For hunters, real groundhog days are on the way

OUTDOORS

April 18, 1993|By LONNY WEAVER

Wayne Albaugh, who was easing along just under the rise of one of Carroll County's rolling hills, whistled to attract my attention.

When I glanced over the hundred or so yards separating us, Albaugh pointed in the direction of an "island wood lot" that I had been keeping tabs on as we moved toward a favored hilltop.

I spotted the woodchuck immediately and dropped to the ground. Flipping down the Harris Bipod shooting rest attached to the front sling swivel of my heavy, target barreled Remington .223-caliber rifle, I made a few minor adjustments to level the high magnification target scope's sight picture and prepared to take a shot at my first chuck of the year.

The 15X scope was sighted to put the 55-grain Winchester factory-loaded bullet an inch high at 100 yards. In my mind, I visualized the lengths of a couple of football fields and estimated the range to the chuck at 175 yards. As the rust-colored marmot stood on its hind legs, I placed the cross hairs on its arrowhead-shaped noggin and squeezed the trigger.

TTC The groundhog dropped as if struck by a lightning bolt and my first chuck of the year was in the bag. If this year is like most, 100 Carroll County chucks should fall to my rifles this summer.

Chuck hunting can be decent this time of the year, but doesn't really get cooking until late May and early June. That's when the year's young are helping the adults eat every green plant in sight before setting out on their own. That's when farmers begin looking down the driveways for responsible riflemen to save large portions of their tender, young crops.

A single adult woodchuck eats about a pound of vegetation a day, though it is not uncommon for one to consume about a third of its body weight daily. An average chuck weighs around 10 pounds, but a 15-pounder is not unusual.

From mid-June to mid- or late July, depending on what kind of growning season we are having, the single-best place to hunt groundhog is a soybean field. These babies go through a crop of young beans like a razor-edged lawn mower. You will have no problem discovering their haunts.

Right now, and later when grasses and crops get too high to see a groundhog, the best hunting spots are pastures. Center your attention on fence rows (especially if they are overgrown with honeysuckle, briars and the like), the edges of wood lots that border on croplands or pastures and any gently sloping sunny hillside. They especially favor sharp drops.

Forget shooting into any spot that does not give you a safe backstop should you miss. Also forget spots occupied by farm animals, homes and outbuildings.

At this time of the year groundhogs are most active whenever it is the warmest and wherever it is the greenest. As the days grow longer and hotter, the best action is found until a little before noon and then from around 4 in the afternoon until dusk.

During the heat of the mid-day, you often will spot them snoozing or sunbathing at the mouths of their holes, on rock piles or sprawled on fallen tree trunks. Just remember that a chuck's main occupations are eating and sleeping.

Albaugh and I have been hunting chucks together for a long time and our styles complement each other. He likes to stalk along and seek out the pasture poodles. A few years back I got him to try a .22-250-caliber rifle instead of his usual .22 long rifle bolt action. The little .22 is a 50-yard chuck gun at best, whereas the popular .22-250,

which is a specialized "varmint cartridge," is a sure thing in the hands of a steady rifleman to 350 or 400 yards.

I am a sitter. This method involves choosing a high spot overlooking choice groundhog playgrounds and eateries and a little shade for my comfort. Instead of walking, I let my binoculars do the work for me. Most shots are in the 100- to 400-yard realm, my rifles are target quality bolt actions and a single-shot Ruger chambered for super accurate, ultra flat shooting varmint calibers beginning with the little .17 Remington and going up to a couple of .220 Swifts.

Despite our contrasts of chuck hunting styles, Albaugh and I both come out about even by the time we call it quits in early fall and the practice we get with our rifles pays off during big-game season. Responsible chuck hunters are usually a welcome sight to area farmers and access to private land now could pave the way for you in the fall.

Hunter safety, trap shooting

Call Hap Baker at (410) 374-4360 to register for a hunter safety course set to begin May 11 at the Dug Hill Rod & Gun Club, located in the Manchester area.

Also, the public is invited to shoot trap beginning at noon today at the Dug Hill club, located on Wine Road, off of Bachman Valley Road, for $2.50 a round.

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