“Sure, have at it!”
“You bet…Just give us a call when you plan to come hunt.”
“Absolutely; go kill them all!”
Imagine consistently hearing these responses from landowners when asking for permission to bowhunt their properties. In recent years, gaining the green light to private farm tracts has become a seemingly impossible task. However, there is one game species most farmers happily grant hunters access to pursue, simply because it’s such a nuisance. It’s that formidable foe greedily munching down precious cash crops and digging holes that wreak havoc on machinery, while multiplying in number each and every year. This burrowing menace, continually driving farmers mad from Illinois to New England to Georgia, is none other than the ever-plentiful groundhog (woodchuck). Are you looking for a fun solution on how to bowhunt your way through the summer months? Try spot and stalk groundhogs for summertime bowhunting action.
Archery hunters looking to brush up on some off-season bow shooting action, while helping out a few local landowners at the same time, can turn to groundhog hunting for a thrilling fair-weather challenge. These abundant rodents offer plenty of opportunities for employing spot and stalk tactics with archery tackle, and gaining access to quality hunting locations is rarely an issue.
Having cut my teeth as an archery hunter by targeting chucks while growing up on my family farm, I quickly discovered that pursuing these pesky varmints with stick and string is a perfect way to hone one’s bowhunting skills during the slower months of the outdoor calendar.
Groundhogs are wary critters. They have quality eyesight and are naturally cautious when roaming outside the sanctuary of their dens. However, creeping to within bow range is possible when you learn some tricks of the trade. In fact, one year back in high school my best friend and I tallied 63 bow-kills between the two of us, prompting my old man to quickly abandon his $5 per woodchuck bounty offer. Trust me, it can be done.
Here are some tips for determined bowhunters to keep their shooting skills sharp, while hopping into the ring to grapple with some chubby old groundhogs this summer.
Where to find them:
Though woodchucks are extremely versatile in the places they call home, burrows are generally located in close proximity to agricultural vegetation. By simply walking field edges, hunters can often locate dirt mounds and entry holes a few feet inside the field’s border cover.
Thick fencerows and brushy wood-lines provide the perfect concealment for escape tunnels to be dug just a short distance from the dinner buffet. In areas with a high concentration of groundhogs, scouting observations can sometimes even reveal large semi-circles of sheared off crops- an obvious indicator of a nearby burrow. Hunters should consider these locations prime areas of interest to target during a hunt.
Breakfast and Dinner:
Woodchucks are most active prior to 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Though some will feed during mid-day, they seem to prefer to be out when temperatures are cooler, and the sun isn’t baking everything to a crisp. Post-rain periods are also preferred since chucks get a large portion of their water intake through residual plant moisture.
Groundhogs love clover, soybeans, and alfalfa, and they will even eat corn in its soft milky stages. Cover these areas early and late in the day, and don’t be surprised to occasionally find a treed woodchuck nibbling the succulent leaves off low-hanging branches. They will do almost anything for a satisfying meal.
Gaining the Edge:
As previously stated, woodchucks have excellent vision, so concealment is a must. In many states, law requires a solid blaze orange hat to be worn at all times, but hunters should also wear camouflaged clothing to match the surrounding vegetation. This could range from greened-up camo patterns to even khaki pants when hunting recently plowed fields. Whatever the scenery, try your best to blend in.
Upon spotting a feeding groundhog, try to use the lay of the land to create a natural barrier between yourself and your target. This could mean tightly hugging the field edge, or even slipping quietly into the cover and approaching the field from a different angle.
When feeding, chucks tend to lift their heads to survey for potential threats every couple of seconds. Try to cover as much ground as possible when their heads are in the salad bowl, then freeze each time they look up. If they don’t suspect anything, they will go right back to feeding, and you can close in for an easy shot.
It’s Go Time:
When stalking any animal, hunters are bound to get busted once in a while. If this happens, don’t worry. Just because a groundhog starts hightailing it for cover doesn’t mean all is lost. For some reason, chucks tend to pause for one final look before going down their holes. If you are within range, prepare yourself for a quick shot, and make it count.
If a groundhog pulls the old shoots-and-ladders trick, sliding right down his escape tunnel, get close to that hole as quickly as possible, and stay ready. Most will poke their heads back out to take a cautious peek within a few minutes. Timing your draw just right is imperative; as soon as you see the hint of a nose, make your move.
If you can thread the needle, an arrow into the ear-hole will provide a quick, clean kill. Otherwise, be patient. Many woodchucks will re-emerge to feed again once they feel the threat of danger has passed.
A bowhunter’s woodchuck arsenal should include a laser rangefinder, as guessing distances in open terrain is always a challenge. Older, expendable arrows are preferred, as I can guarantee you will miss from time to time. A snug fitting, quiet hip quiver is great for quick arrow access on often-needed follow up shots.
I’ve found that fixed-blade broadheads are the most efficient, often offering complete pass-throughs. However, judo-points save many lost arrows and will do the job if a headshot is possible. Blunt tipped, stump-shooting points don’t seem to pack enough punch, and field points will kill but often don’t pass through completely (I’ve had groundhogs actually pull my arrow down their holes more than once).
Comfortable, mobile footwear is essential for the amount of ground to be covered on a spot-and-stalk hunt. Long pants will ward off poison ivy and ticks, while a quick spray of insect repellant will help keep the bugs at bay.
There’s no doubt, hunting groundhogs with archery tackle can be quite the challenge. You’ll probably blow more shots than you kill, but the hunt itself is a lot of fun. Landowners will appreciate your assistance, and it’s good practice for the fall big game seasons.
If you’re looking for some exciting summer bowhunting action, give woodchucks a shot. You’ve got nothing to lose but a few old arrows and some food plot freeloaders.