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My woodchuck woodburn

My woodchuck wood-burn

The groundhog numbers this summer at the farm have almost been non-existent with only two harvests recorded so far.

Last year I harvested close to eleven groundhogs and I know that this has had an impact on the overall population in the area; also if we take into consideration disease during hibernation when the parasites attach themselves to the groundhog before they go into their dens for the winter months or if the animal hasn’t stored enough fat it starves.

On my property alone, I removed five and now the only young single groundhog from this spring, is very cautious and only comes out to eat in short periods of time and also later in the evening which is not usual behavior.

If he was part of last years family, then there is a possibility that similarly to crows their awareness of danger is passed down through the genes and learned in the field no pun intended.

So, when I got to the farm and started to still-hunt, my skills would have to aid me in my search of the groundhogs.

They were no longer in the open at their ordinary times taking in sun rays. Neither were they found near their dens but instead they were using the tree line and rock formations just meters inside the forest to use as cover.

I started my way into the western field but had to wait until the cattle crossed over to the south before I could push further west. I then worked my way southeast and parallel to edge of the woods.

It was extremely hot and my sweat was dripping off my forehead like a tap, drinking was so important but also taking breaks. The bugs were also harassing me and my hat came in very handy, not only against the sun.

I finally reached the far side of the field and found the rock formation stone cold with no groundhog in site. I scanned the edge of the woods and this is when my eyes caught some movement up near the base of a tree.

It was lightning quick, I froze in my spot and waited for more movement, if groundhogs are alerted, they will whistle then run and hide either in deep brush to find and escape hole or dart directly for the den but they will come back out if they think that the danger is no longer present. Normally, in small steps and they might even thump their paws and let out sharp whistles, almost like there are provoking the potential danger in order to get a reaction as well as alerting others.

So, I waited patiently and sure enough he came out from hiding but this time he was in the high ground on my left or south. He was moving in an out of the grass and disappearing momentarily in the dark green vegetation, even though he was visible, he was not in a safe shooting position because of the large rocks behind him and a barn on the right.

I chose to wait and this is when the groundhog jumped up on a log and ran along it in short bursts, stopping to check for danger, his nostrils were moving very quickly. I did not move an inch, I waited for him to move further along the log to the east and then I swung around at the same time then got into perfect alignment with his vitals with a well-chosen back stop of solid dirt.

He was indeed the log runner, I took my rifle off safe, fired and released a single shot, it was my third harvest and one varmint less for the farmer.

 

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The sun rays were beating down on our arms and the nape of our necks. It was twenty-five degree Celcius and the heat was intense, you could feel the heavy air. Deer flies and wasps flew around in their frenzied flights; and the silence that surrounded us was suddenly broken by crow and red wing black bird calls.
 
Thermos in hand I slowly walked down the dusty path up to the gate between the two old barns where Ron was standing. I slowly untwisted the lid and poured a fresh cup of coffee. As the steam rose, I leaned forward and rested my forearms on the upper bar of the gate. I then let out a relaxing sigh and began talking about a home building job he had been working on with a friend.
 
Time was of no importance, I had the whole afternoon, besides the days were much longer now. Once in a while I would look up at the largest boulder in the western field about two hundred meters away. Ron then turned to me and said “I swear I see something at the entrance of the boulder but it is very hard to tell from here.”
 
So, I raised my head once again, had a look and agreed that there was definitely something moving in and out of the den. The only color I could make out, which was different from the fresh dirt at the base of the rock was the reddish fur under its chin.
 
During our conversation the farmer shared with me some woodchuck hunting tips that he employed when he was younger. He would still-hunt then sneak up in behind the den’s entrance and shoot through the roughly two inches of dirt and target the nape of the neck while the woodchuck was exiting the den. This may seem like an easy method but it is quite common for woodchucks to dig at the base of large rocks and boulders making it difficult for predators to dig them out, thus making it a challenging shot at close range and potentially dangerous with the possibilities of a ricochet.

Well, it was now time for me to set off toward the boulder, I walked over to the car picked up my binoculars, the shotgun and a few shells then turned back toward the gate and headed into the field. The farmer had also seen several other woodchucks to the left of the large boulder in another group of rocks.

