As a kid growing up in the farm country of central Ohio, my summer income came from the same source as all other farm boys near and far; baling hay! I know I’m aging myself here, but we’re talking pre-round bale days; we’re talking wagon load after wagon load of at least 100 square bales apiece, loaded on wagons pulled behind the baler, taken to the barn, unloaded onto an elevator and stacked into the loft. The farm boys in our neighborhood were the usual ornery, free-spirited lot, but we all knew how to work hard, and come hayin’time each year we became a necessary commodity to most local farmers. Such was the case with Chester Campbell. “Chet” as he was known, lived across the road from me, and for reasons unknown, didn’t seem to care much for us neighborhood boys. I think the feelings were mutual, but like I said, once his hay was down, we became pretty good kids.
Ohio has groundhogs like Kansas has coyotes; wherever there is ground there are groundhogs. Groundhogs, best known as woodchucks, look like overgrown prairie dogs, short stumpy tail and all, and can easily grow to weigh ten pounds or more. They have two sharp incisor teeth in the front of their mouth, much like a beaver, and eat all types of green plant life. They dig their burrows in fence rows and woodlots where they can easily sneak out into fields of young growing crops and wreak havoc. Like mini combines they choose a row of tender young soybean plants, straddle the row and eat every plant off to the ground for several feet.
We had a dog named “Silly” who was a groundhog slayin’ machine. Silly knew just how and where to grab them, and would shake them till their teeth rattled. One day we heard a huge ruckus coming from the cornfield by the house. Upon investigation, it was Silly who had caught a groundhog, probably sneaking through the cornfield on its way back to the safety of its den. When the fight was over, Silly was victorious as usual, the groundhog was dead and a patch of corn the size of a pickup was flattened from the fray.
Now old man Campbell also had a dog, sort of a cross between a Beagle and a Bassett, named Wimpy. As I remember Wimpy was a good old dog, just not the “sharpest knife in the drawer,” if you know what I mean. This particular day, Campbell’s hay was ready to bale, and, as usual, three of us neighbor boys suddenly became handier to him than sliced bread! The hay field was bordered by a creek on one side and by woods on one end, and those borders were riddled with woodchuck dens.
Empty wagons were pulled behind the baler, and when one was loaded, we stopped long enough to unhook the loaded one, hook up to the empty behind us and go again. In the middle of one such exchange, we heard the most awful wailing, screeching and thrashing imaginable coming from the nearby field edge. The three of us ran to investigate and found Wimpy in the weeds with a big groundhog fastened securely to the end of his snout! Around and around they went, the woodchuck showing no intentions of letting go. We all knew better than to try and interrupt the festivities barehanded, so we scrambled to find something to end the brawl and save Wimpy’s snout. The back of all the hay wagons had metal “pockets” welded to them into which wooden racks could be inserted to provide something solid to stack the back row of hay bales against. One wagon happened to have just single 2×4’s in those pockets, so someone grabbed one and ran back to the brawl. After taking careful aim amidst the ball of thrashing fur, a well placed wallop across the groundhogs back dropped it to the ground and sent it diving for its burrow minus Wimpy, who raced shrieking toward the house. So ended Wimpys close encounter with the woodchuck, and I sincerely doubt he ever saw one that close again.
Although I’ve not heard of groundhogs in my neck of the woods, they are in Eastern KS and will probably someday make their way here much like the armadillos have. Each time I go to Hutchinson I marvel at the prairie dog “city” there around the mall, and I think to myself that if our commercial food supply was ever cut off and I wanted something different than fish or venison, I’d simply head to the mall with a pellet gun and fill my freezer; I’m sure prairie dog tastes just like chicken!…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]