When we were kids, my brother and I had learned to be much better than average with a rifle, primarily due to the fact that we had to hunt if we were going to eat. A bad shot would not only result in a butt-whooping, but also very likely in going to sleep with a belly that was less than full. Neither scenario was a desirable end to the day, so we learned young and we learned well, how to make each and every shot count. From the time we were old enough to own a firearm, the first firearm of choice had been the .22 caliber rifle.
Ideally, we would have one chambered for .22 magnum so we could fire the magnum rounds when we could afford them, or we could fire the long rifle rounds if the magnum rounds were not available or were out of our cost range at the time. With the exception of reloading, the .22 is by far and away the absolutely best all-around round ever made.
A bird shot in the head, can be taken home, cleaned, cooked and eaten without any fear of consuming lead shot (not a healthy alternative) or of breaking teeth when you bite into lead or steel shot. It also does not tear up the meat the way that a shotgun will. My mother could shoot a rabbit in the head while the rabbits were on a dead run, and I have to admit that I have never in my life seen her miss a shot. Again, this makes cleaning and dressing much easier and tears up substantially less meat than the shotgun does, again allowing for a much more pleasant meal.
A .22 Long Rifle or Magnum round placed in the ear or eye will even take down a buck deer … or a yearling if they are out of season or just required for a quick meal that can be eaten in full long before the game warden checks your house for any “evidence” that may be remaining from your “crime” of feeding your family. The .22 was the weapon of choice for virtually everyone in our neck of the woods, but there was one game animal that would even elude the best round ever made without the best of shots being taken to make it happen.
A groundhog is a rodent. For many people, the idea of eating a rodent is not very appealing. However, I would wager my bottom dollar that anyone who says this, has never had the opportunity to try a groundhog. Living as they do, primarily on green grass, hay, and preferably timothy hay, the groundhog has exceptionally lean and dark meat that is exceptional in any number of cooked forms. It is hard to beat a good, hearty stew, packed full of potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and groundhog.
For fried treats, the groundhog is much better than the squirrel even, and in its own right, pretty near as good as any fried chicken dinner ever made. Groundhog goes exceptionally well to add some oomph to any pot of beans as well. All things being equal, groundhog is among some of the best eating to be had … and better still? The groundhog is considered a nuisance, meaning it can be killed without seasons, without expensive hunting licenses and without fear of legal retribution for feeding your family.
If there is any real challenge with groundhogs, it is in how to properly hunt them. If they even think that they hear, smell or see something, they dive quickly back into their holes, never to be seen again. A bad shot on a groundhog will see the meat disappear back into the ground, leaving my brothers or I with rounds unaccounted for … meaning no meat to be shown for the rounds we had expended … something which would lead at best to some ribbing from kin, and at worst, to a whooping if rounds were exceptionally difficult to come by at that particular point in time.
My brother and I had both taken extra time to lay out shots wherein we would be able to take down two squirrels with a single shot … which is not a minor feat mind you, but never possible with a groundhog. It would seem as if the ubiquitous groundhog has a head that is even harder than that of any hillbilly I know. Shooting a man in the head with any rifle will almost certainly lead to his death … if not murder charges.
However, more than a few times, I have seen a groundhog hit square in the head, only to watch it then run back to his hole, never to be seen again. (More than a few groundhogs we killed bore evidence of having been on the receiving end of a headshot and living to tell the tale … at least until we had come along and finished the job) As was previously noted, this was not an acceptable outcome and would on some occasions, result in most unpleasant results for us kids.
There were however, a great many farmers in the areas surrounding our homes, and some of these farmers were both well off and seemingly at least, rather adverse to the idea of hunting at all, much less hunting … and heaven forbid, ever actually eating rodents. My brother and I happened across a stranger at the general store one day, who had been hired by one of these farmers to rid his fields of these rodents. He seemed somewhat taken aback by our offer to assist him, in exchange only for the replacement of the rounds we would spend and allowing us to take home any of the groundhogs that he did not want to keep. He declined our offer in a most inhospitable … even rude manner.
Still, the seed had been planted and my brother and I came up with what we figured was the best scam ever perpetrated in history. Why we would offer the very same services to some of the local farmers for the mere cost of a box of .22 rounds … per our choice of rounds of course, as some are substantially better than others. And we would even go so far as to properly dispose of all of the groundhogs that we killed … never mind the fact that “disposing” of those groundhogs meant nothing more than taking them home and eating them.
Mind you, hitting a groundhog in the eye at a couple of hundred yards is no easy task, even for someone who has already mastered the art of the shot. But we did manage to get better over the course of time, and rarely missed any of our prey once they were in our sights. On occasion, these farmers would even feed us, and occasionally pay us a partial bounty (less than the “professional” hunters with their six millimeters, 22-250s and other high-falutin’ gear charged) for every groundhog we removed. We could take home enough food for a couple of days, a mostly full box of rounds, and maybe even a shekel or two in our pockets.
For us as kids, that was the greatest scam ever pulled off in the history of the world … and thanks in no small part to the efforts of our ma and sisters, always in the best of taste … quite literally.
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