The opportunity to tell my story about bludgeoning a groundhog doesn’t always present itself. Fortunately, now that I have a blog I don’t need an invitation. If you’re a good friend of mine, you’ve most likely heard this story. You may even be able to tell it yourself. Perhaps you already have…….
To really appreciate this story, there are a few things you must know about me:
1. During the summers while I was a college student, I worked third-shift at a potato chip factory.
2. I grew up on a farm, but I’m really one generation removed from actually being a farmer. I didn’t actually have to do any farm work, but I did grow up around farm work being done. As a child, I hung out in the barn while the cows were being milked. I rode on the tractors, but I didn’t drive them. I can shoot, but I don’t hunt.
One summer morning, after getting home from a shift at the potato chip factory, I decided to take a shower. I say that like it took some consideration, but really I had to shower every morning before I could stand to do anything else. After 8 hours of putting bags into boxes, with potato chips vibrating on belts all around me, I was always covered in a layer of grease that smelled like old French fries. If you felt my hair, you would think I was responsible for frying every single chip myself with one of those fry baskets they use at McDonald’s, but no – it was merely residual grease.
This particular morning, as I was getting out of the shower, I heard our dog (really my brother’s dog) barking outside. Brandi, a beagle mix, was not the brightest of dogs. She was always super happy to see anyone or anything. She loved people so much that whenever she got loose she would come to the front door to tell you all about it with a look on her doggy face that said, “Hey there people! I can go anywhere now, so I thought I’d come tell you because I’m so excited!” Although she was part beagle, she didn’t howl very much – in fact, she hardly barked. So, it was surprising when I turned off the shower and heard her barking frantically. I wrapped a towel around myself and looked out the window. There, in our garden, was Brandi standing snout to snout with a groundhog. It was a stand-off between two small furry creatures. I watched to see if Brandi would snap at the groundhog. Both of them just stood there looking ready to pounce, not actually making a move.
If you’re not that familiar with groundhogs, you may think they are cute. I guess they can be when they sit up on their hind legs and act like they have people-hands. When it comes to farming, however, groundhogs are right up there with coyotes on any farmer’s most wanted list. Not only do they regularly destroy small gardens, but they can dig large tunnel systems beneath fields that can collapse beneath the weight of a tractor and swallow it into the ground. In my family, groundhogs were considered to be large, troublesome rats that should be eliminated whenever possible.
Chances are this particular groundhog had decided to burrow somewhere in or near our garden, possibly even laying a litter of cubs. Still, this groundhog was in an area that was specifically designated for the dog – an area that should have reeked of dog in her little groundhog nose. I started to worry that the groundhog was rabid. Why else would she be so brazen? I called my father at work to see what I should do.
“Dad,” I said. “There’s a groundhog about to attack the dog. Should I shoot it?”
“No, you’ll wake up your Uncle.”
At the time, my mom’s brother was visiting. He was working a swing shift, so he was also on a nocturnal schedule. While all this was going on, he was sleeping – right through the incessant barking. Looking back, I’m thinking that my Dad didn’t really care if I woke up my Uncle. He probably just didn’t trust me to not shoot the dog by accident.
“Go out in the garage and get a shovel and hit it on the head,” my dad instructed. “Oh, and put on some boots, just in case the groundhog tries to bite you.”
I was worried that the dog would be bitten by a rabid groundhog at any second, so I didn’t want to take the time to pick out an outfit and get fully dressed. Instead, I threw on my red bathrobe. My hair was dripping and I’d hardly had a chance to dry off my body. Furthermore, it was summer, so the only boots I could find were some fuzzy snow boots my mom kept in the back of the coat closet. They weren’t exactly hunting boots, but I didn’t think a groundhog could bite through them. I slipped them on and quickly headed to the garage.
Once I got outside, I could really hear the fierceness with which our gentle dog was barking and growling. Inside the garage, where my dad kept several shovels, I found one that seemed light enough to swing quickly, but heavy enough to do the job. I grabbed it and headed to the garden. The groundhog and the dog were standing four feet from each other. Now that I was closer, I could hear the groundhog clicking her teeth in warning to the dog. I didn’t see any foam around her mouth, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t dangerous.
Had I been a real farmer, I would have clobbered the groundhog right there. Unfortunately, although I grew up on a farm, I didn’t really have in me what it takes to handle situations like this. If anyone else had been home (and awake) I would have let them handle it. I hesitated. I wanted to shoo away the groundhog, but I was afraid it would run at me instead. I stood there in my bathrobe and snow boots, hair dripping, gripping my rusty shovel and hoping one of them would eventually get tired and walk away.
Suddenly, the groundhog leaped forward and snapped the dog on the nose. The dog yelped in pain and, without thinking, I screamed and slammed down the shovel – right on the groundhog’s head. She shook for a moment, and then slumped, immediately lifeless. One blow was all it had taken. My heart was beating in my ears and adrenaline was making my hands shake. Of course, that was the moment the dog decided to get brave.
She scooped the groundhog up in her mouth and took off. Not knowing if the groundhog had been diseased, I couldn’t let the dog chew it apart. I spent the next five minutes chasing the dog around the yard, trying to get her to drop the dead animal. Finally, she dropped it to get a better grip and I pushed her away with the shovel. I scooped up the groundhog and carried it far into the neighboring field. I probably should have buried it, but that was certainly not happening. I was tired from working all night. I was sweaty from chasing the dog – despite having just taken a shower. Not to mention, I was one belt slip away from standing naked in a field with a dead groundhog. So, I left the carcass in the weeds and went back in the house.
I supposed I should have felt some remorse for bludgeoning the groundhog, but I didn’t. Despite my reservations as I stood there waiting for the stand-off to end, I hadn’t had to think twice about it when the time came. With a clear conscience, I went back in the house, put on a T-shirt and shorts, and crawled into bed. Perhaps I had more farmer in me than I knew.