September 23, 2014

PLACES I’VE PLAYED: Woodchoppers hunting trip

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How much wood

Would a woodchuck chuck

If a woodchuck

Could chuck wood? 

 

Every 10-year-old boy in Lamoille county knew the answer to that question: He would chuck as much as a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

As a 10 year old, I knew the opening dates of trout season, squirrel and partridge season, and of course deer season. I also knew the legal limits in each category and could tell when daylight began and dusk ended. But the best hunting season for me and my buddies was spring. It was Woodchuck Season!

You couldn’t find woodchuck season in the Vermont hunters guide at the time, but we kids knew when it began—as soon as the snow was gone and the woodchucks poked their heads out of their burrows to smell the first green clover.

We felt woodchuck hunting was our contribution to safety for farm animals. Every summer some farmer’s horse stepped in a woodchuck hole and broke its leg. Thus, the more woodchucks we eliminated, the safer Dad’s horses would be. At least that’s the way I saw it.

My companion hunters and I always followed our plan: first, we would get our 22 single-shot rifles and clean them. Then we would practice to make sure they were sighted in properly. Next we would crawl on our bellies over hills and meadows looking for those telltale mounds of fresh dirt. When we found one, we would study it to learn when the woodchucks came out and how they wandered around their burrow. It was big game hunting at its best.

We learned that woodchucks have an entrance and an exit for every burrow and that they react differently around each opening. After we gathered our information we made our move.

To add a little competition to our hunt we tried to shoot them from as far away a possible. This gave a little advantage to the woodchucks. My record was 75 yards. Not too bad for an open buckhorn sight.

One day I read in a book that woodchucks had rather poor eyesight; they could pick up movements but had difficulty distinguishing forms. This made it difficult for them to readily detect danger.

I devised a scheme: I found an old bed sheet and cut eye and armholes in it. I then located a burrow on a side hill that was about 100 yards away. I put on my chuck-sheet and stood still. I watched the woodchuck look at me and then put his head down and begin eating. Every time he looked down, I moved up a couple of steps and stopped. This continued until I was 35 feet away.

It was fascinating to stand that close to a woodchuck and watch his activities. Finally, I decided to take aim. It was then I realized in the excitement of my new hunting plan I had forgotten to bring my rifle.

SCORE: Woodchuck 1; Bill 0.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]

 
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