Woodchuck Control: My Years as a Bounty Hunter

Performing woodchuck control was a necessary but fun task for a young farm boy, but a lesson was learned from a manure wagon mishap.


| June 2015



Woodchuck

Whether they were called woodchucks, groundhogs or "whistle pigs," they were a nuisance.

Photo courtesy Farm Collector staff

The woodchucks were fat and saucy, and you would understand why if you had seen the devastation they wrought on our alfalfa fields and gardens. I called them woodchucks because that’s what Ernest Thompson Seton called them in his monumental book, Lives of Game Animals. Most folks I knew called them groundhogs; some even called them “whistle pigs.” Be that as it may, one thing everyone called them in unison was a “damned nuisance.” Dad said they just had to go. I volunteered for the job.

I had been a woodchuck hunter since I was 9 years old, when I got my first big chuck with a BB gun. No, I didn’t shoot him, although I tried. Darned BBs just bounced off his tough skin, and that was long before Kevlar. In an effort to get to his burrow, the woodchuck ran toward me. Convinced I was being charged, I grasped my trusty Daisy BB gun by the barrel and clobbered the chuck with the stock when he got within range. The barrel was badly bent and I never hit anything with that gun after that, but I certainly laid that woodchuck low.

Heart set on the Champion

Dad agreed with me that I was definitely under-gunned and, despite Mom’s apprehension, he decided it was time for me to get a real gun. Besides, I was 11 years old, almost grown up. Dad didn’t even have to ponder on what gun I should get, because I already had a blued-steel beauty picked out.

Whenever we drove into town to get groceries or feed for our farm animals, I always ended up on Water Street, looking in the huge plate glass windows of Widenor’s Hardware Store. Other kids may have plastered their noses against a candy store window; mine was bent against Widenor’s.

There, in all its glory, nestled in among boxes of shot shells, duck decoys, hunting vests and other sundry articles, was my heart’s desire, an Iver Johnson Champion single-barrel, full-choke, 12-gauge shotgun with an automatic ejector. No diamond nestled in velvet in the Tiffany’s window in New York City would ever have as much appeal.

The price tag, by today’s standards, was unbelievably low, but in those Depression days of 1937, $9.59 was a princely sum (about $157 today). Having saved gift money and money from doing my chores, I had almost $6. Dad offered to stake me for the rest, including a box of 25 low brass no. 6 shells that sold for an additional 61 cents. Dad offered a bounty of 10 cents per chuck. While he would have taken my word for the number I shot, I wanted to present him with the proof of my prowess, so I always carried my quarry back to the house.