Archive for the ‘Varmint Hunting’ Tag


Winter 0003

Recent responses to a varmint hunting article have caused some introspection as to why in this modern age we still hunt them.  Some sportsmen, and others, question the shooting of animals that we do not intend to eat.

Varmint hunting is more than just shooting animals.  Besides the fact that some, such as crow and woodchuck, are edible there are other reasons that varmint hunting is an important part of wildlife management.

The most common varmints hunted are the dog species, fox and coyote, and smaller mammals such as woodchucks and ground squirrels.  The raccoon, although usually considered a game species, also can be a serious problem predator.

It is a fallacy that wild populations if left alone will find their own balance.  The myth itself is based on the fact that such a balance was maintained prior to the appearance of man upon the scene.  Man has appeared on the scene and changed the environment in such a way as to drive out the larger predators that kept varmints in check.

With the destruction of wild habitat, those animals left are crowded into ever decreasing areas.  In turn more competition for the remaining food supply increases.  The varmints lower on the food chain are forced to starve off or move into areas where they come into conflict with the human population.  This creates problems for mankind.

Starvation is nature’s way to control wildlife populations but it is a cruel and painful way to die.  If government and landowners have to move into control of these populations, the usual method selected is poisoning for it is cheap and effective.  Poisons provide a usual slow and painful death.

So what is the alternative?

Regulated hunting with seasons and bag limits provide a method of controlling the numbers of animals removed from the wild and provide a quick humane dispatching of the animal.  Hunter license fees provide necessary dollars needed for studies of management needs and accomplishment.  Non-hunting public never thinks of this problem.  Only hunters provide those funds not the non-hunting public.

On a more personal level, varmint hunting is an outdoor recreation which is usually available in the periods when ordinary sport and meat hunting is not available.  It provides the family with a chance to experience the outdoors and combine hunting with other outdoor recreational experience such as camping, fishing, hiking, etc.

It also provides a method of controlling damage to crops, pets and livestock.


Woodchuck 0003

The dark fur ball shuffles along with the characteristic waddle of all rodents.  He appears dark in the grey of pre‑dawn.  Holding his draw the archer must be sure of the shot.  The “thunk” of the string release is a warning too late for the woodchuck.

There are no exact figures as to what the seasonal harvest is in number of animals taken by hunters.  Most of the woodchucks fall to hunters with firearms.  Each year some fall to hunting archers in search of summer hunting warm up for the fall deer season.

An adult woodchuck will be 20 to 25 inches in length from the tip of his nose to the end of his short bushy tail.  In the early part of the year, they will weigh 6 or 7 pounds.  By the end of hunting season, in the fall, they could weigh twice that much, as they gain weight to make it through the hibernation period.

Woodchucks vary in color from yellowish brown to a dark reddish brown.  Their coat has a grizzled effect due to the lighter tips of the hair.

They have a stout body with a broad flat head and eyes located near the top. The location of the eyes enables the animal to look out of his burrow for danger without exposing much of his body.  It is a defense frustrating to hunters.

Woodchucks are one of the few game animals pursued during the summer.

Many of the skills and much of the tackle, necessary to take whistle pigs are the ones required for hunting deer.  To begin, one needs a bow of hunting weight (40 pounds or greater pull), a full camouflage suit with facemask or camo make‑up, and hunting arrows with broadheads.  The broadheads must be razor sharp.

One must be able to stalk without being seen by the quarry and must be able to shoot accurately at a spot on an animal.  Many beginning bowhunters make the mistake of shooting at the whole animal and not a spot on the animal.  If one can shoot at the kill zone on a woodchuck, then it is even easier to find the kill zone on the much larger deer.

With the aid of binoculars, one can spot a chuck in a field and then plan a stalk.  If a field does not have nay sign of woodchuck activity through binoculars, then there is little sense in wandering all over it.  One can just go on to another area in search of the quarry.

Woodchucks are particularly wary animals.  The bow is a silent weapon but if you miss the woodchuck, he is the one that is gone.  Usually he will stay there for a rather long time.

