Sat, 23 Feb 2013 19:05:29 EST
My first hunting trip to Canada about 30 years ago might surprise most folks. It wasn’t for a moose or a bear, but rather for a ground-dwelling rodent called a woodchuck. The area was rolling farm country interspersed with hardwoods and stone fences and it gave you the impression that you were in New England, and not Ontario. The location was straight across Lake Huron from Alpena. However our mode of travel was driving into Canada from Port Huron, and taking a scenic tour north.
My three guides were avid woodchuck hunters, and they lived and breathed the pastime. When most hunters look upon spring/summer as an off-season period, it is the time when ‘chuck hunters shine. The fact was, the Ontario farmers were absolutely amazed by the fact that 4 Michigan men would travel all the way to their land to specifically hunt woodchucks. They were also absolutely delighted by the fact, as the woodchuck population and the problems they caused with their burrowing and crop raiding nature were at near epidemic proportions. The key reason my guides had selected the location.
It wasn’t until we were uncasing our rifles at the first hunting site that I saw what avid ‘chuck hunters use for shooting equipment. All 3 rifles were of the bolt-action persuasion, and 2 were chambered for 243 Winchester, and one was in the petite and venerable .22 Hornet that was developed many years ago with woodchuck hunting in mind. All 3 rifles featured custom-made stocks and long, high-powered scopes that reached nearly to rifle’s muzzle. All three men were using their own tailor-made handloads.
The rifle I was using was a single-shot Ruger Number One in.25-06, and topped with a 2-8X variable Leupold scope that I never took off 8X on that hunt due to the long ranges we were shooting. My hunting companions stressed long range shooting situations that left remaining (as yet to be shot) woodchucks having no idea as to what was up.
My ‘chuck hunting companions were real shooters too, as I watched one use his .243 to drop a sitting woodchuck, and then quickly rack in another round and drop a second, running woodchuck that had been grazing next to the first, at a range of 350 yards. The ‘chuck hunter using the .22 Hornet was given the opportunity to shoot first at woodchucks a bit closer in. Even so, I was amazed at what he could still accomplish with this little cartridge, and with a lot less muzzle blast. I’ve been an ardent admirer of the old.22 Hornet cartridge ever since.
When it comes to muzzle blast, the .25-06 is certainly no slouch, but when loaded with a 90 grain-pill handload, it is one flat shooter, and it fit right into this environment. My most memorable shot occurred in a cow pasture where the landowner was in constant fear of broken-legged cattle due to the numerous woodchuck holes. When shooting with this seasoned trio of long-range shooters, it was only a measly 125 yards, and I was solidly braced over the trunk of a fallen maple tree. I took careful aim and touched the light trigger.
Much to my amazement, the woodchuck was still sitting on its haunches near its burrow, looking around for the cause of the explosion, and possibly wondering if a thunderstorm was about to happen despite a clear blue sky. That is when I heard the uncontrolled sound of mirth, including loud cackling, coming from the 3 observers leaning over the same fallen tree trunk. Then I saw the bullet hole in the protruding tree-branch six inches from the muzzle of my rifle. While my scope had a clear view, the bullet had come to a sudden stop.
‘Chuck hunters being hunters, they have an acute sense of humor for such an occasion, and one of them conveniently produced a small pocket saw, and hewed off the branch for me to take home as a trophy.
Fortunately I was able to redeem myself somewhat in a newly sprouting soybean field that possessed a very visible quantity of grazing woodchucks (the landowner had heard we were about and had actually sought us out for our unusual services). We were on a tall hilltop overlooking the field and I was in a prone firing position with the bi-pod equipped Ruger, and I placed the crosshairs at the top of the woodchuck’s head as it was standing up on its hind legs for the typical sharp-eyed pan of its surroundings for danger, before grazing again. Even with my scope set at 8X, this was a small target at 400+ yards (I could see why the .243’swere equipped with 20X scopes and the .22 Hornet possessed a 12X) and I raised the crosshairs just a tad before firing, and lost view of my target during recoil.
Instead of mirth, I heard only compliments on a good shot, but could tell it wasn’t anything special the three ‘chuck hunters hadn’t seen performed before. In fact I got the feeling it was expected in their world. Of course I don’t know who was more stunned by that shot, the unlucky woodchuck or me.
I began hunting woodchucks on the family farm about 50 years ago, using a single-shot .22. The fact is I still enjoy using .22 rim fire rifles for this pastime. Unlike my ‘chuck-specialist companions on that Ontario woodchuck hunt, my rifles form multi-tasks when it comes to hunting in general. My favorite squirrel rifles often come into play for summertime woodchucks. On top of that, I enjoy the art of spot and stalk, and prefer to get in as close as possible to my quarry (be sure to always use the same .22 rim fire ammo you sighted in with, for hunting, as I’ve seen as much as an inch variance between brands at 25 yards, which can be a complete miss on a woodchuck’s head at 50 yards).
Actually, the new rim fire .17’s (.17 Mach 2 and .17 HMR) have woodchuck hunting written all over them. The older .22 Winchester Magnum remains another rim fire jewel.
For special close to people (with their knowledge and permission) hunting work for nuisance woodchucks, I prefer my scoped (3-9 X Bushnell) .17 caliber Gamo air rifle due to its more mellow report that won’t have someone indoors choking on their breakfast Cheerios. When equipped with the right expandable hunting pellet, the Gamo is an underrated performer in this atmosphere, with a well-placed shot (woodchucks are very tough and tenacious critters and always require well-placed shots).
When the topography requires something with a little more reach, I enjoy using my scoped T/C Contender Carbine in .223 (center fire rifles are quite legal to use for ‘chuck hunting in southern Michigan), and I have successfully accomplished shots near the 300 yard mark using Stoney Point shooting sticks for a solid brace. Not only binoculars, but range finders as well, are very helpful tools in this environment.
I have also used muzzleloaders as ‘chuck rifles, and in fact used this unique hunting pastime to get fully acquainted with my scoped T/C G2 Contender muzzleloader (.45 x 209) and sabot ammunition well before using it during the deer season. You readily learn both the rifle’s full range capability and your capability with it.
However, something tells me sooner or later I’m going to have a heavy-barreled rifle equipped with a very powerful scope specifically for summertime ‘chuck hunting.
Not because I need one, but just because.
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