I used to think that I had a favorite time of year, fall definitely is at the top of that list. And yet I still find myself thinking “this is my favorite time of year” during almost every conceivable part of our annual orbit.
Season change is in the air again, the cold of winter slowly yields its grasp on the mountains and valleys.The sun reaches further and further into the deep wooded canyons where I love to spend these spring weekends. Many people pass by these places, completely unaware of the fun and challenging hunting opportunity that lies within. I myself did the same for a long time, until one day a flash of movement revealed it to me.
It was many years ago now, but during a hike through the high rockies, I caught a glimpse of an animal I was unfamiliar with. The Yellow Bellied Marmot ,also known as a woodchuck,rockchuck, groundhog, or whistle pig, it is basically a giant squirrel. I’ve been known to put the hurt on squirrels, sod poodles, potguts, and any other variation of rodents and other little critters. You might say Im a bit of a varmint enthusiast. So when I first laid eyes on a Marmot, it was like the surfacing blow-hole of the mighty white whale.
Much time would pass before I became more familiar with these hansome and playfull little rodents. But I came to know their habitat, and where to look for them. And as fast as you can whistle, I was hooked on what has lovingly come to be known as Chuckin’.
Every spring since that first chuck took a dirt nap in the cool shade at 9000 feet, we go back into the high country looking for beautiful brown pelts. That first chuck, got named Rusty, due to the color of his coat.
This spring, we again make our preparations to go after Rusty’s kin. I say preparations because unlike the lesser squirrel species, the marmot is a keen eyed and wary little animal. Part of the reason I went so long without seeing them was because they are so easily hidden in the landscape where they live. And they are also quick to hide as well. One of my favorite reasons to hunt these cunning little creatures, is because they are the ideal practice for big game hunting. They live in the same canyons and hills where we hunt deer and elk, they are just as hard to sneak up on, and a good sized marmot is about the same size as a deer’s vital zone.
The Yellow Bellied Marmot is as tough as the country they live in, even though they usually weigh in at under ten pounds, a poor shot from even a deer sized caliber might not shut Rusty down. I have seen it many times, where a massive imapact from something like a 308 Winchester didn’t stop a chuck from getting back to his burrow before dying. One year, I specifically remember we hit a chuck off of a rock where we frequently hunted. He was hit, but he disappeared in the rocks leaving one of his legs behind. He managed to get down a burrow before we could finish him (something I dont enjoy). Well, the following year, we made it back to that same rock. By happenstance, it was the first trip of that spring, and my good friend was on deck when that first chuck was spotted from nearly three hundred yards away. He wasted no time getting a 140 grain Barnes Match Burner right between his ears. About a half hour later, we hiked up onto the rock where fresh blood still ran in a glistening puddle. It turns out that ol’ stumpy had survived his last encounter with our rifles, his leg had healed leaving a bald little knee. Had I known stumpy was such a survivor, I would have given him a pass.
These rugged and towering Rocky Mountains offer some beautiful vistas, and adding this challenging little hunt into such a beautiful landscape is the highlight of my spring. Long hikes through beautiful canyons, crossing noisy little creeks, sharing a sack lunch on soft green grass, its definitively my idea of a good time.
With small family groups scattered across the peaks of our mountains, it wouldn’t be hard to exterminate the little guys. So we try not to wear out any particular place, never more than one per den. Not only does this keep the clans going, but it also gives us more country to hunt and survey.
Some of my best stalks have been on marmots. Crawling through waist deep grass, hiding behind rocks and trees, waiting for the perfect moment when Rusty either has his back turned, or perhaps wrestling with one of his burrow-mates. In the early spring, Ive even found myself on the edge of a massive snow cornice, freezing in my t-shirt and shorts, but with a perfect rest to shoot my distant prey.
The day that junior shot his very first chuck, we had snuck into a high alpine bowl, with a glacial pond in the middle. There we positioned ourselves on a high point with a perfect view of the many rock formations situated around us. Junior had just setup his little Crickett EX17HMR rifle looking at a rockpile with known inhabitants. But as we waited for one to appear, we heard a noise from just a few yards in front of us. As luck would have it, two young marmots popped up on a rock barely fifteen feet away from us. Whispering under our breath, junior slowly brought his rifle onto the target, and thumped one of the two.
Whether it is silently stalking through thorny shrubs, climbing through waist deep snow, or hanging precariously over a stone precipice, there is always a great challenge and fun to be had in the pursuit of these cunning little animals.
Sharpening your stalking and shooting skills, enjoying the beauty of alpine forests, and just the camraderie of the hunt with friends will make chucking another hunting delight to add to your spring.