In Tennessee the groundhog is classified as a nuisance critter that can be hunted year-round, without limit, in the company of such lowlife wildlife as skunks, coyotes and armadillos.
Yet it’s the only animal that has a national day named after it: Feb. 2, Groundhog Day.
There’s no Deer Day, Squirrel Day or Possum Day. There’s not even a Bald Eagle Day in honor of our national emblem.
But there’s a Groundhog Day, designated on calendars and celebrated in places like Punxsutawney, Pa.
The village holds an annual festival, with a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil as the guest of honor.
Some local big-wig hauls Phil out of his cozy den on Gobblers Knob and hoists him aloft, while Phil tries to bite him on the nose.
According to an Old Wives Tale, if Phil sees his shadow it means six more weeks of bad weather. (Some old wives clearly have too much time on their hands, spying on groundhogs.)
But a study of weather patterns on and after Feb. 2 finds the groundhog’s forecast is correct about 50 percent of time. That makes it about as accurate as our local weathermen, even without the benefit of Groundhog Doppler.
The groundhog is a member of the rodent family, a strict vegetarian, and weighs up to nine pounds. A litter of about six is born annually and reared by mom, while pop is off eating clover.
Other names for a groundhog are woodchuck and whistle-pig.
The latter comes from the groundhog standing on its hind legs and emitting a shrill warning whistle when it detects danger, such as a circling hawk.
As for “woodchuck,” nobody knows.
A woodchuck has never been known to chuck wood, except in Geico TV commercials.
Aside from raiding an occasional vegetable garden, the only harm groundhogs do is digging holes that can be hazardous to livestock, and tunneling under barns.
Until coyotes began invading the state three decades ago, woodchucks were the prime quarry of varmint hunters.
I’ve never liked to kill a wild animal just to kill it, so to ease my conscience – and curiosity -- I ate the one and only groundhog I bagged as a kid.
My old hound Kazan cornered the woodchuck in a fence row, its big, sharp teeth popping and clicking, and I came to rescue with my .22.
I carried the chuck home, skinned it, and talked my good-sport grandmother into cooking it. She par-broiled the meat and smothered it with sage, pepper and other seasonings. It smelled delicious and tasted like mutton.
That was my first and last helping of woodchuck. It was hard enough to get my city-girl bride to cook a squirrel; she would have drawn the line at a groundhog.
I could have bagged several nuisance groundhogs over the years as a favor to farmers, but I passed. They look so bright-eyed and chubby-cheeked, as they merrily munch away.
Let the little weathermen enjoy their clover.