Find the best places to hunt Groundhog in Canada and discover the Groundhog's Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status. 

Provinces with Groundhog Hunting

Province / Territory

Species

Season

Nunavut

Absent

 

Northwest Territories

Present

 

Yukon

Present

 

British Columbia

Present

No Season 

Alberta

Present

Season Available 

Saskatchewan

Present

 

Manitoba

Present

 

Ontario

Present

Season Available 

Quebec

Present

Season Available 

New Brunswick

Present

Season Available 

Nova Scotia

Present

 

Prince Edward Island

Present

 

Newfoundland

Present-Labrador

Groundhog - Marmota monax

Range - Distribution and Habitat of Groundhog

Groundhog Range Map of Canada 

Groundhog Range Map of Canada 
 

Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified By: Canada-Hunts.ca

The Groundhog (woodchuck) is widely distributed through most of Canada and can be commonly found in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Southern Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Most of Alberta, Central to Eastern British Columbia, Southern Yukon, and Southern NWT.

This is a species who’s numbers have increased and expanded into new ranges through the deforestation and agriculture efforts of land development.

The groundhog tends to inhabit boreal forests, parklands and foothill natural regions where forested areas are broken by land covered with grass and other low plants suitable for grazing animals. The woodchucks tend to stay clear of damp and / or swampy tracts of land. Look for them in a field, clearing, open forest, or open rocky slope.

Description of Groundhog:

 Groundhog Burrow

Groundhog Burrow 
Photo By Brian Henderson - Flickr 

With a strong family tie to squirrels, prairie dogs, and chipmunks; the Groundhog (Marmota monax) is a kind of rodent that is known as a marmot. It may also be called a woodchuck, whistlepig, chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, and red monk. Beavers and porcupines are the only rodents in North America that are larger than marmots. 

The fur of the groundhog consists of an inner dense grey fur and a coat of longer outer guard hairs that that is brown.

Evolution has developed this mammal to proficiently burrow or dig in the ground. With that in mind it has developed with the following traits. Its body is small, round and stocky, small face, small ears, has a flattened head, its spine is curved to give it flexibility and agility, and a short tail.

They have short thick legs and thick curved claws. These powerful appendages make it easy for them to dig as their front limbs have four well developed claws, and the hind ones have five.

The overall length of the Groundhog is from 16 – 26 inches (40 – 65 cm.) long and including its 6 inch (15 cm.) tail. With the onset of freezing weather, adult groundhogs reach their maximum weight and enter hibernation before the juveniles do. This may be because the young ones need more time to put on enough fat to get them through the winter. The first adults go into hibernation late in September, and by October all woodchucks will be underground. Their weight will be from 4 to 9 lbs. (2 - 4 kg).  Although in territories where there are fewer natural predators and large amounts of alfalfa are grown this species can attain a length of 30 ins. (80 cm.) and weight 31 lbs. (14 kg).

With a top speed of 9 m/hr (15 km./hr), this is not a fast mammal. But being a burrowing mammal its natural escape / defence mechanism is to stay close to its burrow and duck into it should a predator appear.

This species is a true hibernator in that from October to March or April it lowers its body temperature to 3°C (just above freezing), slows its rate of breathing, its heart rate will drop from a normal rate of about 80 beats per minute to only four or five, and in general be in a state of deep comatose sleep. Because of this, it digs a “winter burrow” in a wooded or brush covered area below the frost line so that a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months can be attained.

They will have retained some of their body fat when they come out of hibernation. This fat allows them to survive until the warmer spring weather produces lots of green vegetation for forage.

“Summer burrows” are not as deep as the “Winter Burrows” and are usually dug in areas where abundant grasses and other short-growing plants provide forage. These burrows are often located in the center of a pasture or meadow and will normally have a main entrance, one or more "spyholes" to check out the landscape from for enemies, have a separate toilet area and a nesting chamber. The same nest is normally a few feet long with multiple chambers. If dug deep enough it may used for sleeping, hibernation, and as a nursery. It will have a main chamber that is about 17.7 in. (45 cm.) wide and over 11.8 in. (30 cm.) high and is lined with dry grass. 

From March or April till the fall when they hibernate, groundhogs are active during the daytime, and are often seen early in the morning or late afternoon. Their activities consist of caring for their young, foraging for food, and sunning themselves. They love to sun themselves on the warm ground, a smooth rock or along a low branch of a nearby tree. They have limited tree climbing ability and rarely do so.

The life expectancy of a wild groundhog is 4 to 5 years of age.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of Groundhog:

Groundhog Foraging 

Groundhog Foraging 
Photo From Pixabay 

The groundhog eats primarily wild grasses, agricultural crops and other vegetation like clover, alfalfa, dandelion, and coltsfoot and for that reason is considered to be mostly an herbivore.

However, it will include berries, nuts, your garden vegetables, grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails and other small animals (such as young birds) in its diet.

It is believed that this species gets the water that they require from the juices of the plants that they forage on.

Breeding and Reproduction of Groundhog:

 
 
 Photo By Andy - Flickr

The first thing to happen when a groundhog comes out of hibernation is for its heartbeat to rise from 4-5 beats per minute to 80 beats per minute. During this wake up period that can take several hours, it will shiver uncontrollably.

There are two things on its mind at this point, the first thing is an overwhelming urge to mate, and the second is to eat. They will breed in the den during the months of March and April; after the female is pregnant she has a gestation period of 31-32 days. The mated pair will remain in the den during the gestation period and a litter 2-6 young (average of 4) are born in a litter in April – May (mainly May). The male leaves the den at this point in time.

The groundhog family produces a single litter annually. They are born covered with no hair, blind, helpless, are about 3.9 inches (10 cm,) in length and weigh about 1 oz. (30 g).  Their eyes will open around day 28 after birth and will be covered with short hair at this time.

With a desire to forage and to offset the effects of not eating for 4 to 5 months, the male is the first to come to the surface soon followed by the female. It will 4 to 5 weeks (late June) before you see the young of the litter. They will have made the transition from mother’s milk to solid foods at this time. It is at this time that the male may rejoin the family unit.

The young are encouraged to copy the behaviours of the adults. The juveniles will put on weight quickly and by 8 weeks of age will weigh 1.2 lbs. (570 g.). The young disperse at the end of August, burrow their own dens and put on fat in time for hibernation in the fall.  

Groundhogs normally mate in their second year but they are capable of mating and having young at one year of age.

Status of Groundhog in Canada

It is listed as a species of least concern (August 2016) on the Red List and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada COSEWIC assessed has no assessment.

The groundhog or woodchuck is considered a pest by farmers as their burrow holes will break the legs of livestock and consume agricultural crops. For this reason, hunters who take them for sport are encouraged by the farming community.

The hope is to control the numbers of woodchucks but the groundhogs  ability to multiply tends to negate that effect that sport hunting has.

The groundhog is Canada’s large true hibernator and such gets a lot of attention from the medical research community. They want to study the groundhogs ability to lower its body temperature, reduce heart rate, and reduce their oxygen consumption. 

References

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog
  • http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/woodchuck.html
  • http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/rabbits-rodents/woodchuck.aspx

Background Images

Michelle Tribe - Flicker

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