How to Get Rid of Groundhogs and Keep Them Away For Good

Everything you should know about groundhogs: what they look like, signs of the problem, how to get rid of them and prevent from returning.
By
Phyllis McMahon
Phyllis McMahon
Research Writer
Phyllis teaches English Literature at a local college and loves writing in her free time. She’s also a great cook – her British beef Wellington is something the best res read more
reviewed
Reviewed By
Chas Kempf
Chas Kempf
Expert Consultant
Chas works in a professional pest control company and knows all the nuances of this job. Also, he’s a fantastic tennis player and loves to organize BBQ parties for his fam read more
Last updated: December 25, 2022
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Most of us probably associate groundhogs with weather or recurring events, but did you know they can also be backyard pests? These burrowing mammals have been causing headaches to homeowners, gardeners, and farmers for as long as they’ve been forecasting winter. They may look cute now, but they’re not going to be when they start eating everything you have in your yard, littering it with entrance holes for their burrows.

Are you worried about what to do when groundhogs eventually invade your property? There is no need to, as long as you know how to get rid of groundhogs. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about them so you can better prepare yourself. Hopefully, you won’t have your own groundhog day involving them.

How to Identify a Groundhog

Identifying a groundhog can be tricky if you’re unfamiliar with them. Thankfully, woodchucks are hard to miss. They look like oversized, stocky squirrels.

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks or whistle pigs, are at least 14 inches long but can grow up to 20 inches. Their average weight is about 10 pounds, possibly higher depending on how much they eat. They have brownish-gray fur; short, stubby legs; small ears; and large front incisors. They also have a tail, but it’s pretty short in relation to their overall body length.

Groundhogs vs. Squirrels vs. Gophers

How to Get Rid of Groundhogs and Keep Them Away For Good

Groundhogs, gophers, and squirrels might have similar faces, but they’re not quite alike. Out of the three, groundhogs are easily the largest, dwarfing the other two in length and weight by at least twice. And even though squirrels and groundhogs are in the same classification family of Sciuridae, gophers are classified as rodents under the Geomyidae family.

On the other hand, gophers and squirrels have a bit more in common appearance-wise. Their average length is quite close, with gophers measuring between 5-14 inches and squirrels about 11-25 inches long. Both are dwarfed by the groundhog, with its length of 14-27 inches.

Groundhog’s Lifecycle and Seasonal Behavior

Quite the loners, groundhogs live on their own for most of their six-year lifespan. They only mingle with other groundhogs when it’s time to mate between February and April, and after that period, the males return to their own burrows. The female groundhogs, meanwhile, tend to the newborns for up to three months; after that, the young woodchucks leave their mother’s burrow to live on their own.

When it’s nearing October, groundhogs ramp up their hibernation preparation. They eat as much as possible to gather enough food and energy to last until February or March. During their hibernation in October, their bodies really sleep – their heart rate drops severely, and even their bodies become cold. They may wake up briefly during this period, but they promptly go back to sleep.

So if you need to find out how to get rid of groundhogs humanely, you’ll need to do it during summer and fall when they’re still awake and actively eating. Trying to remove them during their hibernation is ineffective and inhumane.

What Harm Can Groundhogs Do?

How to Get Rid of Groundhogs and Keep Them Away For Good

By default, groundhogs don’t mean any harm. They’re just trying to keep to themselves and eat until it’s time to hibernate again. That’s all good and dandy until they invade your property.

Because groundhogs are excellent underground diggers, their burrowing activities can cause damage to the foundation of your house. They make quite a vast network of tunnels, usually with multiple entrances and exits. If you’re not careful, you or a pet could get injured from inadvertently stepping on these holes; if you’re a farmer, you risk damage to your equipment when driving over these burrows.

Their eating habits can also spell doom to your garden or farm. Groundhogs are herbivores, so they’ll eat anything green around them. That means they could wipe out a farmer’s entire crop in a short period or empty your flowerbeds in a few days. The more they can eat from you, the longer they want to stay.

Why Do You Have Groundhogs in Your Yard?

Do you have a bunch of tall trees and long, uncut grass around your property? Are there dandelions or alfalfa growing wildly, or perhaps you’re a corn or soybean farmer? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should start learning how to get rid of groundhogs in your yard.

Groundhogs invade your yard when they feel safe living around your property and have an excellent food source. These critters scare easily, so anywhere they can live without the danger of being eaten by predators is a good spot. They probably feel safe, secure, and well-fed in your yard, so they decided to live near you.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to kick groundhogs out of your property. They don’t like living near potential predators and they don’t tolerate much noise directed at their burrows.

