Shadows and Pennsylvania groundhogs – a winning combination
We all know the significant relationship between shadows and Pennsylvania groundhogs — at least when it comes to that famous little weather prophet from the town of Punxsutawney.
However, it’s an especially rewarding treat for a hunter to see his own shadow while pursuing the ground-dwelling critters on a sunny mid-summer morning. At least it was for me, when my 6-year-old son tagged along for his very first groundhog hunt.
When I say shadow, I mean just that. He shadowed me, followed in my footsteps, learned from my example how to properly handle a firearm, where to look for groundhogs, and how to be patient, quiet and still. He was an observer in all aspects of the hunt.
I realize under the Pennsylvania Mentored Hunting Program, registered youth can harvest a variety of permissible species — woodchucks (groundhogs) included, but I’m in no hurry to prove a point. His time will come when my wife and I deem him ready, but he still has some growing up to do before I decide to saddle him up behind the crosshairs.
For now, he just loves being along on the hunt, experiencing the woods, seeing game, absorbing a new skillset, and spending quality time with dad. It’s like a pre-hunting apprenticeship, priming him for the eventual moment he’s able to fully participate — something I’ve tried to offer year-round to keep his interest.
On this hunt, we hit up the family farm where the burrowing rodents frequent the clover plots my father plants for the deer and turkeys. I figured we’d do him a favor by removing a few from the property, while further introducing my boy to the outdoors through an actively engaging, yet low stress form of hunting.
Shortly after arriving, we spotted a groundhog feeding in a large field 150 yards away. Admittedly, I missed the first shot, and it retreated down its hole. Minutes later, however, it reemerged from its burrow, and this time the shot from my .17 HMR hit home.
My son was enthralled. Upon retrieval, he closely inspected the groundhog, its burrow holes, and the food sources on which it fed. We discussed shot placement and how hunters should always strive to make a quick, clean kill – a responsibility we all carry when deciding to harvest game.
We found a turkey feather, saw some deer, a goose, and a few squirrels. Moving to a new location, I taught him how to tuck into cover in a location where we could see a long way, but still take a safe shot. He sidled up next to me and told me groundhog hunting was fun.
A brief time later, I harvested two more groundhogs from our vantage overlooking the clover field, and my son was eager to recover them. Speaking into my iPhone camera so we could message my wife, he offered a play-by-play recap of the hunt, proudly declaring that “we” got three groundhogs in one outing.
As he put it, “It was a great day,” and I couldn’t agree more.
When it comes to groundhogs, sometimes seeing your shadow means six more weeks of winter. But from a hunting perspective, if done right, it can also mean many more years of memories.