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Posts Tagged ‘woodchucks’


There was a strong breeze coming in from the west that brought with it some cold air; for a moment I felt a chill down my back while descending the ridge toward the creek. The sun was out and the birds were singing and you just felt this renewed source of energy in the air, what an incredible day I had chosen to visit my friends farm and hunt small game.

I was on the lookout for woodchucks and rock doves. By the time my descent had finished I was now standing at the edge of the creek, the water was still incredibly cold with the water levels higher than usual caused by the melting snow and ice.

I crossed over to the other side choosing my path carefully stepping on the large boulders just below the surface of the crystal clear water, high enough to prevent my socks from getting wet, also not to allow the water to reach the top of the boot which was just below the knee.

It was now time for the climb to the rock formation at the top of the southern ridge, it is a really enjoyable walk but I am alway cautious passing through the wall of evergreen, because the cattle have carved out pathways that they use frequently and I would not want to surprise a young bull into a face to face encounter.

As the years go by and as you spend more time outdoors hunting small game it is inevitable that you will make mistakes which causes you to lose out on a few harvest opportunities. I find the trick is once the frustration has been released through a few swear words and licking your wounds; you then decide to learn from them. Observe and then you promise yourself that you will not be doing this twice. The mistakes I mean.

One example of this is, a few years ago I was walking up the whole length of the creek in late October trying to flush ducks and after several hundred meters I was starting to get discouraged and tired of still hunting. Not one duck in sight, as soon as I let my guard down and started walking tall and ordinarily, I scared off two mallards and they got away before I could get a shot off because of the tough angle of the shot.

This has happened to me with Grouse, Woodcock and also Woodchucks. I walked right into their still stance trap and then boom in an explosion of speed they were gone. Once you become an expert in their habitat I believe you get to know when you should flick the on switch for still hunting alert mode.

So on this particular day I put my theory to the test, I made my way through the cattle trail and got up to the rock formation. I could have walked right up to the crest and looked around and gaze over the horizon like a king over his kingdom but every single game would fly off or run for cover. Of course the red squirrel and crow alert calls wouldn’t help.

So, instead I leaned forward and just popped my head over the crest and I found myself practically staring into the eyes of a woodchuck who was sun-bathing just meters in front of me. I put myself in reverse fairly quickly and lowered myself into the low ground and took a few deep breaths. Loaded a shell into my 870, clicked the safety on and then started to lift the top part of my body just above the crest looking right back into the woodchucks eyes.

Lined up my bead sight with the vitals, completed my three breaths then slow pushed my safety off. Moments later I released my shot and harvested my first spring woodchuck. That night I pan-fried some nice thighs in maple syrup with Cajun cowboy spices from Canadian Tire. It was delicious.

Two years ago, I guided a friend duck hunting in my canoe, he was in the front ready to shoot and I was paddling us through a maze of weeds, but because I had learned so much about ducks and their habitat and knew the swamp extremely well, I had also observed like a hawk and mentally recorded certain gold pot spots. I had it down to a science. I knew exactly when he should shoulder his shotgun and be ready. On this day we did not make same mistake twice. Instead we made nice Mallard dishes.

Take your time still hunting on foot or paddling through the weeds, when you feel it, you will know when to flick on the switch and be extremely observant and be ready.

The results are very rewarding and a confirmation that you are learning. Observation just like conservation is paramount.

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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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Humility is the right antonym in every sense of the word when dealing with vanity. If Bert Popowski practiced humility while hunting, then he would not be the rightful author of the book that I just finished reading today: The varmint and crow hunter’s bible.

When it comes to reading books on hunting, especially small game, it does not take me long to reach the back cover, but for some reason this book took me longer than usual and it was not because it was a difficult read but rather due to the fact that I considered its text quite rich.

As I was reading, it would be comparable to a person with a sweet tooth eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake and wanting to enjoy every mouthful rather than just polish it off with great speed. Knowledge is what I seek and this book most definitely delivered.

I particularly enjoyed the following chapters: The Canny Coyote, Woodchucks for Rifleman, Cow Pasture Pests, Those Canny Crows as well as the Lesser Bird Pests as the author named them. Also near the ending of the book are two other great chapters: Shotgun Efficiency and Varmint Cartridges which focus on rifle and shot gunning. Both chapters enable you to understand some of the science behind the art of shooting when dealing with varmints.

As an avid varmint hunter, I highly recommend this book. Throughout the pages the author brings out very specific hunting knowledge and skills that are a must know if you wish to be a successful hunter. For example when hunting woodchucks “depending on the elevation, temperatures and food supplies they take the air during the idyllic months of spring and summer.” (Page 10)

“The average mature woodchuck offers a sizeable hunk of target. He owns so tough a hide that, in the days of ox-, horse-, and mule-drawn transportation, a strip of it was often used as the “popper” at the tip of the skinners’ whips. His body, even when encased with considerable fat in preparation for hibernation, is of solid and muscular flesh. And, what is most important, he has considerable life tenacity. He must be hit well -often with power enough to stop a yearling deer-to be dropped in his tracks.” (Page 14)

If you wish to be in business for hunting crows learning the three basic calls: The distress, come-back and mourning calls amongst other great information on crow hunting is well covered in “Those Canny Crows” chapter.