I passed the gate and then headed down the ridge between some hay bales and then moved around the northern edge of the swamp separating the woods from the barns. This time I made sure there were no bulls around. Normally on very warm days the cattle crossed the creek and stayed along the wood line on the southern edge of the hay fields.

By the time I reached the swampy waters, the ground became very uneven and I had to be careful when placing my boots down not to twist an ankle. I slowed my pace right down and began still-hunting up the western ridge toward the large group of rocks on my right. My plan was to keep as low as I could so that the woodchuck would not see me coming up over the crest and this would lead me to the right hand side of the largest boulder.

I was able to make my way to the forest edge and tuck myself under the famous tall pine and kneel down behind some rocks. I now had two choices, take a twenty meter shot from under the tree at the woodchuck once it stuck its head out or attempt to close the gap for a closer shot and maybe even come in from behind.

I chose the second choice as it was the more challenging of the two, still-hunting and being able to sneak up on your game without it spotting you is quite rewarding indeed. So, I loaded my 870 with a single shell and stood up very slowly and starting stalking toward the boulder on leveled ground.

I waited for the woodchuck to come out and stop, he was about half way out of the den, he was not moving out any further. The woodchuck could sense that there was something around because when I was more than two hundred meters away, he had come right out and was sun bathing on the top of the large rock.

The forest edge was on my left and the grass around the woodchucks den was knee-high, I was being very careful to walk on the edge of my boots and slowly pushing down on the grass and looking to see if there were small branches that I could avoid. I slowed my breathing right down and I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.

I made it within six meters and the woodchuck finally spotted me and sunk back into his hole but he did not go very deep, because he started to thump and whistle and this went on for about ten minutes or so. Therefore I decided to take a closer look and came around the front of the den and see down into the hole.

He was down there alright because the thumping sound was very clear, and he was not going to come out until I was far enough away. So, I turned around and headed back to the large pine and planned on sitting and waiting it out. By the time I got back to the large pine and got down with a clear western view of the boulder the thumping and whistling had ceased but there were still some bugs hanging around the den entrance.

Sometimes what I like to do is find a large rock and sit on it, so that I am elevated off the ground this way I am sure not to cause any vibrations or sounds on the forest floor or ground thus alerting the woodchucks. I must have waited a good twenty minutes or so and I kept a watchful eye around me the whole time but mainly on the large boulder and the den entrance.

To my south there was a small slope leading to the swamp and between us there was another large group of rocks. I wanted to make sure the cattle were still on the southern fields across the creek, so that they would not come between me and the barns on my way back and this is when I noticed “tick bag”. He was standing right up on his two hind legs and was keeping watch on me. It was indeed tick bag lookin’ the shape of his head and the reflection of the sun on his fur made him look like a rock.

I immediately turned around took my 870 off safe and began my slow stalk down the small slope to that rock formation. Tick bag, did not move and then he skipped on his two hind legs and started to thump, let out another whistle and darted under the biggest rock which looked like a large vertical dagger just above this hole.

I came around its left and in behind the third and fourth rock which was part of this rock fortress. I managed to sneak up from behind just like the farmer had done in the past and was able to line up my bead sight with the nape of the woodchuck who was inching out to check if I was still to its north or my right. This hole was deep and in the vertical and I did not have another chance for a second shot, if I missed or just wounded the chuck, tick bag would disappear underground.

I was now crouched over in a perfect shooting position with the 870 sitting tightly in my shoulder; I slowly raised the barrel and squeezed the trigger. Vlam! The shot rang out and once the dust settled the woodchuck lay very still under the large dagger like rock.

I removed the woodchuck from the den then placed the rocks back into a safe position blocking the hole, so that the cattle could not come near it. I then layed the woodchuck on its back so that it was resting on a patch of fresh grass allowing me to inspect its size while using my hunting knife to raise it front legs. And noticed its chest was full of ticks and fleas. He was without a doubt a tick bag and he sure was lookin’ right at me. One thing I have learned while hunting woodchuck is that there will always be an escape or spy hole, and if they can -they will be watching you too, so do not just focus on the one den once you’ve spotted the woodchuck but constantly check all the nearby holes and sometimes look right into the woods near the forest floor if the den is close to its edge.

There is one thing that is clear -the’re are always eyes on you when you are hunting.

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