The Marmota monax pictured above enjoying some evening fruit, recently began frequenting the pear tree in the back yard.
I’ve always felt a bit of a soft spot in my heart for these beings, as they seem to be reviled by most other creatures. Cows can twist or break a leg in a groundhog hole, farmers hate them because of this, and feel no remorse in dispatching them.
Even posters showing the various hunting regulations seem to be biased: The deer season shows a picture of a noble buck with a large rack, fishing season with a picture of a beautifully colored rainbow trout, and other seasons noting dates, times, and field limits. And then, there’s the black and white picture, more of a mugshot, of a groundhog at once looking a bit shifty and nervous. Under the photo the text: “No closed season – no limit”. Yup, groundhogs, kill as many as you want, whenever you want.
I killed one many years ago as it’s presence in the yard caused dog to become frenzied, nearly choking herself on her collar trying to chase the critter from her yard. It took me several mornings to finally terminate the rodent. I would sneak along the barn with my open sited .22 rifle, clad in my mud shoes and bathrobe. Invariably, the ground hog would see me, and scurry to safety before I could get off a shot. One morning, however, it seemed that he just gave up the struggle, sat there and let me shoot him. Repeatedly.
I carried his carcass, already fattened for the winter, jiggling on the blade of my shovel, quite a ways from the house so the dogs would not roll in it as it decomposed.
When I was very young, a neighbor who had been an admiral in the United States Navy would drive around the neighborhood in his beige Ford Falcon, and take me wood chuck hunting.
Under his guidance, I was learning to shoot so well that I was quickly developing the skill to be able to “drive nails in from 100 yards away” with a high powered rifle and scope. My hands and eyes were young, strong and steady, my skills were sharp, and the rifle was powerful and accurate. After a while, it seemed not much of a sport.
There were seemingly comical times. Once, though certain I had connected on a 200 yard shot, the ground hog stayed sitting upright, tilting slightly one way, then back the other, until finally, just like in the cartoons, he fell completely over with all paws in the air.
For a very short time, I dabbled in killing rabbits, even though I didn’t eat them. Then one cold day, I shot a rabbit that was sitting a couple of hundred yards from me, and through the rifle scope saw that it’s corpse seemed to be smoking.
I walked up to the little critter, eyes still open, and noted a small smudge of blood behind it’s shoulder where the bullet entered; right where I had aimed. Lifting one of his paws revealed that the bullet expanded on impact, and entirely removed the other side of his body. What I thought was smoke, was actually steam rising from the warm, moist entrails I had caused to be exposed to the frosty air.
When I prepared the shot through the rifle scope, the rabbit seemed to look relaxed, calm, and happy to be eating some of the last grass of the faded summer. I squeezed the trigger, and before the rabbit heard the report of the rifle, he was on his way to whatever reward rabbits enjoy for spending time on this earth.
I continued to practice with the rifle for a while, but only on paper targets. I got to the point where I could pretty much hit anything I wanted within 200 yards. I didn’t eat what I killed, and so, lost interest in developing my marksmanship.
A few years ago, a neighbor called me over to kill a raccoon that was apparently rabid. I felt no remorse sending that critter on his way. I’ve since decided that though some may feel that other beings need to die, it’s no longer my desire to be an instrument of death – I’ll leave that to others.
And the groundhog that’s frequenting the yard? Dog doesn’t seem to be bothered too much by it; pears are so plentiful this year that she doesn’t mind sharing.
I sometimes find myself glancing at the .22 resting along the fireplace mantle, and wonder if, with my older eyes and hands, I could still make the shot to the ground hog at the back of the yard.
For the sake of everyone involved, I’ll just keep wondering.