In last week's column, I made a brief mention about getting your varmint rifles sighted in.
With the good weather we had this past week, it would be a good time to get this done.
I realize the coyotes had done a job on the groundhog population in some parts of the state. In other parts of the state (like on the Ohio River), people tell me the groundhogs are just as plentiful as they always have been.
Usually a typical varmint rifle is a specialized type of small bore, long range hunting rifle. High killing power or muzzle energy is not necessary because the vast majority of targets will be rodent-sized animals. However, good accuracy and flat trajectory are musts, if the serious varmint hunter is going to have any success with this sport.
While just about any kind of rifle can be used for hunting varmints, the skilled groundhog hunter will usually be hunting with a .22, .24, or .25 caliber centerfire. From my own experience, I have found the most popular calibers for varmint hunting range from the tiny .22 rimfire to the powerful .25-06 Remington. Most serious varmint hunters reload their ammunition and often take great pride in fine tuning their rifles for maximum accuracy.
Bullets used for varmint hunting need to be specialized too. In addition to being accurate, they must be able to withstand the heat associated with high velocities. At the same time, they must fragment explosively on contact with their small targets to prevent over-penetration or dangerous ricochets. I would also like to add that varmint-type bullets should not be used on deer-sized animals or anything else that is larger.
Over the years, I have done a good bit of groundhog hunting with just a .22 rimfire rifle. At ranges of less than 75 yards, the .22 high-speed hollow point bullet, when properly placed in the lung cavity, is deadly on these critters.
Back in the early 70s, before I came to Elkins, I was groundhog hunting on Morrison Ridge in Mason County. I took a shot at a young groundhog that was a little over 75 yards away. The whistle pig was sitting up as pretty as he could, which made him an excellent target. The shot was downhill about a 25 degree angle. When the rifle cracked, the hog fell to the ground with a plop. The groundhog was literally chilled in his tracks. I stepped off the distance at 98 paces.
Back in 1971 when I was working at a hospital in Summersville in Nicholas County, I got written permission to hunt groundhogs in the large meadow that was every bit as large as the old Elkins railroad yard. When I got to this certain location, about 10 miles north of Summersville, there were about a dozen head of cattle in this field concentrated in a corner several hundred yards away from where I wanted to go. I positioned myself on a point with a good overlook and would not be shooting in the direction of the cattle.
About fifteen minutes later, another groundhog hunter showed up. It was an older man with a rifle mounted on a custom tripod. I don't think the gentleman spotted the cattle when he entered the open meadow.
Within 10 minutes after he got himself situated, the cattle started meandering in his direction. The old gentleman came out of this field faster than he went in because a large bull with a ring in his nose was among the cattle. When the man got back to his truck, I decided to approach him and try to make conversation. He was quick to tell me this was his first trip to this location, and it would be his last, because of that right there, pointing to the angry bull. The old gentleman went on to say, "I do believe he would fight." A farm breeding bull can be a dangerous, but valuable, animal.
I asked the gentleman what he was hunting with, and he proudly replied, "This is a 30-06, and I am using 180 grain bullets. During the summer, groundhog hunting is how I keep this rifle sighted in because I do a good bit of deer hunting in the Dolly Sods area."
Most farmers in this area usually welcome groundhog or varmint hunters who present themselves as responsible people.
I have emphasized several times in the past that varmint hunting is a good way to mold a good hunter-landowner relationship.