How to Catch a Groundhog in Your Backyard

Whether you call them woodchucks or whistle-pigs, knowing how to catch a groundhog in your backyard is essential if you’ve noticed the telltale damage that they can cause. However, there are several things you need to know before you begin your battle with this rodent.

Knowledge is power, so let’s begin with an overview of your opponent.

Knowing Your Enemy

Understanding the behavior of woodchucks will give you the necessary edge when trying to capture them. It’ll help you with avoiding common mistakes and choosing the right foodstuffs for bait if you decide to trap them. Remember that it’s war now, and you need to make use of everything in your arsenal.

Life as a Groundhog

Woodchucks are herbivores and enjoy a variety of plant foods. In the wild, their diet includes a seasonal menu of wildflowers and moving onto fruits when they’re ripe. They’ll branch out to grubs and other protein sources, too. 

In urban environments, they also munch on human foods.

They are typically diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. The warmer months of the year are vital for building up the fat reserves that will carry them through their winter hibernation.

While you may think of rodents as fast animals scurrying around all over the place, groundhogs take life at their own pace, living a quiet, solitary existence of eating, sleeping, and eating again.

Woodchucks are creatures of habit and like their routines by staying close to their digs. That makes it easier to catch since you can learn their daily movements easily.

They spend their nights and winters in burrows, which is where they can come into conflict with humans if they excavate them under buildings—or your house!

Why You Should Know How to Catch a Groundhog in Your Backyard

Woodchucks aren’t aggressive, so it’s not like they’re going to chase your pets or kids around in the yard. However, all rodents pose a risk to humans, especially considering the links between groundhogs and rabies.

There is also a valid concern about the damage they can do to your garden or crops, considering their voracious appetite.

Signs of a Groundhog Living on Your Property

You may see a woodchuck lugging its large 10-pound body around your yard. You’re more likely to see other telltale signs that you have a resident animal. They include:

  • Damage to your garden
  • Holes under the foundation of your house or outbuildings
  • Signs of chewing and digging
  • Tracks

Their tracks have four toes on the front feet and five on the back, similar to many similarly sized animals. You’ll also see the noticeable indentation of their pads on both sets of feet.

The damage that groundhogs can do is extensive. Like other rodents, they have a formidable set of long incisors that keep growing, more so considering the size of the animal.

With this background information, let’s consider how to capture your quarry to put the trouble they cause to an end.

Ways to Capture a Groundhog

The limiting factor when learning how to catch a groundhog in your backyard is their legal status and local protection laws. A lot of it rests on whether the state considers them game animals.

That distinction prevents you from just setting out a trap and catching them. If the woodchuck is a nuisance animal, then all bets are off in favor of the landowner, especially if the pests are causing damage.

The regulations that may limit your actions with game animals are often rescinded, giving you the latitude you need to deal with a pest. You may still have to get a permit, but it’s often a small price to pay in the long run.

Trapping

Unlike other game animals, the typical way to deal with a groundhog issue is trapping. We’ll consider both aspects of this tactic: getting the woodchuck and the aftermath.

You have two ways to go with a trap. Either you’ll use a cage to live-trap them and relocate them someplace else, or it will do the deed for you. We’ll be honest and say upfront that neither option is pretty.

You can live-trap a groundhog using a single- or double-door model that you’ll bait with treats that will attract the animal such as cantaloupe. The sweet smell is irresistible to them.

However, it’s not just a matter of set it and they’ll come.

Your choice of bait, for example, is essential to prevent capturing non-targeted animals. It’s not always a successful strategy since many pests are opportunistic and will take anything that they can find.

The risk is that you may catch animals like raccoons that pose a more formidable challenge—and risk—when it comes time for release.

After You Catch the Groundhog

There are two courses of action here. Either you must release the animal, following the laws and regulations of your state or you must dispatch it, with like regs in place.

Neither prospect is rosy.

Unfortunately, you can’t just release your nemesis anywhere. Many areas require that you let it go a few miles from where you caught it. Some may prohibit you from leaving it in a park because it’s an animal habituated to people at this point.

All it is at that point is kicking the can down the road.

We don’t think we need to delve too far into the second choice. Suffice to say that many people view trapping as a way to avoid this consequence.

However, unless your trap kills the animal, it’s your responsibility to follow through to the end. If you can’t do it, call a professional to do it instead.

Tips to Make Trapping Work for You

Groundhogs like any wildlife species are keenly aware of their environment. They know when something is new and will avoid it. That trait has helped them survive centuries of predator pressure, including contact with humans.

Shiny objects will catch their attention. We suggest using a scrub pad to reduce the glare that is a red flag to a wary prey species. We’d also recommend leaving the trap door open with the trigger unattached to foster that sense of false security. 

Experience teaches wildlife what things are threats and those that are benign. It’s better to leave the trap unset than to have it triggered improperly and heightening the awareness of its presence. 

Good luck getting any animal to go inside of it no matter what treat you put inside of it.

Follow Up with Preventing Future Groundhog Infestations

Whatever path you end up traveling, we’d strongly urge you to take steps to prevent a recurrence. Rodents are opportunistic, even woodchucks.  You may get learn how to catch a groundhog in your backyard once, but another one is waiting in the wings to raid your garden.

The best way to prevent problems is to make your yard inhospitable to woodchucks so that they bypass your property as the perfect food or denning site. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Simply get rid of the things they need to survive to encourage them to look elsewhere.

No Food, No Water, No Groundhogs

Many pest animals are scavengers, looking for a free meal. Don’t make it easy. Keep the trash cans in the garage and the pet food and water bowl inside to prevent tempting woodchucks. After all, they’re just trying to make a living too. Let them look someplace else for that free meal ticket.

Other things can attract these pests too such as compost bins loaded with foodstuffs. We love the concept, but the problems with scavengers trump the benefits.

Removing Habitat

We’ve said that groundhogs are solitary. To keep them away, get rid of those tempting den sites that give them the privacy they prefer. Dense vegetation and woodpiles provide ideal cover for an animal looking for a place to call home.

Many animals will share burrowing spots. The one that a coyote may choose one year may become the perfect place for a woodchuck the next year. If you find an opening, cover it up with earth or stones. Most have more than one entrance, so you won’t trap them but put up a barrier to keep others away from the spot.

Protecting Your Garden

We understand the ongoing battle that gardeners have with pests. The war will never end as long as there are vegetables and scavengers.

However, don’t make it easy. Use fences and other barriers to discourage groundhogs from visiting your property. All wildlife seeks to optimize its resources. Anything you put up in way of this goal is a point in your favor.

Take care of the space both above and below the ground. Woodchucks have sharp claws that they’ll readily use to get underneath a fence.

Your Responsibilities When Setting a Trap

If you decide to set a live trap for groundhogs, it’s your duty as a hunter to check it frequently, especially during inclement weather. We understand your need to get rid of a nuisance animal. However, there’s no need to be cruel and let them suffer.

This decision is a commitment that no one should take lightly.

Conclusion

We understand how vexing it is to deal with a pest that is both opportunistic and amazingly resourceful. The damage they cause is enough to get anyone upset over a lost harvest.

Learning how to catch a groundhog in your backyard depends on thinking like a woodchuck. It’s looking for a reliable source of food. Make sure your trap is that supply to stop the problem in its tracks.