Most hunters, especially those who over the years have spent a lot of time in the outdoors, have seen one or two unusual things in the fields and woods.
It could be a brown/white deer, which is called a piebald, a buck with severely twisted and unusual antlers or any other outdoor mutant creature. For me, it was a woodchuck with horns, or what I call a “buck chuck.” How could I tell? Here’s the story.
This sighting occurred 40-plus years ago while woodchuck hunting the rolling fields and orchards of Columbia County on a hot, humid July afternoon. As I peeked over one of the grassy hills, there, with its back to me, was a woodchuck down on all fours, feeding on the grass. He was about 20 feet from the hole to his den on the edge of a woodlot and about 100 yards from me, a bit too far for my Savage .22-caliber rifle.
I slowly crawled through the grass, trying to cut the distance to him. I stopped at about 50 yards. You may have noticed that I referred to this woodchuck as him, that’s because when I whistled loudly, he stood up, and that is when I saw his horns. Surprised, I lifted my head off the stock of my rifle and peered over my scope to be sure of what I saw. That was a mistake because he covered the distance to his hole in seconds and disappeared.
This was a trophy worth waiting for, and I assumed it was like other chucks and would come out after a while, which he did. But all I could see were the white tips of the horns. They soon disappeared, and he never came out. With nothing to lose, I walked up to the hole and about six feet from it, I noticed a small sapling that looked like someone had taken a pocket knife and scraped it. It was where he had been rubbing his horns. I returned to this same field frequently for the rest of that summer and even a few times the next year, but I never saw him again.
Over the years, I’ve continued to hunt woodchucks, despite the fact that their population has significantly decreased, which I assumed is due to predators and new chemicals used by landowners who don’t want chuck holes in the fields. In spite of the decline of their numbers, I find time to hunt them every year, but I’ve had to change my methods.
Rather than sneaking and peeking the fields and wood edges, I ride the back roads of Saratoga and Washington counties, glassing the fields. I have a few fields that I have permission to chuck hunt, and when I spot one or more chucks on property where I don’t have permission to hunt, I knock on doors. Not so surprisingly, because of the destruction that these marmots can do to a field, I get the permission, and quite often, the landowners will tell me other locations of chucks on their property.
Now, every time I go chucking, I’m thinking about that buck chuck from years past. Obviously, that was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter, or so I thought for the past four decades. Early one morning last May, while glassing a field edge of a cattle farm I goose hunt in, I spotted a chuck feeding. I slowly glassed the area to locate his hole which I found about 40 yards from the edge of the woods. It was the perfect setup. I could sneak through the woods and get close enough for a good shot with my borrowed Savage .22-magnum and take my first woodchuck of the year.
Being familiar with those woods, I was able to follow a path that got me within about 75 yards from the field, then sneak up to the edge for the shot. Everything worked perfectly, and when I peeked out into the field, the chuck was still there and unaware of my presence. Slowly, I raised the Savage and peered through the scope when off to my right, I heard the loud shrill alarm whistle of another woodchuck. You can imagine how I felt when there, no more than 30 yards from me, was a buck chuck, staring right at me. I only saw him for a second before he disappeared, but he definitely had horns.
For days, I sat in those woods awaiting his return, but the only shots I got were with a trail camera I left near his hole. I did get to shoot that borrowed gun and took three chucks from that field this year. And by the way, Dave, I’ll bring your gun back shortly.
I actually have been hunting woodchucks on several occasions this year and the incident above was all true with the one exception, the woodchuck (buck chuck) with horns.
The idea for the buck chuck story came to me last April at the annual New York State 4H Shooting Sports Banquet & Auction in Lake George. One of the auction items was a buck chuck, the creation of a taxidermist who took a woodchuck and added a pair of antlers from a spike horn to its head. This buck chuck created some good bidding competition at the show, and I believe that the executives from the Savage Arms were the lucky winners. I thought then a little fiction would add a little humor to my annual woodchuck hunting article.
As for the photograph, I used an actual photo I had taken several years ago of a sitting woodchuck in the Saratoga Spa State Park and had my computer-savy 16-year-old grandson photoshop the horns into the photo.
Get out, find some woodchucks and make a landowner happy. It’s really a good way to keep your shooting eye sharp for the regular hunting season.