However, if one uses a turkey call softly, they will come back up to see what is happening.  Often they will come completely out of the den.  No one seems to know why this technique works.

If woodchucks are in an area, it is usually not difficult to find their dens.  They make a den on a hillside with good drainage.  The mouth of the den is generally about a foot in diameter and is in the root system of a large tree or under a rock.  That makes it more difficult for a predator to dig into the burrow.  The mouth of the burrow will face the rising sun as if to catch the warming morning rays.

Living alone, woodchucks seldom stray more than 100 feet from the mouth of the den except during the breeding season.  By late summer, their trails to the den site are rather pronounced.  They use then to go to and from feeding areas in the early morning and late afternoon.  During the hot parts of the day, they stay near the den entrance.  Nevertheless, generally during the day, they tend to stay in the cool protection of the den.  The exception to this practice seems to be just after a rain or on a cloudy day. Then they will come out at almost any time.

Being creatures of the edges, woodchucks often locate their dens in hedgerows with trees or on the edge of a woodlot that is next to a meadow or grain field.  They feed on such plant life as alfalfa, clover, and soybeans.   Their favorite foods are dandelion and plantain.  The woodchuck’s fondness for grain crops helps the hunter find landowners willing to allow hunting.  A woodchuck will sit in a field and shear off young grain plants, and sitting upright, eat them while watching for danger.  When possible they prefer to feed uphill form their den entrance so that they can run downhill to the den for safety.

The whistle pig defense mechanisms that lead to flight are very keen.  That makes him an interesting and challenging quarry for the bowhunter.

OFF SEASON HUNTING   Leave a comment

It is summer and you put away the hunting gear until fall.  NOT!  For the dyed in the wool hunter, the season is never over.  Just the quarry changes from season to season. 

Flexible hunters with a good imagination can always find another quarry to pursue.  They just have to keep an open mind.  True, hunting rats or pigeons is not as glamorous as hunting that big whitetail.  However, it can be equally as challenging and helps to hone skills that might come in handy next fall. 

One must also remember that dispatching a woodchuck with a clean, humane shot still is vital to the hunting experience as would be a trophy whitetail deer.  It is a self-imposed moral responsibility to maintain the same high standard of ethics all year round. 

When one speaks of varmint hunting, the mind conjures up a view of a coyote coming to a call.  Nevertheless, there are other varmints out there to hunt as well.  Do not forget the pigeons, rats, gophers, and woodchucks that are available.  Coyotes are in this same group.  Except for the woodchuck, up can hunt the year around.  Some states do have a specific, if not generous, season for woodchuck hunting.  Usually it does not conflict with other hunting seasons. 

Among the game birds that are huntable in what is traditionally the off-season, is the turkey.  With both a spring and fall season, this bird provides many opportunities to polish those hunting skills and a chance to be in the woods. 

For the bowhunter, there is also bowfishing for rough fish and frogs.  Frogs have a specific season in most states but the rough fish are a year round target.  The extra tackle for bowfishing can be purchased at a local archery pro shop or by mail order.  The cost is minimal and the equipment provides years of enjoyment. 

Coyotes are probably one of the most challenging of the off-season quarry.  They are available in good numbers the entire year.  The sundog requires skill in hunting, scouting and calling.  It is a chance to try out that new camo pattern and perhaps a new deer rifle or bow.  The small size of this canine makes proper shot placement a must. 

Pigeon shooting helps to control their numbers and is a good warm up for pheasant, partridge, dove and quail season.  Their darting flight presents and interesting challenge to even the most skilled of shooters.  Pigeons are available to the hunter all year around.  They make an interesting fill in for the more popular game birds. 

As if there are not enough game animals available, one can also go to a shooting preserve to pursue such game animals as wild boar.  This European immigrant to the country is available in a number of locations across the country.  It is one of the most popular big game animals hunted by bowhunters.  If the preserve is large enough, a very challenging hunt is available for a minimal cost.  In most states, feral swine are not a game animal with a specific hunting season.  They are a nuisance animal and are hunted all year. 

