November 22, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
47°F
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The August Woodchuck

Woodchuck-sharpaMid August is here. It’s a time when the air cools just a little, and like bucks in the season our minds turn toward other things. No, not that, towards hunting, it’s almost hunting season!

They’ve set it back a few days, but squirrel season used to open in late August, and I never miss an opening day, especially when squirrel was the only open show. There was this one mossy little valley where I used to go for several types of game, and I would always see the wrong quarry for the season. When it was deer season, I’d see squirrels. When it was squirrel season, I’d see turkey. When it was turkey season, you get the idea.

I set up against a tree in the mid-afternoon facing west in the valley. Most of the year it was too wet to sit on the ground here, but in late August it was as hard and dry as Granny’s biscuits. I put my gaze up to the sun not to catch the rays but to catch the shadows. When there are still leaves on the trees at this time of year, it’s hard to see a bushy-tail as he scampers in the foliage, but you can make it easier by making him a silhouette against the sun. It made more sense for me to be carrying a shotgun as I’d be shooting at an area in the leaves, but Dad had just given me this really nice Ruger 10/22 rifle with a 9 power scope and I hadn’t been able to use so far, and it needed to be inaugurated in this squirrel season!

woodchuck-1200-f-11--5aOnce again the peaceful and relaxed wonder of hunting came over me as I sat in the windless woods, my head tilted up and back as I leaned against that sycamore tree. It’s the exact spot where we’d gone fall turkey hunting a year ago, and it’s funny how the familiarity of a single tree in the woods can give you a feeling of home. Quiet, peaceful, happy, hardly a leaf blowing in the occasional warm breeze when some impulse beneath my slowly drooping eyelids shook me into a near panic screaming, “Squirrel!!!” inside my head.

It was a bushy-tail alright, probably fifty yards away on the end of an oak tree, leaping carelessly from branch to branch. A young one, without a care or a caution in the world making himself vulnerable to red-tailed hawks and squirrel hunters, as they fortunately so often do. I slowly brought the Ruger’s scope up to my eye. It would be a shot that required a little skill from the “sitting-on-my-keister” position, aiming up through a grove of maple saplings, so I tried to scoot quietly around behind the big tree to where I could get a supported, more steady shot.

A moment later, my muzzle slowly peeking around the other side of the tree like some assassin in the movies, I braced myself between my knee and the trunk. Steady now, I searched left to right and up and down looking through my scope where I had last seen the squirrel. Suddenly, the view over my cross hairs went a furry, blurry brown. It stood to reason that I had found him, but I had the magnification of the scope zoomed in too high to where I was getting a study of the gnats in his belly fur. I held my position steady, raising just my right hand to dial back the magnification ring, and found the view had become much clearer, but not much farther out. Panning left, I could make out a little claw, but this was still too close. Slowly I broke position, trying to figure out what was going wrong.

Wood-Chuck-aDid you ever wonder why they call a marmot a woodchuck? The nick-name of “whistle-pig” made sense; it was their defense call. And the name “ground hog” was entire apropos as all they seem to do is graze on clover and get fat. But despite the children’s rhyme, I had never actually seen a woodchuck chuck wood, spenting more time than most observing them. It turns out that the “wood” part of their name should maybe be “w-o-o-d-s” because they are actually very adept climbers.

There, about 20 feet away from me, propped in the crotch of a maple sapling, this lazy woodchuck had decided to take a nap in the shade and safety of the woods, rather than leaving himself exposed in the open field. He was just so close to me that he filled my scope and looked like a giant wall of squirrel fur.

I’m actually very fond of wood chuck as a meal. Mixed with potatoes and carrots, simmered in a pressure cooker it’s indiscernible from pot roast! Still, it wouldn’t have been the most sporting shot, and as I found myself laughing at the moment, I decided to put my rifle down, join the little varmint in a siesta, and wait for some actual squirrels!