Over the years I’ve had lots of strange and insightful conversations in the newsrooms of our local papers. Within the newsroom walls there are fortunes made and lost through the researching and telling of the lives of the citizenry of our region. We often get the first glimpse of profitable business dealings, of winning or losing political figures, of divorces and deaths of people in the public eye, and of who will be making the news in the next few minutes, hours or days. Sometimes you hear a statement that requires further explanation.
“We never eat an animal we’ve had as a pet,” one of my coworkers said as she walked into a management meeting one Thursday. The ensuing conversation was about how Punxsutawney Phil had reportedly spotted his shadow earlier in the day, assuring all of America six more weeks of winter.
The whole groundhog weather prediction thing raises all sorts of questions, not the least of which is how does he get an accurate read without a computer to access Doppler radar and the latest weather prediction software. But I digress.
Working on a tight schedule, our meeting got underway and I never had a chance to ask the coworker about her “pet” groundhog. Over the years I’ve known several people who had a pet raccoon … lending to the phrase “Nutty as a pet ‘coon.” I have an uncle by marriage who is a licensed owner of a pair of raccoons for breeding purposes (and yes, you must apparently be approved by the MDC to buy, sell, swap or trade pet coons).
I’ve also known people who had pet owls, deer and skunks.
Of course, as soon as someone mentioned groundhog in our meeting the attention turned to whether or not I had ever eaten one. As the longtime outdoor editor, and a self-proclaimed redneck, it’s generally believed around the office that at one time or another I have likely eaten all manner of creatures found in the wild.
I’ve eaten a few wild animals including, but not limited to: snails and earthworms (while studying and teaching survival techniques several years ago), alligator, octopus, oysters, clams, freshwater prawns, saltwater shrimp, crayfish, lobster, crab, rattlesnake, turtle, quail, dove, assorted duck, snow goose, all edible fish found in the region including carp and drum and the more socially-acceptable types like bass, trout and perch, assorted saltwater fish including grilled whole snapper in the Bahamas, squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, beaver, turkey, New Zealand Wapiti elk, Russian boar, whitetail deer, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, moose, bison, as well as Rocky Mountain Oysters … I know I’ve missed several but the names escape me at this moment.
“I’ve never eaten a groundhog,” I answered. “I guess they’re just too smart to run out into the road and get hit.” The quick response was met with a round of laughter from my coworkers, but I was being somewhat serious.
One of my longtime hunting buddies is known for salvaging roadkill animals for table fare. Over the year I’ve enjoyed both roadkill barbecued raccoon and venison at his house. That’s cheap groceries when you can put meat on the table and never fire a bullet. I’ve also been known to stop and grab a freshly “dispatched” squirrel or deer from the asphalt myself over the years. And a couple years ago my son pulled over and loaded up a live snapping turtle from a roadside ditch, took it home and killed and butchered it in his backyard. While that’s not exactly roadkill, he still never fired a shot.
My hunting buddy’s method is simple when checking out blacktop bounty. “Check its eyes,” he taught me many years ago. “If it’s eyes are still pretty clear, and not all fogged over, then the meat’s most likely still good.”
That’s not to say he’ll stop and pick up just any dead animal along the road. The key is to find a fresh one which wasn’t hit hard enough to damage the majority of the meat. The ideal road kill is a large animal with lots of meat that was just barely clipped by a vehicle fore or aft and succumbed quickly of its injuries. Squirrels on high-traffic roadways and deer hit by tractor trailers are rarely good candidates for roadkill sourcing.
That said, I wouldn’t be above tasting groundhog. I just haven’t had a reason to shoot one and have yet to hit one just right with my truck. But just in case I do luck into one, I went through my library of reference books and found a couple groundhog recipes. The first is for Country Style Groundhog and the second for Boil and Bake Groundhog. Here they are:
• Country Style Groundhog
1 groundhog (cleaned and cut into quarters)
1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. cooking oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
Butcher the groundhog as you would a rabbit. Soak animal overnight in salted water to remove wild flavor.
Combine flour, salt, pepper and baking soda; rub into groundhog pieces.
Brown groundhog in hot oil in skillet; sprinkle with sugar.
Reduce heat and add 1/2 cup water. Cover; simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender.
Remove cover; cook for 10 minutes longer.
• Boil & Bake Groundhog
Skin and remove the entrails from the groundhog. Boil meat until tender. Remove from the water and season with salt, pepper and red pepper. Bake in an oven at 350 °F. or cook over an open fire.
Until next week, Happy (late) Groundhog Day … and bon appetit!
Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat. ( … and would take a meal of pan-fried wild turkey bosom with a side of morel mushrooms, or maybe grilled trout fillets sprinked with lemon-and-pepper seasoning and garnished with onion slices over a boiled groundhog any day of the week.)