ADVENTURES IN SUBURBAN TRAPPING


My next-door neighbor lady, aged 90, died a couple of months ago; after her children had hustled her husband out of the house and put it up for sale the same day she was buried, the daughter approached me about a problem: groundhogs in the yard.  Mustn't let prospective buyers see these pests! Bad for sales figures. "We have a groundhog, and I know you're a hunter, can you get rid of it?"  But in fact she didn't have a groundhog: she had a whole family, consisting of a mother and four half-grown pups who were living under a shed.  Even though there wasn't any garden and so far as I could see the critters weren't doing any damage, I agreed to do my best.

I live in an area where theoretically one cannot legally discharge a firearm except "...in defense of life and property..." and since a) this wasn't my property; and b) the groundhogs weren't doing any damage, I opted for a trap.  Specifically, a box trap, a Hav-A-Hart.  One of the largest size, intended for groundhogs and similar-sized animals, and which I purchased not, as you would expect, at the local feed store, but...from Amazon, for about $20 less than the feed store, with shipping included.

While I was awaiting arrival of the trap, my dogs killed one of the half-grown pups, who'd been dumb enough to enter my yard to eat windfall apples.  My wife found the body and told me she didn't know which dog had done it: but we suspect that Tehya, the Lab, was the assassin.  Tycho the Husky has a string of groundhog kills to his credit, but Tycho's getting a bit old, and besides, he always eats his kills (fur, bones, hair and all) and this carcass was pretty much untouched.  To my wife's horror, I immediately put the body in the freezer.  It was my intention to get all five of these whistle-pigs taxidermated, as a family group.

A day or two later, Tehya and Lucy the Border Collie were making a terrific racket at the back corner of the yard so I went to see what had them all upset.  Sure enough, they had cornered another young 'un in the angle of the fence.  The groundhog was as bewildered as could be expected at the noise and assault by two putative wolves, but gamely standing his ground, with the two dogs, not quite sure what to do next, dancing around, yelling their fool heads off.  "You keep him there," I told the dogs, "I'll be right back." 

Shortly thereafter I returned with my trusty Benjamin/Sheridan Model 392 Pneumatic Rodent Removal Device, and popped the groundhog in the head with a .22 pellet.  Then the dogs charged: Lucy grabbed the body and shook it, and proudly proclaimed that she'd been the one to vanquish the Enemy, a claim Tehya loudly disputed all the way up to the house, where Beta joined Alpha in the freezer.

That left Gamma and Delta, and of course, Mama.  The trap arrived, and I set it outside the hole under my neighbor's shed, baited with apples.  Sure enough, the next morning, there was Gamma, whose spirit not long afterwards went to reside in The Great Vegetable Garden In The Sky, while his carcass joined the others.

My wife was very unhappy at the presence of dead groundhogs in the freezer, and insisted that under no circumstances was there going to be a family group on display, and I was to get those damned things out, right now.  I calmly returned the trap to its position, and the next morning I had caught...the biggest damned possum I have ever seen in my life.


This beast weighed at least 15 pounds.  If you've never seen a possum up close, you may have fallen for the Possum Propaganda that they're just cute little Pogo-type animals, but the fact is that they're nasty customers with teeth.  My goodness, do they have teeth. About 44 of them, the longest and ugliest fangs you can imagine.  Nor are they docile.  This bruiser was ready to take me with him.  No "playing possum" for him: he bared that wicked dentition at me and dared me to try to kill him.

I wasn't in the possum-killing business, so I opened the trap doors and let him wander off in his own good time.  In the time he'd spent incarcerated, he'd coolly eaten all the bait—why waste it?—so I re-baited the trap that evening.

The next morning, I had...another possum!  This one was somewhat smaller and seemingly less intent on homicide, so I opened the trap, dumped him out, and off he went, confused but sated, since he, too, had eaten the bait.  I re-baited it, and re-set it. 

Honest to God, you could feed yourself with this trap, if you were of a mind to eat groundhogs and possums, as many people do. In a few days I'd put at least about 20 pounds of raw groundhog in the freezer, and had I kept those possums I'd have been set for meat for the entire Summer. No wonder the Native American tribes used traps, they're far more efficient than any other meat-gathering technique, short of driving buffalo herds over a cliff.


That afternoon when I came home for lunch, Mama had made the mistake of her life.  Out came the air rifle, and Mama, a Matronly Marmot of A Certain Age weighing about 10 pounds, joined Alpha, Beta, and Gamma in cold storage.  I'd guess she was at least three years old, and from the condition of her mammaries this was clearly not the first litter she'd borne.  We'd been seeing a big groundhog in that yard for a couple of years, and I assume she was the one.


There remained Delta still unaccounted for, but for several days the trap produced nothing; and then we went off for a week to the beach and it stayed in the shed.  In the interim I'd reached a negotiated settlement with my wife about the taxidermy issue.  Mama was going to get stuffed, provided I didn't bring her home but, rather, displayed her in my office for all the pretty Vegetarians in my classes to admire. It's been my experience that even Vegans hate groundhogs enough to want to see them dead: after all, they steal vegetables. Thus Mama would go on display alongside the three fox squirrels (one of each color phase) and a nice set of deer antlers. 

