More than once I have said that the only constant in life is that there will be change. Sometimes it is for the better, while it creates sadness and is resisted for others.
Either way, change is present.
I will remember 2013 as the year of groundhog hunting. My friends and I hunted three times per week and bagged quite a few, though not as many as we should.
It wasn’t because of poor marksmanship. It was due to a lack of groundhogs to shoot at.
An example would be a long field near Avella where I would take advantage of my wife Eileen’s ability to spot them and shoot eight to 12 per evening.
What made this field so good was the difficulty faced when driving to it. Isolated and full of groundhog holes, it was heaven.
Many shots were necessary out to 500 yards, making it a real challenge.
I told my friend, Russ, repeatedly about the alfalfa field, and we waited patiently for the first cutting in June.
Out first trip there was the biggest disappointment I’ve had going there in 20 years. We bagged a few, but only a few. It was with that trip and a few other fruitless trips that I began to feel something was wrong.
Why were there so few groundhogs in a field that held an excellent population before? Could we have overhunted the place? I didn’t think so.
My impression of the field was based on years of experience hunting it. Something must have been affecting the groundhog population.
Was it the weather? I doubt it.
Was another person hunting it earlier the year? The landowner swore nobody else was.
One farmer blamed the wet spring, claiming many of the groundhogs drowned in their holes. I don’t believe that.
I blame it on coyotes.
A parallel can be seen in my experience with farm dogs. I had friend and landowner who was my door to some great deer hunting, but I hadn’t shot a groundhog on the property.
The reason wasn’t because I didn’t want to hunt groundhogs there, but instead a resident dog that kept the numbers low.
If a hog dared to move within 300 yards of this mixed-breed mutt, it didn’t last long.
Compared to the hunting ability of a coyote, this home-fed dog wasn’t even close. The coyote had to hunt to eat, making him a far superior hunter.
Northern Potter County is famous for its groundhog hunting and I know groups who take a week off to travel there to hunt them.
Russ recently called a friend there to plan a groundhog safari and found that the coyotes had all but wiped out the population.
A local farm allows some hunting but doesn’t allow anyone to shoot the coyotes. Why? The coyotes kill the groundhogs and the groundhogs eat the crops.
If you study the history of coyotes, it’s hard not to believe that most wild and some domestic animals will become a meal for this talented predator.
If your cat disappears, it could be a coyote got it. They are famous for preying on housecats.
Even small dogs can fall prey.
Not only are they hungry, coyotes are smart. They can avoid humans and not be seen while living in urban areas.
Hunting coyotes is not easy. More than once, I have seen evidence a coyote has come within 10 yards of my location only to pass by unseen.
They had approached me from behind, seen or smelled me and drifted away.
Without snow, I wouldn’t have known they had been there.
Man has been battling this animal for a long time with little success. They are here to stay and no doubt have an impact on the hunting scene.
Change is inevitable, and while we resist it, it’s always going to happen to some extent.
George H. Block writes a Sunday Outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.