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Sean Kirst: In Dunkirk, 'Bullet' the groundhog eats pie, sees early spring

Bullet the groundhog, whose name is based upon the crease that runs across his head, had his moment of well-earned fame Friday in Dunkirk.

He failed to see his shadow. Supposedly, that means we'll see an early spring. The determination ran directly opposite to the finding of Punxsutawney Phil, who spotted his shadow in Pennsylvania, meaning - as legend has it - six more weeks of winter.

Bullet offered his more optimistic revelation in the presence of many luminaries and journalists, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul - who made the official no-shadow-proclamation - and Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas. The groundhog stuck to the weather, and did not use the opportunity to ask such questions as:

Hey, didn't the governor originally say they'd start building the Athenex plant in Dunkirk in April 2016?

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Bullet, understanding decorum, focused entirely on the notion of an early spring. Still, it was impossible at that spot to ignore the frozen shoreline of Lake Erie, a half-block away, or the frigid air that makes the groundhog's claim feel, well, just a little like he was chucking wood.

Honestly, the best part of the day may have been the story of Bullet himself.

Every year, animal rehabilitator Bob Will chooses one groundhog to serve as "Dunkirk Dave," the stage name for a long line of groundhogs who've sought their shadows on Groundhog Day in Dunkirk for almost 60 years. Will planned on going with Hoppy, one of seven or eight disabled groundhogs who make their permanent home behind the tall fence surrounding Will's back yard.

Sean Kirst: For Dunkirk Dave's caretaker, every day is Groundhog Day

Hoppy, however, has been hibernating. He was too dopey, grumpy and sleepy - we could keep going - to do the job, so Will looked to his bullpen and brought in Bullet, who's been with Will about a year. A gunshot in the wild tore off the top of the little groundhog's scalp. Bill Verge, who helps Will care for animals, caught the frightened groundhog in a net. Even the veterinarian didn't think Bullet would make it.

Bob Will, left holds Hoppy, and Bill Verge, right holds Bullet,two groundhogs who both had a chance to serve as "Dunkirk Dave" on Groundhog Day. As the photo makes evident, Hoppy just wanted to sleep, so Bullet got the call. (Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News)

Bullet surprised everyone. The wound healed, leaving a crease in the groundhog's head that is now filled with a  stripe of jet black fur. While Bullet suffered some permanent damage to his nervous system, he's doing just fine in the big picture, and Will felt he was ready to handle Friday's duties.

Sean Kirst: Recalling powerful wartime bond, Dunkirk-to-Dunkerque, between two cities

"It was cold as it can be," Will said. He put down an actual red carpet for Hochul and his other visitors. He also used some pumpkin pie from Portage Pie in Westfield - "the best pie in the world," Will maintains - to capture the groundhog's attention as Will held him in his yard.

Will said Bullet was far more interested in the pie than in his shadow, and that an impressed Hochul promised him that she'll come be back next year.

As for Hoppy, he had the best idea of the day: He went back to sleep.

Whether it's tomorrow or six weeks from now, don't wake him until the spring.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at or read more of his work in this archive.


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