How I Spent My Summer Vacation
There is a time that falls between the last day of turkey season in mid May and opening of fall hunting season on September 1st. For many hunters, summer is a time for fishing or softball or golf. But here on the farm, hunting does not take a pause. Summer is all about woodchucks. What follows is a tour through my entire 2016 summer season. That’s what I get for taking a summer break from writing in my blog. Hey at least there aren’t 21 groundhogs like last year.
I knew going into the summer that nothing would beat the craziness of the summer of 2015 and I was quite content to let 2016 be more relaxed. Last year I spent most of my time on my neighbor’s target rich dairy farm. This year there soybeans planted on my own farm and boy oh boy do groundhogs love soybeans. This year was all about protecting the beans. And a bit of stocking the freezer for future culinary adventures thrown in because who doesn’t love eating some good woodchuck?
Number 1: June 5th
While I did say earlier that hunting does not take pause, really it does: for about two to three weeks. Spring turkey season runs for four weeks from mid April to mid May. For those who do not hunt turkeys, I can best describe the event as four weeks without sleep. Hunting every available minute interspersed with a full time job, mowing acres of yard and pasture, prepping for the arrival of meat chicks and by the end of the season the walking dead becomes reality. The week after turkey season is over becomes sleeping every available minute interspersed with a full time job, mowing acres of yard and pasture and tending to the newly delivered meat chicks. When I awake from my coma, I then pause another week or two to let the young groundhogs reach weaning age. I have this thing about not shooting a mama chuck and orphaning a whole litter that can’t fend for themselves yet. That is just way too creepy for me to think about even with varmint hunting.
And so on June 5th I set out on my first hunt of the year. The soybeans were just coming up and my plan was to walk a half mile to the back of the field where I knew there was a big den. I hadn’t seen one single groundhog around the house yet so my mind was geared up for the walk. 100 yards behind the house, the tractor road crosses over the creek as it runs through a culvert. I walked over the culvert and casually glanced to my left. A woodchuck! If I had been in a car, you would have heard the brakes squealing. I threw myself into reverse then turned right and crawled through the pasture fence and a multiflora rose bush. One must be willing to sacrifice some body parts to be a successful woodchuck hunter. The pasture fence is a bit overgrown so I had cover to ease on up to a place where I could see the woodchuck. I found a spot relatively free of blackberry brambles and thistle, sat down and cleared a small shooting lane.
Then one woodchuck became a mama chuck and a whole litter of young ones. I wanted a young one. They were good sized and I wanted a young one for the freezer. The problem was they wouldn’t hold still. After 15 or 20 frustrating minutes of watching them dart in and out of the weeds, I shot the mama chuck instead. The young ones disappeared but I would see them from time to time the rest of the summer. Last year was my first year to try eating groundhogs and I only dressed out a few young ones. This year I wanted to try an adult. I looked at mama chuck and I totally chickened out. She would feed the turkey vultures. Besides, they told me last year they appreciated the handouts. Yeah that’s my story.
Number 2, 3 and 4: June 13th
This time I made it all the way back to end of the soybean field. I set up a chair in the woods about 40 yards from a den and waited. And waited. And waited some more. This woodchuck would elude me all summer. Basically I would see it when I was not hunting and would not see it when I was hunting. Some woodchucks obviously have psychic powers. After staring at nothing but dirt and little bean plants for over an hour, I decided to head home. There was a dirt mound in the woods about 50-60 yards in the opposite direction. I could barely see it with all the spring foliage but I got out my binoculars to take a look and there was a groundhog on the dirt mound. I crawled over to my homemade turkey hunting blind where I could see the dirt mound a bit better. In less then two minutes, I shot a mama chuck and two young ones. Mama was one of the mangiest woodchucks I have ever seen. I didn’t even want to touch her, but I did so that I could carry her to the open bean field for a turkey vulture snack. The two young ones I took home to dress out and wrap them for the freezer.
Number 5: June 24th
Once again I went back to the end of the bean field to hunt the psychic woodchuck. Once again he/she did not show. Once again I checked the dirt mound in the woods and lo and behold there were more of mangy mama chuck’s litter. I ended up shooting two more young ones. One made it down a hole leaving a trail of blood but I never officially count those unless I have a body. The other one was DOA right where I shot it. This was evening of the self-timed silhouette picture at the top of the page. I would like to say the picture turned out that way on purpose but I’d be lying. I really do like the picture though.
After feeling pretty good about some great shooting at the dirt mound, I set my sights on a woodchuck that was living in our other bean field. The woodchuck had been carving a nice semi-circle in the beans and I had a good vantage for a 40 yard shot. I had a nice evening of watching deer and with the wind in my face there were several up close and personal encounters with deer feeding in the bean field in front of me. After sitting for a couple hours and after the deer had left, I slowly stood up. 20 yards out was a woodchuck. That was not where I was expecting one to appear. And like I am prone to do at such moments, I panicked. I chose a swaying sapling as a rest for my gun which for some strange reason made me miss the shot. The woodchuck ran to the woods which then erupted with alarm whistles from other whistle pigs. The gig was up. I felt dumb. Watching the deer was pretty cool though.
