Can you reason with a groundhog?

We Pennsylvanians look kindly on groundhogs, if our affection for Punxsutawney Phil is any indication. But these oversize rodents—largest members of the squirrel family—are easier to love in February, when they are hibernating. In the warm months they can be a royal pain, shamelessly noshing your vegetable garden and flower beds.

We first saw a groundhog in our immediate neighborhood last summer. He was fat and sassy, a self-confident individual with little fear of humans unless you got right up on him and stomped your feet. Yelling from the back door had no effect.

We don’t plant many vegetables—there’s so much fresh, organic produce available locally that it doesn’t seem worth the bother—and the groundhog wasn’t doing much damage to the flowers. So, while my husband muttered darkly about “doing something” about this wily woodchuck, I advised pacifism. Live and let live, right?

This summer, I’m reconsidering. One result of tearing down and rebuilding our back porch was the discovery of a deep, narrow hole below the decking, right in the middle of the porch floor. I wasn’t sure what the hole signified until last week, when I happened to open the back door only to see a furry tail vanish into the void.

I thought it was one of my cats until suddenly, up popped the groundhog. He turned his wedge-shaped face right and left to reconnoiter, but ducked in the hole when he spotted me and disappeared.

We assumed the groundhog lived beneath our neighbor’s barn next door, because that’s where he scooted whenever we chased him out of our yard. It was shocking to find him camping out 5 feet from my kitchen.

In fact, it turns out that groundhogs are master tunnelers. According to National Geographic, their burrows can span 8 to 66 feet and are equipped with multiple exits, multiple levels and multiple chambers—even a separate bathroom.

My husband went out and filled the hole with dirt and big rocks, hoping to keep the groundhog at bay. I feared an Edgar Allan Poe scenario—I wanted to discourage the little fellow, not bury him alive. “The Tell-Tale Heart” came horribly to mind.

I needn’t have worried. A half hour later we found the hole re-excavated, with the new opening slightly to the side of the boulders my husband had levered in. The woodchuck had broken free.

A Google search unearthed many suggestions, both peaceful and violent, for eliminating groundhogs. I’m not ready for a battle royal, like Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.” But I hate the thought of the groundhog tunneling under my house. Am I going to come face-to-face with him in the basement one day?

A friend of mine once caught a rowdy skunk in a Havahart trap and drove him to a remote area where presumably, he’s living happily to this day. My husband is threatening the same for our groundhog. I’m hoping the renovated back porch, now almost completed, will provide enough physical barriers to keep him away from the house.

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