Off-season allows time for chucking


April 16, 1995|By LONNY WEAVER

Wayne Albaugh and I took advantage of last weekend's short-sleeve weather and helped thin a favorite farm's resident woodchuck population.

The two of us have been chuck hunting buddies for more than a decade and have managed to nurture a reputation as responsible shooters that earns us admission to incredible hunting sites six or more months each year.

Whenever someone inquires about seeking private property +V hunting privileges or bemoans the scarcity of available private lands, I always recommend he prove his worth during the off-season by hunting groundhogs.

Properties that are closed to unfamiliars during the fall hunting seasons are commonly open to varminters throughout the spring and summer. In fact, I often have farmers complain to me about the lack of chuck hunters.

Some hunters consider chuck hunting to be little more than a preseason tune-up for deer and other big-game hunts during the fall seasons. Not me! The sport is a passion to me and thousands of other varminters.

In fact, if you pinned me into a corner I would admit that I would be perfectly happy to have my hunting limited to spring and summer chucks and fall's mourning doves.

Chucks are hunted in any number of ways -- stalked to within bow, handgun or .22 rifle ranges of 50 yards or less, with small-caliber black-powder rifles that double nicely as squirrel rifles come October, with "serious" big-game rifles loaded with lightweight varmint or target bullets, or with amazingly accurate ultra-high velocity hybrid target rifles weighing about 12 pounds.

The latter is my choice based on my love of long-range, precision shooting, the geography of the properties I tend to varmint hunt and pure laziness. My idea of a great day of chuckin' is to set up under a big ridge top shade tree overlooking a clover or soybean field that draws woodchucks by the dozens and offers safe shooting in all directions.

Albaugh and I did just that last Saturday. We chose a shooting spot on a ridge that gave us more than 100 active groundhog holes to keep tabs on at ranges as close as 75 yards. Most of the holes were on an overgrown and mostly forgotten fence row and at the edge of a moderately open wood lot.

With a couple of exceptions though, we shot over open field holes. It is these holes that are a curse to farmers, their stock and their machinery.

Minutes after setting up our rifles, we each spotted chucks on a hillside. Albaugh's was the closest and he offered the first shot to me. This was going to stretch the effective range of my .223-caliber Ruger KMVT MKII rifle and the 10x scope sitting atop its bolt-action receiver.

We both estimated the range at about 400 yards. Knowing that my load would drop three inches low at 300 yards, I put an estimated six inches of space between the dot reticle and the top of the marmot's head and squeezed the trigger.

The .223 generates little recoil, so I had no trouble seeing the 53 grain bullet impact the ground a foot or so in front of the chuck, who looked around to consider what had kicked up dirt.

Albaugh quickly moved his .22-250 Remington 700 Varmint Special into position and settled the 20x variable power target scope on the faraway field pest. Using the same hold as I had, but having the luxury of a cartridge more suited to ranges beyond 300 yards, Albaugh's shot dropped the chuck instantly.

We never moved throughout the mid-afternoon and after some three hours of steady action, my great-shooting .223 Ruger had accounted for five chucks, while Albaugh's Remington tallied six.

After my first miss, I confined all my shots to inside of 300 paces, while Albaugh took care of the long-range stuff. Next time we hit this place, I'll opt for a .220 Swift chambered Remington Custom Shop Model 40X bolt action target rig that is better suited to such long-range shooting. The .223, which is probably our most popular varmint cartridge, is at its best when kept to ranges inside 300 yards.

Right now you will find the best chuck hunting during the warmest time of the day. Later, when the air begins to swelter, best shooting is in the morning until about 10 a.m. and then the last few hours of the day.

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