Number 6: July 17th
I actually don’t remember much about this hunt except that this was one of the litter of the very first mama groundhog I shot back in early June. I know it involved another crawl through the pasture fence and more skin lost on the multiflora rose bush. I also know that I dressed this one out as well to add to the collection of groundhog parts in the freezer.
Number 7: July 18th
On one of my walks around the field, I had found some groundhog damage in the beans near the division between the bean field and the produce field. I had never actually seen a groundhog here but the sign was there. The den holes were located along a fence line that separates our bean field from the neighbor’s hayfield which had been mowed recently. The question to be answered was: would the groundhog come out to feed in the beans where I could see it or would it venture into the hayfield where I couldn’t see it? I chose to sit in a spot at the end of a 5 acre patch of sunflowers. I had some cover, a comfy ground chair, some shooting sticks and something to read.
As I sat there and read, I would glance up periodically. This is my usual MO but I am always amazed at how it only takes a split second to go from relaxed reading to crazy fumbling around when a groundhog makes an appearance. Remembering the rushed twenty yard shot and miss off the swaying sapling, I took my time with this woodchuck. She was quite happily eating bean leaves. I could only see her when she stood up. When I finally took the shot, she dropped out of sight. The next few minutes are always nerve racking for me. Did I hit her? Did I miss? I walked up to find the bean eater dead with a leaf in her mouth. A perfect head shot. This would be my longest shot of the year with the .17hmr at about 65-70 yards. The day before this hunt I had not only dressed out a woodchuck for the freezer but we had also butchered our first 50 meat chickens. I was really tired of cutting up animals into pieces. Mostly I was just tired. I really really wanted to dress out an adult woodchuck this year but I ended up leaving her for another vulture snack. I spent the next week kicking myself for that decision.
Number 8: July 25th
This groundhog I spied for the first time just a week before. It was hanging out in the corner of my neighbor’s hayfield near the fence line that separates our two farms. It took me three attempts but on the third try I used one of the round bales still in the field to stalk in for a 30-40 yard shot. It was an adult male although not as big as some I have shot so I think it was probably born in 2015.
I was a bit apprehensive about dressing out an adult male as I was told they were smelly creatures. With a tentative sniff of the air near the dead woodchuck and also having flashbacks to other smelly male animals like buck goats which are by the way the smelliest of all male animals that I have worked around, I was surprised when I detected no pungent odor. My plan for the adult woodchuck was to make meatballs and so I tediously dressed out and de-boned the carcass. I froze the meat to be ground later. And best of all, there was no stink.
Number 9: August 21st
One week later, another groundhog appeared in the same spot as groundhog number 8. I saw it off and on from the road when I would be walking the dogs and then after a couple weeks, I didn’t see it anymore. And so one month after number 8, I decided to take a stroll to see what I could see. There were trees along the fence line to use for cover and I went 40 yards up from the corner. I leaned over the fence and looked into the corner of the hayfield to my right and saw no woodchuck. I swung my left leg over the single strand barbed wire fence continuing to look to my right where I expected to see a woodchuck. Then I swung my right leg over to stand fully in the hayfield. Seeing nothing to my right, I pirouetted 180 degrees to the left. 30 yards away was a full alert, standing woodchuck. It stared at me. I stared back. It was an impasse. I vowed I would not be beaten in this game by a lowly marmot. It stared at me. I was a statue. Except that after awhile things were beginning to hurt. First it was my left arm that was supporting most of the weight of the gun. Then it was my feet and then my legs. My back and shoulders joined in the parade of pain that was traveling through my muscles. I thought about how once I read about soldiers standing at attention and how they would sometimes faint from standing rigid and still for so long. I really didn’t want to faint but I really didn’t want to give in to the groundhog either. Then finally the groundhog sat down and instantly so did I. I dropped my ground chair, plopped my butt on the chair and then peered at what I knew was on the ground. Hello little poison ivy plants. Again, success often comes with sacrifice. The groundhog was now hunkered down and through my binoculars I could just barely make out its head. I stared through my binoculars. It stared back. This was getting old. After 15 minutes I was done with the waiting game. It was time to risk an aggressive move. I got up on my knees and slowly erected my shooting sticks. The youthful groundhog stayed hunkered down and staring back. The added height of being up on my knees was just what I needed. Another perfect head shot and I found the groundhog lying within less than a foot from the protection of its hole. And better yet, another young groundhog to add to the freezer collection. There is going to be some good eating at our house this winter.
Wildlife likes this.
You need to be logged in to comment