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Problem: Perpetual Groundhog Day in the Garden

Solution: Live-Trapping Garden Woodchucks (Techniques, Supplies)


Having groundhogs day and night in the garden munching on plants is as bad a nightmare as Phil Connors had in the movie, "Groundhog Day." We've already looked at a few pest-control measures on Page 2. But whether it be for groundhog control, rabbit control or controlling most other garden pests, live-trapping is one of the more interesting of the possible solutions. If you can relocate the groundhogs five miles from your garden, this solution has the advantage of being permanent, without your having to kill these cute little "woodchucks." A bonus is that you'll be able to get an up-close look at the woodchucks before relocating them. This experience can be particularly rewarding for children.

There are, however, a number of objections to this strategy, of which I'll mention three. As mentioned on the prior page, one is that relocating animals is illegal in some states. Another problem with this strategy can be in finding an acceptable relocation destination. Regarding the latter problem, one option is to find a private landowner who wouldn't mind having a resident groundhog (in fact, non-gardeners who love wildlife may relish the idea of being able to observe groundhogs grazing on the landscape). As long as you get permission first, you could also consider a state wildlife management area; but don't count on a favorable reception for your proposal. A third objection is that, while more humane, perhaps, than killing animals outright, relocation is far from being entirely humane: many relocated animals fail to adapt and end up dying in their new homes.


Havahart Animal Traps, Humane Society, When to Trap Groundhogs

A live trap is also referred to as a "box trap" or "wire trap." Indeed, it is essentially a wire box with door(s) and tripping mechanism. The tripping mechanism is baited, and the door(s) rigged so as to close behind the unwitting prey, caught red-pawed over the tripping mechanism. The live traps with which I am most familiar are the Havahart animal traps. In some cases you may be able to borrow a similar trap from your local humane society.

Late winter and early spring are excellent times for trapping groundhogs. The groundhogs alive in early spring are the adults that will produce the next generation of groundhogs later in the spring. In other words, catching one groundhog in March could mean eliminating 5 groundhogs in June (groundhogs typically bear 4 offspring).

But early trapping has tactical advantages as well. Consider the landscape in March: it is relatively barren. This means you'll be able to locate groundhog burrows more easily, since obfuscating vegetation will be absent. It also means that the groundhogs will be more desperate for food, due to the same absence of vegetation. Your bait will be much more irresistible on the barren March landscape than on a June landscape brimming with both wild and garden greenery. This is the ultimate tactical advantage in trapping. Bait your trap with salad greens, whole kernel corn, carrot tops, carrots, apples, potato, beans, pea pods or cucumber.


How to Trap Groundhogs

Locating the groundhog's burrow is important because the best place to set up your trap is just outside the burrow hole (at most 5'-10' away from it). You might as well try to get him at the source, rather than hoping to determine the path he'll take to arrive at your garden. Installing guide logs at either side of the path between the burrow hole and the trap will help funnel the groundhog into the trap. Another tactic to make the trap more approachable is to conceal the trap with canvas or vegetation. At the very least, Havahart recommends that you sully a newly-purchased trap, in order to divest it of its gleam.

If trapping in summer, when groundhogs can afford to be choosier about bait, purchase a product called "woodchuck lure" from your local farmer's supply store or trapping supply store. Sprinkle drops of woodchuck lure in a path from the burrow's hole to the trap, enticing the pest in. Apply additional drops of the lure to the bait itself.

If your trap catches an animal, the victim may or may not be the one that you intended to catch. That's part of the beauty of this pest control method: you can encounter some interesting wildlife in the process! When you release an animal from your trap, exercise caution, no matter how small the animal. Remember, the animal at this time is in an extremely agitated state. Its actions will not be entirely predictable. Bear in mind also that a rodent who can chew through wood could deliver a serious bite to your hand!

And if it is a woodchuck that I find rattling the walls of my trap, I'll have some kindly advice for my disgruntled convict. I'll exhort him to take his cue from that famed groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticator of prognosticators, and begin a new career -- predicting the weather. "No more plundering of gardens," I'll say. "There's no future in it."

But speaking of Punxsutawney Phil, perhaps you have wondered what all the hoopla is over Groundhog Day. Is it really about a large rodent predicting the weather? Or does it have a deeper significance? Continue onto Page 4 for a look into the origin of Groundhog Day....

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