If there is one game species in Pennsylvania that farmers want eliminated most, it is probably the woodchuck. Gaining permission to pursue these pesky critters with light powered .22 or .17 rifles, shotguns, or even archery tackle, is often not very difficult. They provide a lot of fun, especially for the spot and stalk hunter looking to get up close and personal.
Though woodchucks are extremely versatile in the places they call home, burrows are generally located in close proximity to agricultural vegetation. By simply walking field edges, hunters can often locate dirt mounds revealing entry holes a few feet inside the field's border cover.
Thick fencerows and brushy wood-lines provide the perfect concealment for escape tunnels to be dug just a short distance from their food sources. In areas with a high concentration of chucks, scouting observations can sometimes even reveal large semi-circles of sheared off crops- an obvious indicator of a nearby burrow. Hunters should consider these locations prime target areas during a hunt.
Woodchucks are most active prior to 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Though some will feed during mid-day, they seem to prefer to dine when temperatures are cooler and the sun isn't baking everything to a crisp. Post-rain periods are also preferred since chucks get a large portion of their water intake through residual plant moisture.
Chucks love clover, soybeans, alfalfa, and will even eat corn in its soft milky stages. Cover these areas early and late in the day, and don't be surprised to occasionally find a treed woodchuck nibbling on succulent leaves from low-hanging branches. They will do almost anything for a satisfying meal.
Woodchucks have excellent vision, so concealment is a must. Obviously, law requires a solid blaze orange hat, but hunters should also wear camouflaged clothing to match the surrounding vegetation. This could sometimes call for a solid green shirt, or even khaki pants when hunting recently plowed fields. Try your best to blend in.
Upon spotting a feeding chuck, try to use the lay of the land to create a natural barrier between yourself and your target. This could mean tightly hugging the field edge, or even slipping quietly into the cover and approaching the field from a different angle.
When feeding, woodchucks tend to lift their heads to survey for potential threats every couple of seconds. Try to cover as much ground as possible when their heads are in the salad bowl, then freeze each time they look up. If they don't suspect anything, they will go right back to feeding and you can close in for an easy shot.
If a chuck notices your approach and starts hightailing it for cover, he may give you an opportunity before dropping into his den. For some reason, they tend to pause for one final look before going down their holes. If you are within range, prepare yourself for a quick shot, and make it count.
If he pulls the old shoots-and-ladders trick, sliding right down his escape tunnel, get close to that hole as quickly as possible and stay ready. Most will poke their heads back out to take a cautious peek within a few minutes.
A carefully placed headshot will provide a quick, clean kill. Otherwise, be patient. Many woodchucks re-emerge to feed again once they feel the threat of danger has passed. If you stay put, you just might be rewarded for your persistence.
Woodchuck hunting is a great way to stay sharp in the summertime. It provides a good challenge and helps landowners in the process. Always be aware of your shooting backdrop and hunt safely. Spot and stalk action can be quick and exciting, but safety should not be compromised for sport.