June is woodchuck hunting time throughout Carroll County's rolling farmlands. Chucks are busy carrying out their favorite activities -- eating, sleeping, eating, digging.
My chuck-hunting pal, Wayne Albaugh, and I have done our best to keep the population down to tolerable levels on a pair of Union Bridge farms the past two weekends. Alternating between two adjoining fields, we connected on 20 groundhogs, missed another 10 or 12, and saw, but couldn't get shots off on, at least 30 more. Locally, the best shooting begins in late May and early June and continues through early fall.
Wayne and I know these two farms well, so we have a bit of an advantage over a varmint hunter shooting over an unfamiliar location. Still, we were surprised at how good the shooting was during last Saturday's hunt. We never went longer than 15 minutes without a shooting opportunity.
After parking Albaugh's truck and topping a rise, we immediately spotted a chuck sunning at the top of its hole 175 yards away. I suspected that this was the same critter I had missed the previous Saturday and offered the shot to my pal.
Wayne unfolded the Harris Bipod shooting rest attached to the front sling swivel of his target weight Remington chambered 22/250 rifle and assumed a solid prone shooting position. I watched the chuck through my 9x binoculars as he squeezed off the shot at the open field target.
"Got him," I confirmed. Wayne and I alternate shooting and spotting for each other, which goes a long way in correcting long-range sighting errors.
I moved my binoculars to focus on the overgrown field edge that had produced a number of shots the previous Saturday and spotted a gray-colored young chuck feeding close to a known den, about 200 yards away from me. After moving into prone shooting position behind my .17 Remington chambered Kimber bolt action rifle, I held right on the feeding rodent and squeezed the target-grade trigger.
Despite its 4,000 feet-per-second initial velocity, the .17 caliber round generates no recoil, and I saw the bullet impact a fraction of an inch over the back of the chuck. The groundhog immediately disappeared down an escape hole.
Ten minutes later, Wayne was a fraction low on a 300-yard shot. Minutes after his miss, the chuck reappeared, and I missed by pulling the shot a little right. Back down its hole the chuck fled.
Five shots and four chucks later, we decided to let this field "cool off" and move to an adjoining field. This second field, unlike the rolling hayfield we had just left, was planted in corn and offered a sharper landscape. It has been one of our best chuck hunting spots for a number of years.
This bowl-shaped field is textbook woodchuck habitat. It faces south and features sharp slopes that keep rain water out of the field's many groundhog holes. A trio of lush, green "waterways" ensure a good supply of tender grasses and ample protection from dogs, foxes, and other predators. In addition to the cornfield itself, clover and soybean fields are short distances from most of the den entrances. Finally, it is bordered on two sides by a wood-lot and overgrown fence rows.
Wayne and I slowly topped the south ridge of the field and found a single mature chuck snoozing at the entrance of a huge den hole and a pair of young pasture poodles busy feeding on tender corn shoots near a second hole 50 yards right of the first.
Because I had taken the last shot, the choice was Albaugh's. As he lined up to have a go at the single mature hog, I set up to follow his rifle's report with a shot at one of the feeding pair. At the instant of the crack of Wayne's 22/250, my two prospective targets vanished below ground.
Wayne's 200-yard shot connected. Minutes later, I took a huge old boar at about 150 yards. In an hour's worth of shooting, we took six chucks out this facing hillside. Then we packed our gear and returned to the first field.
Right away, the hayfield began producing chucks for us again. I connected on two young groundhogs at the bottom of a waterway, about 175 yards away. Wayne took one with an unusual off-hand shot at 50 paces.
We both missed easy chances at ranges between 150 and 250 yards. Then we traded three misses each at 300-plus yards on a mature chuck that kept popping out of its hole.
This week we will try to end that critter's run of good luck.
Pub Date: 6/08/97