Scientific Name: Marmota monax
Abundance: Locally abundant
Groundhog Range Expansion Map (1985-2020)
Species Profile (PDF)
Juvenile groundhog (Wikipedia)
The groundhog is the largest member of the squirrel family. It has a broad rounded body with short powerful legs and a short, flat, bushy tail. The face has a blunt nose, small rounded ears, and medium sized eyes. White incisors protrude from the mouth. It is generally a grizzled brown, grayish-brown, or reddish-brown in color. The feet, top of the head and tail are darker and the stomach is lighter than the rest of the body. Adult body size is from 16-32 inches long and the tail is from 3-10 inches long. Weights vary from 4-14 pounds.
The groundhog is a terrestrial mammal that prefers to seek cover in its underground burrow. However it is a good swimmer and can also climb trees to escape danger.
The groundhog is often referred to as a woodchuck, a name derived from the Indian word "wuchak." Its most common claim to fame is "groundhog day." According to legend, the groundhog emerges from hibernation each year on February 2. If the sun is out, it sees its shadow, becomes frightened, and re-enters the burrow for another six weeks of hibernation, thus forecasting six more weeks of winter weather. If the day is cloudy, it emerges from hibernation to enjoy an early spring.
Learn more by reading the Groundhog species profile.
The groundhog is considered a nongame species with an open season for hunting; however, it can only be trapped during the regulated trapping season. No bag limits for either season.
Hunting regulations (PDF)
Trapping regulations (PDF)
Groundhogs have adapted well to human activities such as agriculture and urban development and are often seen as a nuisance because they forage on crops and gardens and burrow on people’s properties.
Groundhogs can be hunted year-round and have no bag limit, so they may be removed at any time via approved hunting methods.
In residential areas where use of firearms is prohibited, trapping may be an option. Groundhogs may be trapped during the regulated trapping season, or outside of the trapping season by acquiring a free depredation permit from the NCWRC. Licensed Wildlife Control Agents can provide direct assistance with wildlife removals for a fee.
Groundhogs can be excluded from small areas such as backyard gardens and under buildings by simple fencing. Install a 3-4-foot-high fence of hardware cloth or chicken wire with a 1-foot underground footer and at least 1 foot at the top that will wobble when the woodchuck attempts to climb it (Picture). A single strand of electric wire 4 inches off the ground on the outside of a non-electric fence can provide additional deterrence. Similar fencing can be installed against buildings to prevent groundhogs and other burrowing animals from gaining access. Motion-detecting sprinklers can also be used to deter groundhogs from small areas.
Groundhogs often chose an area with overhead cover for their main burrow entrance, so it is not uncommon for them to burrow under buildings if they can get access. Fortunately, though groundhog burrow systems are complex, and can amount to up to 50 feet of total tunnel length, they typically do not cause significant damage to building foundations, and some homeowners are happy to let them stay. Groundhogs that are just starting to dig a burrow can be deterred by placing large stones or bricks into the new entrance repeatedly until the animal decides to go elsewhere. If a groundhog already has an established burrow, enticing it to move elsewhere can be extremely difficult. Groundhog burrow systems typically have many entrances, and new ones can always be created if needed. Hazing methods meant to get the groundhog to leave the area entirely nearly always fail because, when harassed, the animal will typically just retreat into its burrow and wait for the danger to pass. If one burrow entrance becomes unusable, the groundhog will typically just dig it back out or build another one elsewhere. You may be able to get a groundhog to stop using a particular tunnel by installing a wire mesh barrier over the entrance, but keep in mind that the groundhog may be able to dig around it. Another consideration is accidentally trapping the groundhog inside its burrow. Only attempt to block a burrow entrance when groundhogs are normally active and they are not likely to be raising young. The best time to install groundhog barriers is in the early spring (March) when they are first emerging from their winter dens, or in late summer after young are weaned (August).
Groundhogs cannot be relocated in North Carolina. Trapped groundhogs must be either euthanized or released at the site of capture.
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologists monitor trends in the groundhog population from several sources, most of which rely on cooperation from trappers. These sources include annual surveys to licensed trappers, reports from Wildlife Damage Control Agents, and observations provided by the public.
If you have seen a groundhog outside the current range in North Carolina, please report this observation to the NC Wildlife Helpline: 866-318-2401.
Groundhog species profile