The Canny Coyote”
“A light wind helps conceal what sounds the hunter normally makes, plus hiding the natural movements of mounting the call and his gun. However, if the wind blows up around 10 miles-per-hour, such velocity severely limits the caller’s range of coverage.” (Page 92)

“Coyotes that are thoroughly sold on the authenticity of the dying-rabbit squall have been known to run in almost atop concealed caller-hunters. That’s why some hunters carry both rifles and shotguns. If the tolled critter gets in within 10 to 30 yards the shotgun is ample weapon for clean kills-if loaded with Number 2’s or coarser pellets. But a hesitant, undecided or suspicious ki-dog may have to be taken from 75 to 125 yards, when a scope-sighted rifle is the only suitable weapon.” (Page 93)

Mr. Popowski has now joined the ranks of what I consider to be the authentic authors on the subject of hunting and the outdoors. In doing so he has provided me with the knowledge that will enable me to fine tune my skills as a small game hunter and enjoy many seasons to come. I sincerely hope this book may do the same for you.

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I was standing very still with my binoculars surveying the low ground over on the eastern field, trying to find any early signs of woodchuck presence. I set out to the farm shortly after lunch knowing that the groundhogs preferred to come out and move later in the afternoon. The wind was blowing hard in a north-easterly direction and the low dark clouds moved quickly through the sky and caused the field to change color. The spots where there was fresh dirt turned over or where a broken fence post lay played visual tricks on your eyes.

The air was chilled and the temperature was at about plus two degrees Celsius, the weather station had predicted about two centimeters of snow and this definitely was not ideal weather for the chucks. But I had seen about four others in nearby fields located at the other farms. As soon as it started to snow, the ice pellets started bouncing off the mud and the car parked on the side of the road, the sky got dark quite fast.

I had no choice but to sit and wait it out until the sky cleared. Twenty minutes had passed and the sun finally broke though. Still no sign of the woodchucks and I did not blame them especially with this weather being so un-predictable.  So, I decided to turn my focus on the Red Wing black birds and Rock Doves.

The farmer had scattered some grain for his cattle along with a few hay bales and this had drawn in a flock of Red wing black birds; this presented a fun challenge as they can be a difficult bird to harvest because they are easily alarmed and they travel in flocks so if you startle one bird they all disperse.

On the southern field and its northern side of the creek, were three old barns where I had harvested one of my first woodchucks of last summer. The first two barns were smaller and bunched together with only a few meters apart resting on the slope but the third barn was about thirty meters away and closer to the creek on leveled ground near the forest’s south-western edge.

The pigeons, red wing black birds along with robins and starlings were all gathered in the flooded field to the south of the third barn. So, I decided to descend the southern ridge and move my way along the electrical fence between the first two barns and begin a very slow and muddy stalk to the third barn towards the birds.

Earlier in the afternoon I had noticed the cattle were still feeding on the north side of the western field which was connected to the southern field with no fence separating the two. If you were to include the eastern hay field combined they would create a “U” shape around the main farming complex. As a general rule and as a question of respect, I always kept a safe distance from the cattle especially since they had several new calves this year and I was quite aware that this could change the whole dynamics of my current situation.

As I carefully stalked toward the third barn, I was constantly keeping watch for the larger bulls that were part of the drift of cattle. I made sure; I was stepping on solid ground and not sinking into the mud and always watching up the ridge to my right. The only time I did not have control over my position was between the second and third barn. So as I approached the western side of the second barn and made my way over a worn out wired fence. I positioned myself so that I could see the eastern side of the third barn to my front, the creek to my left and on my right the southern edge of the western field where the mob of cattle were feeding.

After several minutes of hard stalking I was now inching into position, and the birds were now within shooting distance lined up in my sights. Unknown to me for the first few seconds, I was also being stalked and considered a moving target. My right eye caught some movement and when I turned my head, I found myself face to face with a two thousand pound bull and he was only forty meters away.

He had seen me come down the ridge on his left and he had subsequently moved in parallel into the middle of the field were there was a slight depression and caused him to disappear momentarily; from there he could protect his drove of cattle and calves.

We were both looking right at each other and for those who thought cattle can not see very well; I just proved it they sure can. He lowered his head and was swinging it aggressively left to right letting out these incredible huffs that came from deep within the beast. He had this thick white saliva dropping out of its nose and from around its mouth and I can assure you it did not take me long to get the message. Just like in the Spanish Corrida de Torros, he dug his front legs into the fresh mud and lifted large chunks of dirt and then would lower his head into the mud and rub the saliva into the ground.

The charge was coming but I had anticipated this and only had six meters to cover back to the second barn or a fifty meter dash to the tree line to the west, so I slowly moved backward to the northern side of the barn and took cover behind the old wired fence and made my way back around the first barn and then behind the electrical fence.

Once I showed the bull, my intentions were to stay clear and move away, he just locked his eyes on me and continued to move large chucks of dirt under his hooves, letting out huffs and puffs.

I finally circled the bull from the east behind the protection of the electrical fence, and then I talked to him in a gentle voice complementing him on the way he protected his drove. He was an absolute stunning bull, pure black, the true definition of power and I will never forget his huffing and puffing, it was so deep like a fog horn and it made every bone in my body shake.

Awareness is so important during any hunt.

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