woodchuck, or groundhog (also known as the whistle pig), is a member of
the rodent family. It has a compact, hefty body, short, strong legs with
long, curved claws on the forefeet for digging and a short tail. It is
heavily furred and dark brown in color, weighs from five to ten pounds
and is 16 to 20 inches long. Although they are slow runners, woodchucks
are alert and can quickly move into their dens when alarmed.
Life History and Habits
Woodchucks hibernate during the winter, becoming active in late February
and March. Mating occurs in March and a single litter of two to four young
is produced annually. The young are weaned by late June or early July,
and soon thereafter strike out on their own-usually occupying old, abandoned
dens. Older chucks dig the numerous new burrows, which appear during the
late summer. Woodchucks are active during the daylight hours, and their
range is 50 to 100 feet from their dens.
The den and burrows are extensive and may be used for several years. Burrows
may be as deep as five feet and up to 60 feet in length. Woodchucks seem
to prefer to construct burrows on or near farmland where crops grow. They
frequently may be found in woodlands or in abandoned farmlands and occasionally
in urban areas where the combination of food and cover provides a satisfactory
Woodchucks are voracious feeders. In the early morning and evening periods
of the summer, woodchucks actively feed on succulent, green vegetation.
They are storing body fat in preparation for hibernation during late fall,
usually near the end of October or early November.
Woodchucks feed primarily on vegetables, trees, grasses and legumes. Their
favorite foods include various beans, cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
etc.), carrot tops, clover, squash and peas. Their gnawing and clawing
can kill young fruit trees. Gnawing occurs on the main stems of trees
and lower branches close to the burrows and is easily distinguished from
vole gnawing by the large size of the incisor teeth marks (1/4 to 3/8
inch wide). This is done as a way to control tooth growth. Their burrowing
habits produce mounds of earth and burrow holes that present hazards.
The burrows have a main entrance and at least one back door. The main
entrance to the burrow is a ten to twelve inch in diameter hole with a
mound of soil next to it. There may be well-used path visible leading
from the burrow.
- Wire fencing will help keep woodchucks out of nursery areas and small
plantings. Bury the lower edge 10 to 12 inches deep in the soil to prevent
burrowing under the fence. Because woodchucks are good climbers, the
fence should be three to four feet high the last one foot left loose
and bent out.
- Live trapping. Live trapping and relocating are not legal in the
state of Connecticut.
- Rifles with telescopic sights have encouraged the shooting of woodchucks.
In recent years, there have been no closed season and no limit on the
number of woodchucks to be taken by individual hunters. Check Connecticut
Department of Environmental Protection for hunting regulations. If safety
requirements are satisfied, landowners and their hunting friends can
help reduce the number of woodchucks. Even concentrated hunting may
not eliminate woodchucks and some of the problems they create. Landowners
and hunters should agree on arrangements for hunting. This will aid
in reducing woodchucks and their damage, provide recreational hunting
and avoid unsafe practices in the field. Use of rifles is restricted
in some towns. Check with local authorities before hunting.
- Commercial gas cartridges filled with slow-burning chemicals are
available at garden and farm supply stores. All entrances must be sealed
with soil or piece of turf big enough to tightly cover the holes. Ignited
and placed the cartridge as far back into the burrows as you can. Then
seal the main entrance. As the cartridges burn, carbon monoxide and
sulfur dioxide fill the tunnels and kill the woodchuck. Before using
these cartridges, read and follow all instructions and cautions on the
label. The best time of day to find the woodchuck in its burrow is mid
day when they go in to stay cool.
- Poisonous exhaust fumes of an automobile, truck or tractor may be
directed into burrows. This is not always economical. In addition, it
is often difficult to reach holes on steep hillsides and in hedgerows.
Avoid prolonged breathing of fumes. Connect a hose to the exhaust pipe
and run it down into the burrow. Seal the burrow around the hose to
prevent gas from escaping. Run the motor about five minutes with the
choke partially out. Remove the hose and reseal the burrow opening.
Treat all burrows.
- No poisons or poisonous baits are registered for woodchuck control