Identifying the Problem

If you’re not sure whether a groundhog has invited itself over to your yard or not, don’t worry. Here’s how you can identify the signs of a groundhog problem so you can prepare better:

  • Look for burrow holes – This is the first noticeable sign of a groundhog problem. There should be about two or three of them, spaced far apart. The holes will be roughly 10 inches wide, possibly larger if the animal is more rotund. Dug-up soil usually surrounds the entrance.
  • Check for damaged plants – Groundhogs love flowers and dandelions, so if you have those growing in your yard, they may not be there anymore. They also love low-hanging fruits, so you’re likely to find some of them partially eaten.
  • Look for claw marks – If there are fruit-bearing trees around, groundhogs can and will climb them too. Check the tree trunks for claw marks and any bite or gnawing marks on the tree.
  • Inspect your foundation – Did you find burrow holes not too far from your house? You might want to check your house’s structural integrity. The groundhog’s digging activity underground weakens the soil, which could cause your foundation to sink or collapse.

Are You Allowed to Kill Groundhogs?

Before you resort to killing groundhogs, check with your state’s wildlife office first to ensure you’re acting within the law. Each state has its own regulations regarding groundhog control. For example, Indiana does not require a license to trap or kill a groundhog, nor are there any limits to how many you can kill. Arkansas, on the other hand, has specific guidelines on when, how, and where a property owner can trap or kill a groundhog. Depending on what you plan to do, you may even be required to get a license.

How to Get Rid of Groundhogs

Now that you know more about them, you’re probably eager to learn how to get rid of groundhogs. You have a few options at your disposal, ranging from natural deterring methods to simply killing it. Let’s examine them closely.

Using Natural Repellents

The first thing you should try when battling groundhogs is to force them to leave their current burrow and relocate somewhere else. This method ensures that they don’t get hurt and you don’t continue to suffer at the same time. Depending on how much time and effort you want to dedicate to groundhogs, you can either use one of the best repellents for groundhogs we reviewed earlier or try one of these natural repellents:

  • Spray or pour urine around or into their burrow entrances – this method exploits their inherent fear of predators. The most common advice is to use dog urine, but you can also use cat urine or cat litter. Some people also reported success in using their own urine. If you’re wondering why this works, it’s because groundhogs think that the scent of urine nearby means a predator is lurking around. Keep doing this for a few days until you feel the groundhog is gone, but make sure you leave one entrance untouched so they can use it to leave. Otherwise, they’ll be trapped.
  • Sprinkle dog, cat, or human hair/fur around their burrow holes – similar to the urine method, the dog hair / human hair tricks groundhogs into thinking that a predator is nearby. They’ll get alarmed at the scent and should leave the burrow sooner rather than later. Once you’ve confirmed they’re gone, sprinkle more around the perimeter of your yard to prevent them from ever returning.
  • Surround them with garlic and pepper – groundhogs hate anything with a strong smell, which makes garlic, pepper, or any other strong-smelling spice a success. Some have even reported success in driving them away using herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano. You can also use any pepper – black pepper or chili pepper – as long as it has a semblance of spiciness. And if you can’t stand the smell of garlic, you can also use lavender to drive them away.
  • Use ammonia – if even humans can’t stand the smell of ammonia, groundhogs definitely won’t. Are you wondering how to get rid of groundhogs with ammonia? You can dilute it or use it as is, but you must pour it around their burrow entrances or directly into their tunnel. More people have reported immediate success after pouring ammonia directly into their burrow hole, so give that a shot. After all, who would want to live in a smelly dwelling? Definitely not groundhogs.
  • Threaten them with Epsom salts – this popular household remedy springs into action once again, this time to assist in the battle against groundhogs. The critters hate the taste of Epsom salts, so sprinkle away! As long as you’re diligent in reapplying the salts after rainfall, you can be sure a groundhog will see itself out.

How to Get Rid of Groundhogs and Keep Them Away For Good

Using Repellent Stakes

If natural repellents prove ineffective against groundhogs, it’s time to resort to something more technological. Remember when we said groundhogs don’t like noise or other disturbances to their home? It’s time to use that against them.

You have several options for this activity. You can use ultrasonic mole repellent stakes or install your own noise-making apparatus. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

  • Mole repellent stakes – these items work by emitting an ultrasonic sound or vibration directly into the ground. Humans won’t hear them as the sound is beyond our hearing range, but groundhogs can and will hear them. If you place the stakes strategically around their burrow, they will sooner leave than endure the noise.
  • Pinwheels or windmills or similar – the idea is to incorporate the constant motion of the item and have that vibrating on the ground. Because the vibration is so annoying to groundhogs, they will eventually abandon that burrow and move elsewhere.

How to Trap a Groundhog

Let’s say the nasal assault didn’t quite work on them. It might have caused them to move but they’re still on your property, eating your plants and causing damage around your yard. If you don’t want to try deterring them again, you may have to do it yourself and relocate them manually.

If you want to trap a woodchuck, first thing you are going to need is a trap. If you do not have one already, you may want to check out our collection of best traps for groundhogs the market can offer today. The traps don’t need to be fancy but they do need to be secure and durable.

Here’s how to set your live trap so you can successfully catch your problematic groundhog:

  1. While wearing gloves, place the trap close to one of their burrow entrances. You want to wear gloves because you don’t want groundhogs to smell your scent from the trap. If they do, they’ll get scared and won’t approach it.
  2. Place bait inside the trap. Fruits such are cantaloupe are particularly effective. To prevent inviting other pests into your yard, make sure you change the bait periodically.
  3. Once trapped, make sure you avoid stressing the groundhog by obscuring its vision with a towel and handling it carefully. Also, ensure that the animal is facing away from you when lifting the trap. You don’t want it to bite you in case you accidentally drop the trap and release it.

