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Fresh dirt in front of the den

I slowly adjusted the diopter setting wheel on my Bushnell binoculars all the while taking in the heat from the engine on my chest and elbows. The driver side door was wide open and I had just come around the front and was now resting on top of the hood in order to stabilize my body providing me with a better focus base.

The weather network had predicted around three millimeters of rain but it never came, and although the sky had a slight overcast, it was still very clear. The temperature was at about twenty degrees Celsius above zero and every few minutes there was a very refreshing north-easterly breeze that swept across. This helped with the bugs but only for a short time; therefore I had also sprayed myself with some much-needed bug repellent.

I had a full panoramic view of the eastern hayfield which included its trees, the wired fence with its old wooden posts, and the dense brush on its south side. I started scanning the northern part of the field and then tediously moving my way to the right towards the southern edge, examining every dark object and anything that looked out of the ordinary.

It was now early in the afternoon and it would be feeding time soon for the woodchucks as they often feed on average about three to four times a day. An experienced varminter would focus on known openings of their dens looking for fresh dirt that had been pushed out from under their claws. This could be seen from quite a distance unless it was hidden behind tall grass. He or she may even inspect the nearby boulders to check and see if they were sunbathing. But would you think of looking up?

At the top of the seventh post there was a large brown object perched in a ball and it looked like a wet piece of dark wood. So, I opened my eyes as wide as I possibly could, adjusted my eye relief behind the lenses and noticed some slight movement. I remember reading in one of my books “Mammals of North America” that woodchucks can be accomplished climbers. Well this is true!

There he was: a large chuck on picket duty keeping a watchful eye on his territory. I now had to come up with a plan to flank the woodchuck from the north-west, and the hunt was on.

Now that I had a plan in mind and had located my first chuck of the day, I took my time to analyze my approach. It does not necessarily matter if you scare the woodchuck because it might often come right back out within a few minutes or sometimes it can take several hours. It becomes more of a personal challenge to get as close as you can without causing them to scoot and it also depends on if you want it to be a quick hunt.

Almost every time they come out of their dens, they will sit back in their holes about three or four feet deep from the entrance and listen for danger. Then, if there is no further un-natural sound, they will inch out and come out to feed or sun bathe.  I have also noticed small insects will hang around the entrance of the den on very warm days and normally shortly thereafter the woodchuck will appear. Just like flies in proximity to cattle or horses.

I like to let them come right out, so that I may get a clean shot because they have a very tough layer of fat and fur later in the spring and summer.

So, with this in mind I stowed away some of my unwanted gear, took a drink of water, locked the car and set off across the field to my left heading north. The field was extremely wet, quite similar to that of a rice patty and I placed my boots very carefully into the water so that I did not make too much noise nor did I want to trip and fall.

I took my time cutting across the field, taking everything in and picking up every scent in the air. There was the musky smell from the woods, the pine, cedar and the odor coming up from the creek. The grass all along the fence was about knee-high, so once I crossed the creek separating the east to west fields, I hugged the fence line and moved my way closer to the seventh post.

If you are able to tell when the woodchuck is eating or when he is watching, you can attempt to still-hunt until you are close enough for a shot. I once got within ten meters. I got right up close and the woodchuck climbed down the post and made his way through the wire and down his hole.

I moved away from the den entrance and stood still for several minutes then advanced toward the hole. Sure enough the chuck slowly inched forward exposing just his head and shoulders.

I carefully took the Savage off safe then squeezed the trigger and the woodchuck tumbled back into his hole. I had harvested the eastern field Picket Chuck.

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Many of us have had the privilege of being taught how to read at a very young age and this is without a doubt one of the most prized of skills that is quite often taken for granted. This ability to read allows us to unlock a door and step into a doorway of knowledge, and this know-how is found in books, magazines, pamphlets as well as the World Wide Web.

It is also a fact that some people posses’ academic and intellectual strengths that allow them to share and discuss the content of a specific topic that they have just read. This allows them in sort to plug into any conversation and in a sense project the impression that they may have understood or mastered the subject. This can be a definite asset if you are attempting to impress someone during an academic gathering or trying to earn points with your future father in law, but I believe in the realm of sport hunting it is only the tip of the iceberg. If you can read a book about bush craft and or hunting and then apply the knowledge in a practical way then you are truly gifted.

The people who are able to share this knowledge take great pleasure in doing so, and having the ability to read, learn, and practice then share this knowledge with others using an applied method as well as harvesting wild game is what I consider the true achievement.

There is also another element to this skill called reading and it is not just about going through the pages but rather reading your environment and this my fellow hunters can teach you things that so-called human masters cannot.

One of my favourite quotes written by Saint Bernard de Clairvaux a knight Templar from the 12th century is the following: “Trust one who has tried it, you will find more in woods than in books; trees and stones will teach you what you can never learn from masters”. This is so true, but thanks to some brilliant authors who wrote books about hunting and bush craft with publishing dates ranging from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, we are able to enjoy the wealth of knowledge from both the written and the practical world.

On my OKB page you will find a listing of some of the books that I have read about our sport and related topics. My findings have been that it is very difficult to find a great recent hunting book, that have been written in the last five years that contains the same wealth of knowledge and substance that you would find in books that were written throughout the years of the publishing dates mentioned above.

There is so much to learn and there is so much more to hunting than meets the reading eye.

(If you have read a great book recently and wish to share please write a comment)

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