Getting Rid of Groundhogs, aka Woodchucks and Whistlepigs

If only. As a species of aggravation, Marmota monax, the largest and most pestilential member of the squirrel family is impossible to get rid of. There are a number of reasons we will get into in a moment.

First, however, the good news: you can get rid of one or more individuals, and that can often make the difference between having a harvest and not. Furthermore, you can get rid of them using a live trap, especially if you use one from Williams Trapping Supply.

young groundhog in live trap, about to take a trip

young groundhog in live trap, about to take a trip

Williams traps are just as sturdy as the more common option while being much easier for the trapper to set and for the trappee to trigger. They’re also easier to empty – the door opens when you turn them upside down, which you can do with a long stick when that seems called for.

You do have to anchor the trap with a stake, so only you can turn it over, but other than that the thing is just about perfect.

Williams Trapping Supply does not have a website. For sizes and prices, call Mr. Williams at 260 672 3721.

Tips for success trapping groundhogs:

* Set the trap as close as possible to the most-used entrance to the burrow. There is always more than one entrance, but there is usually a favorite close to whatever is being eaten. The dirt in front of it will look freshly disturbed.

* Bait the trap with whatever brought the damage to your attention, plus some lettuce or other juicy greenery and a bit of fresh fruit that will not instantly spoil – an apple wedge or a couple of cherries, for instance.

* Change the bait daily; groundhogs are used to eating plants that are still actively growing so they’re quite fussy about freshness.

One warning: Catching the creature alive and unharmed, then turning it loose somewhere far from human habitation seems much kinder than killing it, either instead of or after trapping. But trap and release is illegal in many places where killing is not, and you may well be condemning the groundhog to a long, difficult fight for survival that it may not win.

These large rodents are fierce and highly territorial, and they are also near-ubiquitous. There is almost surely a groundhog in residence wherever you dump yours. That said, we figure we might as well give ’em a shot (as it were).

Why You Can Never Get Rid of Groundhogs

* They can and will eat almost anything: grasses, cultivated plants, insects, tree bark, snails, berries…

* Groundhogs expand to fit the feed allotted. Minimum adult weight is about 5 pounds; common adult weight is 12 – 14 pounds, groundhog-in-clover (actually alfalfa) weight may be as much as 30 pounds,  and of course the bigger they are the safer they are are from smaller predators like hawks, owls, foxes and snakes.

* Although predators also include humans, dogs, bears, wolves, coyotes, and bobcats, groundhogs are skilled at self-preservation. They never stray far from the burrows; they can swim or climb trees as necessary, and they gather in family colonies that post sentinels. When danger threatens, the sentinel whistles and everybody heads for the holes.

* Only one litter a year, but there are as many as 6 babies and both parents take care of them for several weeks, getting them off to a strong start. Adults in the wild live only 2 or 3 years as a rule, but up to 6 is not uncommon and if they got lucky they could (in theory) enjoy the 20 years and more possible for groundhogs in captivity.

* Groundhogs are edge dwellers, happiest when living in undisturbed ground but very near fields, gardens and yards. The undisturbed ground is classically forest or scrubby swampland, but an abandoned gravel pit, space under a seldom-used barn or similar is fine too. The more woodlands disappear, the more edge there is. All of it full of groundhogs.

They do not throw lumber, by the way. Woodchuck is usually identified as a corruption of the Algonquian – or Narragansett wuchak, a creature that digs.

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  • Bill Said,

    OK. Now for the squirrely part. As a child on our farm in Western Pennsylvania, growing up post depression – the real one of the ’30’s, where mom and dad together brought home $14/week – my family was used to wasting not. That meant that any groundhogs caught were quickly and humanely dispatched, usually with a .22 shot to the head, cleaned and chucked into my Grandmother’s continually simmering tomato sauce. Once on the dinner plate they were quite yummy. And why not? They eat only the freshest and most tender of greens, keep a clean house, and since they are so prolific, most of the ones you get are young and tender.

    If you check around on the web you can find many other recipes for them. Some folks compare the taste and texture to pork, some to chicken.

    You clean them like any other small animal: skin them first and then eviscerate. The only other caveat is to remove the scent glands under the front arm pits.

    Once past these earthy experiences you are left with a piece of meat that looks like it came from the supermarket, all of which informs the process of packaged meat pre packaging.

    I know, some of us hire professionals to kill our meat, mow our yard, entertain our spouses. Some prefer the hands on approach.

  • Anna Said,

    Bill: Just curious, is that what you guys do?

  • Bill Said,

    Hi Anna,

    Well, the last time I ate woodchuck was when I was a young teen and went on a fishing/camping trip with a friend. Our jar of beans broke open in the spring where we placed it to keep cool. The fish didn’t cooperate, but by the second day we managed to catch a woodchuck by practicing our Earnest Thomas Seaton ‘woodcraft strategies’. Gosh were we hungry.

    After cleaning it we placed it on a spit over the fire and roasted it ’till golden brown. Gosh it was beautiful and smelled superb.

    We placed the spit off to the side to cool and turned our attention elsewhere for but a moment when Buddy, our camp dog, a beagle mix, grabbed the woodchuck and made off with it. Gosh wasn’t he fast!

    But we were hungry, and after a short scuffle managed to retrieve the roasted whistle pig. After brushing off the dirt and such we carved it up for our first meal in a while. Gosh wasn’t it tough!

    Buddy, the dog, by Gosh, got his just rewards, the remainder and bulk of the roast. He was the happiest camper of all.

    As I say, that was the last time I ate groundhog.

    Venison however is a different story and Leslie and I put a deer or two into our freezer annually and enjoy the fruits of that labor throughout the year.


  • fern Said,

    If you already know where the burrow is, why go to all the trouble of trap and release? Clean out your cat’s litter box (or borrow USED cat litter from a friend…hint: they’ll be glad to give it to you) and pour it down the hole.

    Said woodchuck should move on.

    • Leslie Said,

      Hi there Fern,

      I’m delighted to hear you’ve had success with the cat litter method! How much did you have to use and how often did you have to use it before the woodchuck(s) got the hint?

      Usually, the burrow network is way too large – you can make one exit disagreeable but there’s always more than one and it doesn’t usually take them long to dig a couple more, if inclined. Over the years I’ve put used cat litter and many other repellants down woodchuck holes – gum is another popular one, also mothballs (which are a bad idea environmentally). Sometimes they worked; more often they didn’t. As far as I know, the woodchuck “bombs” sold at farm supply stores are the only thing you can put IN the hole and be confident of results, but even if you don’t mind killing you still have to find the exit hole(s) and seal them before proceeding or the bombs won’t work either.

      So, proven success with litter is very exciting to hear about. Any extra hints about timing or whatever?

  • Chuck Said,

    I have live trapped them, shot them and used the smoke bombs. They always come back It may take a year, but they do. They burrow under the concrete slab of my barn and I worry someday it will crack. Unbelievable how many holes I plug and they dig new ones. One trick I stumbled on was placing a boob box radio near the main hole and turn up the local rock station. When I did that they left for the longest time. Now my 7 mo old German Shepherd pup is starting to catch them.

    Hi Chuck

    Sorry to say your sad story is all too familiar. I’ve never heard of the burrows cracking cement, but given that that’s something a dandelion can do, it does seem possible. The dog sounds like the best long-term solution, so I’ll wish him or her a long and active life.

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