Besides, there is only one local taxidermist who'll bother with small game, and he wanted more than I'd expected to do Mama alone!  A family group would have been financially unreasonable, so Mama will represent the numerous examples of Marmota monax I've snuffed over the years; and a fine specimen she is, too.


Not only was Delta still on the lam for a while, another groundhog had moved in:  we'd been seeing two next door.  This is the time of year when youngsters become independent and start looking for homes of their own. If a burrow is vacated, it's soon re-occupied, and that's what must have happened.  Some years ago I had the chance to hunt groundhogs at a farm about 25 miles from here.  On this farm there was a burrow under a lone oak tree, and every week I would shoot a groundhog out of that burrow.  As soon as one was killed, a new tenant arrived.  I took five out of that hole in as many weeks, all mature animals.  Burrows can be occupied by many generations of animals, each of whom renovates and expands the burrow to his or her liking, just as humans do when they buy a house. I know of one burrow in New York that to my certain knowledge has been occupied for the past 50 years, and likely for far longer. Since female groundhogs usually have four pups at a time, it was unlikely the newcomer next door was a survivor of the original litter: he or she is, rather, an immigrant.


I'd run out of apples, so next time I used an orange, on the grounds that the exotic aroma might be enticing.  So it was: Delta showed up in the trap a couple of days ago.  By the time he got caught, Mama was at the taxidermist's and Alpha, Beta, and Gamma had come to the vet school's burn barrel.  One of the nice things about working in an anatomy department is that I don't have any trouble disposing of bodies.  A colleague who teaches a course on "exotics" (i.e., anything not a dog, cat, horse, or cow) had expressed interest in the young ones, but they were too young for his purposes, so they went to the incinerator.  Delta joined his siblings. Sic transit gloria mundi. A shame, really, as the young ones are very good to eat. They're cleaner than chickens and the meat is a bit like rabbit; but I knew there was no way I was going to convince my wife to try it.


My neighbor on the other side has a huge vegetable garden and regards all vegetable eating animals as vermin to be exterminated.  He'd use land mines for the deer if he could.  His wife had bought him a game camera as a present and he'd set it up: thus he knew he had a corn-raiding raccoon and possum to deal with. The fame of my trap had reached the full extent of the neigborhood, and he asked about borrowing it, and was it big enough for those?  It is, and I was happy to lend it to him, and to give him advice on how to deal with the results. 

I brought the trap over, showed him how to set it, and advised him that, as the beasts he was seeking were after his corn, he might want to use an ear of corn as bait. Then I asked how he planned to kill them.  Now, Ben's an old farm boy, and it was his intention to stab them to death with a pitchfork!  I wasn't about to let him do this, so I gave him some .22 CB caps, as he doesn't own an air rifle but he has an old single-shot .22.  CB caps make almost no noise and are easily powerful enough to dispatch an animal in a trap.  I told him to pop the trap-ees in the top of the head, and it would be "lights out" instantly.


In the wee hours last night, a powerful odor of skunk came into the room, waking me up; and I wondered if he'd caught one of those.  This morning, when I came down to breakfast, my wife was indignant, as indeed, Ben had caught a skunk and had put the body...in his trash can!  The stench of skunk was so overwhelming that she and her visiting sister had been unable to eat breakfast on the screen porch, which is about 20 yards from the site of the trash can.  She was pondering how best to express her outrage at having been driven off the porch.  I assured her that eventually the smell would go away. Indeed, about half an hour later, it was pretty much diminished.  I found out why when I left for work.

Ben's wife was pulling out of the driveway so I said hello and asked about the skunk.  "Ben's out back.  He decided to bury it," she explained. "But as he was digging he hit the TV cable line and cut it.  Now we're waiting for the cable people to come and repair it. And he still hasn't caught the raccoon or the possum."


POSTSCRIPT, Added January 2012

Mama Herself now resides on the shelf in my office, for all the pretty vegetarians I teach to admire. Here she is, in all her glory, immortalized in formadehyde and styrofoam.

Duane Linkous of Linkous Taxidermy is the only local shop I've found who will do small animals, and he's a very nice guy. Duane has done several fox squirrels for me, as well as this mount. He did a very nice job, I think.

In keeping with NRVO's policy of "Kill local, stuff local," I can recommend him to anyone needing taxidermy work: of course he also does large animal mounts as well; and he's been doing some African animals for one of his clients. Big stuff (ha, ha!) doesn't faze him: last time I was in the shop he had a bison head he'd completed for someone.

Give him a call, at 540-552-6654. He doesn't have a web site, which considering the quality of his work, is a real shame.


IF YOU GET SPRAYED BY A SKUNK, TRY THIS RECIPE TO REMOVE THE ODOR!