Groundhog Envy

Where you live is without a doubt the biggest factor in what kind of game you hunt most often. After all, hunting far from home always involves the two things in shortest supply—time and money.

For Western varmint hunters like me, who have a good supply of ground squirrels (prairie dogs) available for shooting, groundhogs/woodchucks are an exotic species only slightly less desirable than an African lion. It all leads to what I call "groundhog envy."

In my opinion, spotting, stalking and making a successful long-distance shot on a wary groundhog is much more like hunting than shooting our local gophers is. In fact, around here no one uses the term, "gopher hunting," because it's just not accurate. We say, "gopher shooting." After all, the common technique is to grab a rifle and ammo, go sit on a hillside and shoot until the ammo runs out. Okay, I'll admit that has its upside as well because I enjoy chasing gophers, but calling it hunting is just too much of a stretch—it's shooting.

I've done just enough hunting of large Eastern woodchucks to know I like it and would love to do more, but the nearest shootable populations are a week's drive away. I didn't even shoot my first groundhog until 2 years ago when attendance at an Eastern-based conference gave me the idea that if I stayed a few extra days, I could maybe arrange a groundhog hunt.

In my case, I contacted a similarly minded Eastern hunter who was willing to help me out. He went so far as to drive me around to some good locations where he has permission to hunt, lend me a rifle and make sure I had the right small game license. I was more than willing to return the favor with a Western varmint hunt, but he wasn't particularly interested. So, I filled his gas tank and made sure he was able to take his wife out for a nice dinner. It was incredibly generous on his part, but then that's the hunting community.

Here's my point for all this rambling: Cross-country hunts for small game can be done relatively cheaply without the need for expensive tags and truckloads of gear. There's no need to be envious of varmint hunting opportunities on the other side of the continent as long as hunting communities such this one exist. Hit the forums and get to know people … you just might find someone who has varmints or predators to hunt and still believes in the barter system.

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