During the summer months, the “grass rat” is king.  In addition to the woodchuck, other rodents in this category include Norway rat, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, and gophers.  All of these rodents present difficult and challenging targets.  Hunting them benefits landowners, upon whose grain crops, they feed. 

Only your imagination limits your off-season hunting opportunities.  For the truly dedicated hunter, off-season hunting is fun and worthwhile in itself.  Additionally it gets one away from the lawnmower or painting the family home.


When we think of Africa, it is the big game animals that come to mind.  But there are a number of small game animals, mostly varmints, which present challenging hunting. 

On the last day of my first African safari, I shot a great bushbuck in a cedar choked canyon.  While waiting for the tracker to get the truck down to us, the subject of small game hunting came up.   Africa has a number of small cats, dogs and other varmints. 

Edward Wilson’s (my PH on this hunt) cell phone went off.  It was a local predator hunter calling to see if Edward had a hunter interested in a nice caracal that his dogs were pursuing right now. 

 Taking a caracal was not on my wish list but the idea was intriguing.  My safari was almost over and I had a bum knee that I thought might make keeping up with the dogs impossible.  I was willing to give it a try. 

Earlier in the week we had met a jackal hunter who used red lights and a rifle equipped with a silencer to take his quarry.  These hunters are important to the ranchers of this area.  They are an effective control on an out-of-control jackal population. 

Jackals, caracals and other small predators take a heavy tool on the sheep, goats and cattle of the area.  Their predation of the young and new born is legendary.  They do not return to a kill for a second meal and thus must make a kill every day.  Since wild game ranching involves the raising of young antelope, the jackals are also a problem for those ranches.

 The most popular way to hunt small predators is with hounds.  The large packs of dogs consist of a variety of pure breeds and mixed breeds.  Most popular are the English foxhounds and the American Walker.  Greyhounds are used for speed and the little Jack Russell terriers for tracking and to get into tight places.  Just about any kind of dog will be used if it will run with a pack.

 Driving toward the hunt, Edward explained the dogs were in pursuit of the caracal that had been evading them for an hour.  It seems the dogs jumped the cat while jackal hunting.  It had been seen several times but managed to out run the dogs.  If we were to get a shot at the cat, it would be with a shotgun due to the need for a quick kill in the heavy cedar choked canyons of the area. 

As Edward drove, I poked through the vehicle in search of two shotgun shells he believed were somewhere under the seats.  I found one shell and we agreed that would have to make due. 

Turning on to a road that crossed a mountain ridge over looking Grahamstown we approached the pineapple ranch where the dogs were last seen.  The rancher stopped us to say that the cat had moved onto his neighbor’s ranch.  He jumped in the truck and we were off again. 

A brief stop at the ranch house to get hunting permission and then we drove off past wagons of freshly picked pineapples.  The ranch road was better than many we had been on this week.  In the distance we could hear the baying of the dogs.  After a wrong turn and a little back tracking we arrived near where the hounds appeared to have the cat treed.

 A houndsman came out of the brush to guide us to the tree where the cat was hissing and growling at his pursuers.  He handed me a double-barrel shotgun that had seen better days.  The action was loose and I was not sure it was safe to shoot.  Beggars can not be choosers.  I chambered my one shell and followed the others into the brush. 

The damp ground was slippery clay and intertwined tree limbs made passage a bit difficult.  About 20 yards into the brush Edward signaled me to be very quiet and to follow him.  He pointed into the tree top at a patch of chestnut fur.  “That’s his chest,” said Edward “Aim for it.”

 The shotgun roared and belched smoke that obscured my vision of the cat.  Edward shouted that the gun had done the job.  I had gotten my caracal.  It was then I saw the cat spin out of the tree and hit the ground.  A mad scramble of man and dogs followed.  Each was trying to get to the cat first.  Man won! 

The caracal turned out to be a rather large one and a fine trophy.  Luck and my knee had been with me and I had an excellent trophy.

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