Robertson: Woodchuck hunting

Believe it or not, now's the time to get ready for deer hunting. The fields are cut and long range shooting is available for woodchuck hunting. To really become comfortable with your deer rifle shooting at 200 or more yards is a great way to build confidence and get to know just how flat your rifle really shoots. Nothing accomplishes this as well as woodchuck hunting. Be sure and check politely with the farms your hunting for permission though. You may make a new friend doing so and keep others land open to hunting.

 

The late afternoon sun dropped lower in the brassy colored sky, the sun-baked hay field taking on a softer and more golden hue than the previous dried out, pale straw color it possessed during the heat of the day. We were watching a large hayfield in the hopes of catching a woodchuck or two venturing out of their holes to feed in the cut fields. It had been a week or two since haying and some new tender grass was coming up. We had positioned ourselves under a big shady tree, just inside the wood line. Once a woodchuck has been shot at he becomes a very cagey animal and hunters positioned in plain sight will keep the smarter chucks under cover.

This day we didn’t have the traditional woodchuck calibers with us, but our deer rifles. One way to get truly acquainted with your rifle is to shoot it at distance and if you can hit or come very close to a woodchuck at 200 to 400 yards, any deer you see in the fall will be at a serious disadvantage.

The sun was almost completely behind the hill when a thin, dark line appeared in the grass just out from an old fence line. It hadn’t been there before and as we watched, it moved ahead a few inches and raised its head.

No doubt now, it was a woodchuck, but he was out there a ways. A quick look through the rangefinder put the distance at 329 yards. Matt was shooting his 7MM Remington Magnum with 160 grain bullets at about 3,000 feet per second with a 3x9 power scope. Hardly the perfect woodchuck set up with that heavy bullet and recoil, but we were out to improve our deer hunting skills, not necessarily hit a bunch of woodchucks.

“How high do think I should hold?” Matt asked, settling in behind the rifle and turning his scope up to 9 power.

“If you are sighted in at 200 yards, I believe your bullet drops about eight or nine inches at 300.” I said.

Matt peered through his scope and frowned. “I can hardly see him in the grass and the crosshairs pretty well cover him up. Whistle or something and get him to stand.”

Some very loud whistles finally got the chuck to raise his head, but instead of standing up he turned around, starting back to the fence row, suspicious of the commotion. It was time to shoot before he completely vanished.

Matt slipped off the safety, steadied his rifle on the bipod and held about 8-9 inches over the woodchucks back, let out half a breath and squeezed. The big magnum went off with a roar, the muzzle blast flattening the short grass and raising a respectable dust cloud in front of us.

Watching through the scope I saw the woodchucks head and back vanish, the ground immediately behind him exploding upwards.

“Good grief!” I exclaimed; “You hit him. What a shot!”

“You’re kidding!” He said a big grin on his face. “I couldn’t see him clearly at all, just held high and hoped!”

When we walked over just before dark, we found he had indeed drilled the woodchuck dead center; the critter hadn’t moved an inch.

Matt later hunted out west for mule deer and elk, where his woodchuck hunting experiences had him well prepared and confident when it came to taking longer shots at 300 or 400 yards. After all, even a small deer looks huge compared to a woodchuck across a canyon!

When preparing to hunt woodchucks, there are a great many calibers specifically designed to do so. The .17 Remington, the impressive .204 Ruger, the .222, .223, 22/250, .243 and other high velocity, flat shooting calibers. If you don’t wish to buy a rifle specifically to hunt woodchucks there are light weight bullets available for varmint shooting for the almost every deer round up to 30 caliber.

If you are using your deer rifle to hunt woodchucks in order to be a better big game hunter you really don’t require a lot of specialized equipment. A quality scope (A 3x9 power is probably the lowest power you can get by with) is a big help, but a 4x12 is better and a good deer hunting/woodchuck sniping compromise. Zero your rifle in at 200 yards; take your range finder, a bipod or other rifle rest and head to the hayfields. You are sure to learn a lot in just a few hunts. Oh, be sure and get permission from the farmers before you hunt their fields.

If you are going to specialize in the sport, get a small caliber, high velocity rifle, I prefer the tried and true 22/250 or the new sizzling .204, but there are many other calibers you may prefer. I myself favor a high powered scope with turret adjustments specific to your caliber. If the wood chuck is at 350 yards, set the dial to 350, dope the wind and squeeze the trigger.

After you hunt woodchucks for a while you’ll gain an appreciation for your rifle and its ability to shrink those fields down to size. What once looked like an impossible shot, may in fact, with practice, become quite routine.

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