News and Tribune

September 27, 2013

NASH: Dang blasted varmints

Local columnist

— One of my favorite movies of all time is “Caddyshack,” the 1980 movie starring Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray. The movie revolves around the members and employees of the upscale “Bushwood” Country Club. One of the side stories is the antics of assistant head greens keeper, Carl, who is on a mission to rid the golf course of a gopher that has invaded from a nearby construction site.

Earlier this week my wife called me while I was working to inform me that she witnessed a varmint wondering through our backyard. She claimed it was a groundhog scrambling around our yard and disappearing through the privacy fence that separates us from our neighbors.  

At first I thought she was imagining it or maybe she saw something that wasn’t really there. You see we have lived in a residential neighborhood smack dab in the center of New Albany for more than four years and we had never seen it before.   

I had seen a  groundhog along Brown Station Way near the Clarksville exit for Lewis and Clark Parkway.  Last spring they would hang out along the highway eating berries that had fallen from a tree that sits near the side of the road. I also saw one a few months ago along the bike path near Shawnee Park in Louisville.  Now there was one living in my backyard.

She was able to get a picture of the little critter and it was indeed a groundhog. Now I witnessed it myself coming home one morning and it was nibbling on some foliage in our landscaping. As I approached him he spooked and ran away. I am sure that we will have more run ins in the future.  

At first I was concerned about having a groundhog living in our neighborhood but a quick Internet search revealed that they are mostly herbivorous, “eating mostly wild grasses and other vegetation.” They also eat “grasshoppers, insects and snails” according to Wikipedia. I don’t have a problem with fewer insects and snails in my backyard,

The groundhog isn’t the only creature that has invaded our neighborhood this year. We have always had plenty of squirrels to drop acorns on us throughout the fall. Just about anytime you can look outside and see up to four at a time scampering about our yard. I usually don’t mind the squirrels as long as they don’t eat up all of the food that we put in the bird feeder.  

Last year for Christmas I got something called a “baffle” that is suppose to keep squirrels from devouring the bird feed. The squirrels in my yard were baffled for a couple of days  but soon started using extraordinary tactics to get to the food. I figure if a squirrel exhibits James Bond style moves, just to get lunch, maybe they deserve a little bit.

Earlier this year we were awaken in the middle of the night by the squawking of the chickens that we raise.  Normally they sleep quietly through the night and never make much noise at all, rarely would they make enough noise to wake us up. We quickly went outside to investigate and discovered the carcass of one of the hens in the coop. Her limp body was there and showed signs of attack.

Shining a light into the nesting box we could see a raccoon was crouching inside. I picked up a shovel with plans to bash the head of the monster that had murdered one of the hens we had raised from chicks.  Lifting the lid the raccoon recognized that he was able to escape and he quickly ran away as I swung awkwardly toward his head. He escaped unscathed and has never returned.

We were awaken one other time with fears that the raccoon had returned.  We rushed out to investigate to make sure everyone was safe. A quick head count revealed all of the remaining hens were accounted for and they were all settled down. I was about ready to call it a false alarm when I lifted the nesting box lid to make sure there were no surprises.

 This time the creature inside didn’t take off running it just looked at me as if I was annoying it. I quickly realized that this perpetrator was an opossum and he was just snacking on eggs and wasn’t out to bother the chickens. He was about to be made an example of and probably got more than he deserved. The raccoon attack was still in the back of my mind.

 A couple of bashes on the head with the shovel was all it took to put him out of his misery. Since it was the middle of the night I placed him in a garbage bag and put him in our garbage can. In retrospect I probably should have buried him. I am still reminded of that creature each time I take out the garbage.

I don’t mind having wild animals in my neighborhood and think it is nice to have them around. As long as they don’t damage property or bother pets I believe that we can all live in harmony together. My neighbors can also be assured that I will not be using any plastic explosives in a feeble attempt to eradicate these pest from my backyard.  

— Matthew Nash can be reached at