After trapping your groundhog, it’s time to figure out what to do with it. As mentioned earlier, states have different regulations for handling groundhogs. Some allow you to manually relocate the animal to another location, while others only allow you to release it close to where you caught it. Regardless of your state requirements, make sure you know of them beforehand so you don’t scramble for information at the last minute.

How to Kill a Groundhog

If you’d rather just eliminate all possibilities of the groundhog returning, you can opt to kill it. However, we must reiterate that you check with your local wildlife authorities first as to the regulations regarding groundhog elimination. Before you do anything, make sure you’re in compliance first.

With that out of the way, you can choose fumigation to eliminate groundhogs. You’ll need to buy some gas cartridges from your local hardware store. These are inexpensive and are usually packaged with more than one cartridge. Here’s how to use them against groundhogs:

  • Cover all burrow entrances but one. You don’t want the smoke to escape easily; otherwise, the groundhog could survive.
  • Make sure the animal is back in its burrow first. If not, wait and observe until you know it’s in there.
  • Light the gas cartridge as instructed. Ensure you have your own personal protective equipment for safety. Drop it into the hole and cover it just enough to hold it in place, but not too much that it smothers the lit fuse.

You should only need one gas cartridge, but feel free to use a second one if you deem it necessary. Just make sure you’re not doing this close to your house, in case some smoke escapes and wafts towards an open window.

How to Prevent a Groundhog Problem

How to Get Rid of Groundhogs and Keep Them Away For Good

You’ve finally gotten rid of that pesky groundhog in your yard. Congratulations! You deserve to breathe a sigh of relief. Take a small break because your work is not done yet.

Whatever attracted a groundhog to your property will draw another one sooner or later. To prevent that from happening, here are some precautionary actions you can take:

  • If you have an open yard, consider installing a fence to enclose it. The idea is to stake the fence about two feet deep into the ground so that it acts as a wall, stopping the groundhogs from tunneling into your yard.
  • Use some of the natural repellents listed earlier if you already have a fence. For example, you can opt to spray some pepper water around your fence or spread dog fur around. Just make sure to reapply often, especially after some rainy days. The rain easily wipes out these natural repellents, so make sure you’re reapplying them diligently.
  • Grow lavender around your garden. Not only will you have a wonderful-smelling yard, but you will also naturally deter groundhogs from entering.
  • Place ultrasonic repellent stakes around your yard, or use constantly moving decorations. If woodchucks sense that the ground in your yard is always vibrating, they won’t bother building their tunnel there.
  • Build some sort of enclosure or protection for your garden crops and plants. When it comes to your garden, groundhogs are not your only enemies. You should always try to protect your crops by placing deterrents around them, or by placing them inside a greenhouse.

When Is It Time to Call a Professional?

If how to get rid of groundhogs naturally is not producing any results after a week or two, you should call a professional. The longer you wait, the less time you have before the groundhog hibernates. Not only that, but you run a higher risk of getting your house foundation damaged if you wait for too long. And let’s not forget that you may not have any plants, fruits, or flowers left by the time the professionals arrive.

FAQ

You’ve identified groundhogs; figured out their behavior and preferences; and are now in the process of evicting them. Great! Before you go celebrate with your newfound knowledge of how to get rid of groundhogs without killing them, here are some frequently asked questions about the critters.

Are Groundhogs Aggressive?

Because groundhogs usually try to live on their own, they treat everything that moves as a predator; as a result, they’re quite timid. However, if you suddenly approach them and they feel threatened with nowhere else to go, they may lash out and bite you. They may also do the same if you trap them alive and try to relocate and release them.

If you get bitten, assume they have rabies and immediately seek medical attention.

How Do I Get Rid of Groundhogs Under my Shed?

If you don’t know how to get rid of groundhogs under the shed, don’t worry. You can coax it out using deterrents or kill it using the same methods as if it was somewhere else. Just make sure you check the shed’s foundation afterwards so you don’t encounter any problems with the structure in the future.

Will Moth Balls Keep Groundhogs Away?

While it is true that moth balls can keep groundhogs away, it is not enough to kill them. Moth balls are good for deterring a groundhog from returning to its burrow because of their sensitivity to strong smells. Just make sure you leave one entrance untouched so they can leave and relocate; otherwise, they’ll get trapped inside their burrow and die.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to get rid of groundhogs is actually a pretty simple process; all you need to know is their behavior and preferences. Knowing when they’re actively moving and what they dislike can go a long way in trying to push them out of your property. And by having this knowledge beforehand, you can take action much quicker.

Don’t be afraid of groundhogs – they’re just as scared of you as they are. As long as you’re calm and deliberate with your actions, you can get them out of your yard and your life for good. Now, shall we go back to counting how much wood they can chuck?

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