Varmints Provide Springtime Practice for Bowhunters
By Gary Lewis
A rockchuck sunned himself on a boulder, two hundred yards away. With a strong wind blowing from the south, it would have been a difficult shot with a centerfire rifle. The rimfire .22 I usually used was locked away at home. I would have to get within twenty yards to make a good shot with the bow I carried.
As I watched, the 'chuck fed out into the tall grass and then returned to his den. I had to act quickly before he reemerged. Taking three arrows from the quiver, I left the binoculars on the fence post and crawled along the fence line. There were three mounds between the 'chuck's den and where I was. Any one of these rock piles could contain a 'chuck. If I wasn't careful I would spook one of them without knowing it, thereby alerting the one I was after.
Pushing my recurve bow under the fence in front of me, I slid under, and, gathering my gear in my left hand, slipped out into the field. There were sixty yards to cross without cover. With my left hand holding bow and arrows, my right helped me keep contact with the ground as I crawled across the open space. A head poked above the rocks immediately in front of me and I froze as a 'chuck looked around and ducked his head again without seeing me. So far, so good.
I slipped around the high side of the rock pile and moved at a low walk up to the next one. Thirty yards to go and then I'd be set up where I wanted to be. I looked around to make sure I wouldn't spook one unawares and set off again, coming to rest behind a point of rocks twenty yards from where I had last seen the rockchuck.
Nocking an arrow to the string, I waited. As sure as the green grass grows every spring in this horse pasture, that old rockchuck would have to come out of his hole again to eat it.
The wind had died and I waited as the afternoon sun reminded me of the canteen I'd left back at the fence line. Minutes dragged by and I thought about the many things that 'chuck could have done since I'd last seen him. He might have exited through another opening, could be grazing on the other side of the rock pile. He might even be sleeping off a big meal and I might be waiting here for hours.
He appeared silently on his rocky ledge, first checking the air for danger. Head and shoulders now in view, I drew my arrow back, anchored and released. The arrow flashed away, rose above my line of sight and streaked over the 'chuck's head, missing by a half inch. Mr. Chuck ducked back inside and stayed there.
They dig holes in gardens, weaken dams, tunnel hay fields and lay waste to pasture land. Any succulent new growth is a potential meal. Rockchucks are a nuisance to ranchers and farmers. Hunters, on the other hand, are quite pleased to see them when they appear at the first hint of warm spring weather.
Rockchucks, while they like to graze in the open, prefer borders for their dens. Fence lines or pasture boundaries offer the raised mounds of earth that 'chucks like for cover and close proximity to forage. They will build several entrances to their burrows. Because they can weigh up to sixteen pounds these entrances can be large. Big enough that a galloping horse can put a foot down one and break a leg.
Hunters help control rockchuck populations by removing excess numbers of these animals. Landowners benefit by the reduction of damage to pastures, irrigation ditches, lawns and ornamental shrubs.
These critters can be good practice for tuning up hunting skills. Bowhunters have a real opportunity to gain experience. Rockchucks that have been shot at are as skittish as bigger game. Stalking a 'chuck and making a good shot with an arrow is good practice for archery season.
Binoculars are essential for long-range spotting without alarming them. Getting within bow range is the hard part. As with larger animals, check the wind before beginning your stalk. Camouflage clothing will help you blend into your environment while you wait for the shot.
Gain permission first before hunting on private property. Once you're there, be considerate. You are only there as long as the landowners are happy to have you. Leave all gates the way you find them and confine your driving to established roads. If you find someone else's litter, pack it out. Permission granted once is not a lifetime pass. Ask again every time you return. And remember to say thank you with a small gift or a brief note.