Late-arriving groundhogs give hunters more time to prepare

OUTDOORS

March 13, 1994|By LONNY WEAVER

Despite the blanket of snow and ice still covering most of Carroll County's farmlands, I managed to spot three groundhogs over the past couple of days.

Normally, chucks begin to come out of hibernation at the end of February, but thanks to the mess Mother Nature put us under, they are a little late this year.

As soon as the male woodchuck comes out of hibernation, he begins to seek a mate. I believe that at least some chucks are monogamous and will seek out the same mate each year. If the male's usual mate has died, he then will search around for another partner.

Leonard Rue, a noted wildlife authority, says that the female has the last word, so the male may have to visit a number of females before one is found that will accept him.

The gestation period is 31 to 32 days, Rue said. In Central Maryland, you can expect to find newborn chucks by the third week in April. The average litter is four.

By the end of June, the young chucks are on their own. Mature chucks are not sociable and will attack any of their kind that infringe on their territory. They can cause a lot of damage to dogs.

I am a hopeless groundhog hunting addict. Right now is the time to begin serious preparations.

I began last week by giving my rifles a good cleaning. Chuck hunting involves relatively long-range shooting with specialized target-quality rifles weighing between 8 1/2 and 12 pounds. Typically these incredibly accurate rifles are chambered for high velocity .17, .22 or 6mm calibers designed specifically for the task at hand. They are topped with precision high-magnification scopes.

The routine for most late spring and summer chuck safaris is to settle in a high shady spot offering lots of safe shooting. Hot

spots include pastures, clover fields and soybean fields. A good pair of binoculars and a sturdy shooting rest are necessities.

To maintain your rifle's level of accuracy, take good care of the barrel. Unlike ages past, barrel cleaning and maintenance is a snap today.

A badly fouled rifle's bore will completely ruin accuracy. For example, I was checking out scope settings for a new handload that I had developed about this time last year when without warning 5-shot 100-yard group size jumped from 1/2 -inch to an inch to two inches.

I didn't need to be told what the problem was, but removed the bolt from the action and peered down the bore anyway. It was filthy with powder residue and copper deposits peeled from the 25-grain bullets as they rocketed down the barrel at better than ++ 4,000 feet per second.

Back in the early '70s the task would have meant hours of scrubbing with a brass brush, seemingly gallons of solvent and yards of cotton patches. But I was able to accomplish the job in less than 15 minutes and without wrestling a brass brush down the delicate bore. In fact, I seldom use a brush at all any more.

Shooters Choice MC 7, Hoppes No. 9 BR, Barnes CR-10, Rig 44 and Pro-Shot Copper Solvent II are some of the new chemical solvent products that have made my life easier.

Most of them involve running a solvent-soaked patch down the barrel, followed by a clean, dry patch. This is repeated until the dry patch comes out clean (usually not more than a dozen passes). If your rifle barrel has been badly neglected, simply run a wet patch down it and let the barrel soak overnight.

Trout Unlimited activities

Expert fly angler Charlie Gougeon shared his knowledge of trout prospects on the Gunpowder River at this month's meeting of the Patapsco Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited at the Bear Branch Nature Center.

Yesterday, the chapter, led by President Dan Meyer, conducted an insect collection on the East Branch of the Patapsco. On March 26, trout season's opening day, the chapter will sell coffee and doughnuts at Beaver Run in Finksburg.

The next meeting of the club is set for 7 p.m. April 14 at at the Greenway Gardens. The DNR's Bob Lunsford will give a presentation on the North Branch of the Potomac and the Savage River.

For more information on the organization, call Meyer at (410) 848-2289.

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