Archery season has come to an end. Or has it? If you love to archery hunt, why limit your season to the fall and winter? What if there was a way that you could bow hunt all spring and summer, gain access to new whitetail properties, and help your local farmer?
Your answer… bow hunt groundhogs. Or whistlepigs. Or woodchucks. They go by many names, and they offer a phenomenal challenge when hunted with a bow. Groundhogs possess eyesight nearly as sharp as the turkey, sometimes spooking from hundreds of yards away. Their ability to detect movement rivals the whitetail, testing your finesse to get within bow range. And believe me, their tenacity matches an angry grizzly when it comes to their ability to absorb an arrow and fight to get back down their hole. My grandpap used to say, “If groundhogs were as big as bears, I’d never walk in the hay fields.”
As one of my favorite ways to spend summer evenings, there’s a lot to gain from hunting groundhogs with a bow. Whether you’re a experienced archer or just beginning, hunting these wary animals with a bow will refine your skills in: stalking, shooting under pressure, decision making, hunting strategy, and focus. It’s also an excellent way to introduce someone to hunting because a typical hunt offers abundant action, even if you may not get within range of your target. Additionally, you’re helping a farmer remove these pests that dig dangerous holes and eat their well-earned crops. And if you kill enough of them, the farmer may just let you hunt the giant whitetail you see out in his soybean field while hiking for ground grizzlies.
Let’s get started. Here are your 10 steps to effectively groundhogs with a bow.
Selecting the Farm
Groundhogs are like all other animals, food, water, and cover reign supreme. Look for farms that have fields filled with alfalfa, clover, grasses, and other palatable greens. The greener, the better. Farms dominated by extensive corn fields typically don’t hold as many groundhogs.
You’ll have the most success on farms that have woodlines, fence rows, brush piles, and banks that separate the fields. These features provide cover for groundhogs to burrow and dig holes. Additionally, farms with cover and structure offer more chances to get within bow range because you can utilize the cover to stalk, break up your image, and hide. Wide open, flat farms will fully expose the hunter, making them the most challenging to hunt.
Locate and Memorize Holes
Groundhogs almost always relate their holes to a piece of cover or structure. It can be structure as small as an 18 inch elevated hump in a hay field, or cover as big as a school bus sized log pile. Start your search around any features that will protect a groundhog, or give it a vantage point.
To hunt efficiently and effectively, memorizing active holes on your farm is massively helpful. This allows you to stay in target rich tracts of the farm, so you don’t waste your time in hog-less areas. When in doubt, if there’s a thick piece of cover next to a great food source, you can bet it’ll host multiple groundhogs. Sounds a little bit like whitetail hunting, doesn’t it?
Plan Your Route
Once you’ve located and memorized holes, your goal is to map out a hunting route to get within bow range of as many of those holes as possible. You’ll be efficient with your hunting time, and a strategic route will get you close for more shot opportunities.
Every hole has a best way to approach it. How close can you get without even seeing the hole? Is the sun in your face? What’s your background like? Knowing the detailed location and surroundings of the hole allows you to utilize available cover to remain hidden during your approach.
Spot & Stalk vs Creep & Kill
With a route planned, I break my hunting approach into these two styles, and it’s based on the layout of the farm I’m hunting. Spot & Stalk is valuable on flat farms covered with open fields. You can travel your route while pausing to check active holes from a distance with your binoculars. Spot & Stalk is also very useful during the first couple hunts on a new farm, when you’re still locating active holes.
When hunting farms that don’t allow you to see very far, the Creep & Kill hunting style dominates. This involves staying visual as you slowly creep past cover and structure that contain active holes. Your route should keep you tight to cover such as fence rows, brushy banks, and woodlines, allowing you to look for groundhogs on the edge of cover or perched out of a hole. This will lead to quick, close shot opportunities.
Curiosity is a Groundhog’s Biggest Weakness
This is huge! If you spook a groundhog back to its hole, 9 out of 10 times its curiosity will give you another shot opportunity. This happens two different ways. In the first way, the groundhog will run back to its hole but stop for a few seconds before it goes underground. As the groundhog is running, follow it and draw your bow so you can shoot when it stops.
In the second way, the groundhog will go straight underground but pop its head up a few seconds later. In the few seconds before it pops its head up, hurry and close the distance between you and the hole. You’ll have a small window to give yourself a closer shot. Range the distance, wait for him to pop up, and slowly draw your bow.
Both of these scenarios occur because once a groundhog is back at its hole, it feels safe and wants to get a better look at what the threat was.
In general, the closer the groundhog is to its hole, the closer you can get. The farther it is from its hole, the more skittish it’ll be.
Remain Hidden Any Way Possible
If you can use cover to break up your silhouette and hide some of your movement, you can get closer. The worst approach is being on a horizon or being completely exposed. Often, you will have no other choice, but get as creative as possible. Even keeping a tall stalk of weeds or a tree between you and the groundhog can prove useful. Consider your background, keep the sun at your back, and approach like a predator.
Movement is Your Biggest Enemy
Don’t be mistaken… when bowhunting groundhogs, you will be moving a lot in order to cover ground. However, moving too quickly towards a groundhog or within sight of a groundhog is a critical mistake. In either of these cases, slower is better. Even when you’re moving through an area with potential, move like a predator, slow.
Approaching a groundhog is similar to drawing on a feeding whitetail. Do not move when their head is up or looking in your direction. Take your time; this will test your patience as a bowhunter.
Use Your Optics
If you know where many of the holes are on your farm, you can check them from a distance with your binoculars to see if the groundhog out of its hole. Then, you can adjust your approach to close the distance for a shot opportunity. If you’re still locating holes on the farm, you can scan ahead of yourself to spot active groundhogs on edges of cover or feeding in fields. Glassing ahead prevents you from spooking a groundhog that you were unaware of.
The optimal killzone of a groundhog is the size of a pear. A shot to the head or neck is best, because it will stop and kill the groundhog quickly without giving it a chance to escape back down its hole. Otherwise, you may have to say goodbye to your arrow and small game broadhead that you bought with hard earned money. A shot to the heart or lungs will certainly kill a groundhog.
For consistent accuracy in the field, perfect practice is important to help you hit the small killzone. Being able to hit a pear sized target from 40+ yards is a massive advantage in the event that you can’t get a closer shot.
Learn from Your Mistakes
This is the most important step of all. I learned everything written above by making a mistake and failing 10 straight hunts before killing my first groundhog with a bow. As I learned from mistakes, I accumulated 133 confirmed kills with a bow last season. Learn from what doesn’t work, and note what does work. As archery hunters, we learn more from our failures than we do our victories.
Disclaimer: Be sure to check your state and local hunting regulations before taking to the field for groundhogs.
Do you manage groundhog populations on your property? Share your techniques in the comments!