For many archers summer time means 3D shoots and target practice.The thrill of an actual hunt has to wait till fall. Or so you thought!
( Photo of Christine Ferland aka the hot roller huntress)
Thanks to the good Lord above archery season in the northeast is right around the corner. We wait all year for the season to start and then it's over before you know it. Well here is some good news to
alleviate some of the monotonous waiting. Bow hunting for Woodchucks is a
blast and a great way to keep your skills sharp. Whistle pigs have
fantastic eyesight and they are always on alert. They like to hang in
short grass which makes stalking them very difﬁcult and a great challenge.
When most archers practice shooting they work on their equipment,yardage estimation, and overall form. It is very difﬁcult to simulate the primal feeling of the hunt and how your nerves and mind respond at the moment of truth. If you stick a woodchuck it's not like shooting a deer but some of the skills you need to be successful do transfer over nicely. This is especially true for young or new hunters. They will tap into a primal part of the brain when they become immersed in the hunt even on a woodchuck.
My wife Christine is relatively new to bowhunting and I have been training her this summer getting ready for Deer season. She completed her Bowhunter education requirements for NY and is legal to hunt. That does not mean by any stretch that your ready to hunt. The instructors do a fantastic job introducing people to the sport and driving home the safety aspect. But they can't possibly teach the hunting skills you need in a 10 hr class to effectively harvest animals in a consistent manner without a lot of additional help. It takes practice and experience to get those skills.
We ﬁrst started her out shooting 10 yards at the blank side of my block target. I tuned her bow and set her pins. We will ﬁne tune the sight as she goes along. For her ﬁrst couple of shooting sessions ( 30 arrows or so) I really just want her to get comfortable with nocking an arrow, drawing the bow smoothly, anchor consistently, and obtaining here peep and site picture quickly and comfortably. Also concentrating on form when shooting is more important then where your hitting in the beginning. Grouping to me is important because it means you are achieving the same result consistently. Once you can group arrows tight it is easy to move you sight to get on the bulls-eye. The pre-shot steps need to be the same each time and try to use the KISS technique (keep it simple stupid). The less steps the better. What you are doing is teaching muscle memory in this process. What your planning on is when it's time to take a shot at an animal and that primal brain takes over your muscles know what to do and you don't have to think. The shot is natural motion.
Once consistency and accuracy is achieved on ﬂat ground I will work on different stances, angles, kneeling and sitting in a chair. All things you may have to do in a hunting scenario. I also like to have her run a couple of wind sprints then pick up the bow and shot. This simulates a good adrenaline dump so you are breathing hard at the moment of truth. If you slow things down in your mind then muscle memory will take over. This is why all professional athletes practice. I did not address release style before but there are several to choose from. I feel for the ﬁrst year getting use to hunting what ever the shooter is comfortable with will work best. Yes back tension is great but if someone is not comfortable with that surprise feeling when it goes off it won't work. A trigger release usually works very nicely for most and as long as they are not punching the trigger they should achieve good results. If they do punch the trigger try a T-handle with a thumb button that will probably cure it.
Now that we have all training things in place we set her pins for 20 and 30yards. Which with Christine's rig is the max yardage I feel is ethical to shoot at an animal. We will target practice further than that just to make her feel that the 30 yard shot is a slam dunk. Still knowing that any animal further than that is off limits.
We are fortunate to have a backyard where we can shoot in. There is a chicken coop, a couple gardens, and a pasture out back. That means we have plenty of woodchuck opportunities. If you have never tried stalking a whistle pig give it a shot, you will be humbled pretty quickly I promise. They have great eyes and are in a hyper state of observation. I equate it to a big old doe who saw you move and is now playing the head up and down fake out game trying to catch you moving again before she blows out. When they are feeding you can move but when their head is up you better be still. You don't have to play the wind like a deer but to add the realism try to keep it into your face as you would stalking any big game. For the shot you are probably gonna be kneeling, it's very hard to totally stand up on one without getting busted.Also you have a relatively small target. On a deer you have about a 12 in kill zone which is slightly smaller then a whole woodchuck. You want to try for the same shot you will take on a deer right in the pocket behind the shoulder. The one difference is when they stand up high center mass is the ticket there. As a side note and one of my pet peeves outdoor TV biggest blunders done to the hunting public in my opinion. You always see when a deer is walking through the camera frame the hunter will grunt to stop the deer where they want before they shoot. Yes, I agree it does work sometimes but here is the problem. You are putting a deer on alert. When they hear your bow go off they drop automatically, contrary to popular belief they are not ducking the arrow. They squat to load up their legs to be able to bound of further and faster. If they are not alert you have a better chance of hitting where you aim and not hoping they move into your arrow or back into the shot. Yes, that grunt move looks great on ﬁlm but don't do it. Eventually it will cost you someday and a sleepless night worrying about a wounded deer is not much fun.
So why did I bring that up because when it comes to woodchucks you can whistle at them and they will stand up sometimes. If you have had a really good stalk and you get inside 20 yards I would be hesitant to do it because they usually will just bolt. Kind of like if someone yells at you from far away you will just look around to identify the threat. If someone comes up behind you and yells you'll about jump out of your skin looking around just reaction. So yes it looks cool on ﬁlm and it gives you a bigger target but let's try to keep them on all fours simulating deer.
Christine's ﬁrst opportunity to shot at a groundhog was amazing for me. I went on the back deck and looked out on the lawn and there was a garden bear feeding in the open. I came in the house and said "honey where are you"? She had just gotten out of the shower and was doing her hair. I said" do you want to try and shoot a wood chuck." Now I have hunted for almost forty years and have heard a lot of things and stories around the campﬁre for sure but I had never heard this response to the question of do you want to shot something . She said, "yes, but let me ﬁnish putting in my curlers". Ok, new one on me and a pretty good laugh I must admit.
So what do you do with a ground hog once you harvest it. Some folks like to skin and take out the sweat glans under the arms and legs and bake them. You can cook them several different ways. All they eat is grass and plants so the meat does taste good. That said, eating them is a personal choice and you have to decide that for yourself.
If you don't have an area outback you can hunt there is still hope. Most farmers are pretty good about granting permission for varmint hunting especially if you are only bow hunting. They feel it is a limited range weapon so their animals and barns are safe. Keep in mind if you respect the land and do a good job removing a bunch for them it may lead to other species being allowed. They hate the woodchucks because they dig up hayﬁelds and make the mowers hit rocks and dirt costing money for repairs and down time. They also dig holes where livestock graze and the cows can fall in the holes and brake legs.
That about sums up a great way to keep your skills sharp during the off season if targets get boring or if someone is just getting started hunting. Woodchucks are a great trainer and it's much easier to accept getting busted by a woodchuck then loosing the buck of a lifetime due to lack of experience in an actual hunting situation. Good luck and have fun.
I am a hunter.
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Big Woods Bucks