groundhog home intending for my mom to cook it. Yeah, like that was going to happen. I quickly learned that I was the only one in the family who wanted to try groundhog stew.

I learned another lesson later in life when Barb and I were living in a small apartment. Once again I, being the hunter in our new marriage, tried to provide the ingredients to another groundhog stew. When I dropped it in the kitchen sink Barb informed me that she would cook any game or fish I provided as long as it never came into her kitchen wearing its fur, feathers or scales. That compromise has worked out for over 60 years of marriage and I eventually got to taste a groundhog stew that she cooked. It was delicious.

Over the years I have met many groundhogs and not all of them went into the stew pot. These varmints can cause a lot of trouble unless their population is kept under control. Just ask a farmer who has had a prize cow step in a hole or have his tractor break an axle. Most farmers will have no problem reducing the groundhog population, and it might be a good way for hunters to gain another place to hunt.

When Barb and I bought our first property we still lived in town, but I had worked hard to cut away briers and till up a garden. Since we love blackberries I left one small patch of briers intact planning to gather the makings of a delicious blackberry pie.

Next to that little patch was were I planted two long rows of bush beans and I lovingly hoed and nurtured them. Then just when I planned to harvest my beans I checked the garden and found only barren ground. Something had swiped my beans.

Searching for the culprit I found a big hole in the middle of the berry patch and I realized what had happened. A well-placed trap proved my suspicions and I caught the biggest, fattest groundhog I have ever seen. No wonder he was fat after spending a few days eating my beans.

I normally will not shoot anything I don’t intend to eat, but some time population control I justified. And a critter eating my garden comes under that category. But I still am glad to have groundhogs in the wild, and I hope Phil is right about an early spring.