On The Ridge: Woodchucks, Darth Vader and the sounds of summer

  • Selectman Joseph Judd isn't seeking re-election after serving 21 years on the Board of Selectmen. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 7/13/2022 3:44:59 PM
Modified: 7/13/2022 3:44:44 PM

AHHH summer! The season of sun, fun, and woodchucks!
With new growth in abundance and vegetable gardens coming in everywhere, this is the season of outright Utopia for woodchucks — and who can blame them. Woodchucks are often placed between being a rock star or Darth Vader, one day standing as a hero while we wait for their shadow to appear, forecasting an early spring or additional weeks of winter. And the very next day, we’re plotting schemes to foil their attempts at destroying our early carrots, spinach, lettuce, radishes, beet greens, and other garden fodder as they disappear under the cover of darkness leaving only destruction behind, just like Darth! In those moments, the potential conflict between man and woodchuck can become very real, and once the conflict begins it can turn into an all-out siege because they’re crafty little bandits that are tough to catch in the open.

Thus, my story begins about a visit from a very sly woodchuck who showed up this summer at the Judds, which is usually the wrong place for a woodchuck “to burrow in.”

We first noticed the burrow in late April, about 60 yards behind the elevated breezeway of our home, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger. We continued watching it expand through turkey season into early June, until one day Linda sighted the woodchuck out beyond the garden just munching away on grass. Of course, I was nowhere around that day, so she just watched as it eventually moved back into its burrow, which was the last sighting we had for a while.

But as the garden continued growing, we started seeing him more often. Eventually, we began noticing small areas of our plantings disappear, and we figured between the drought and this looter, the garden was going to look pretty bleak come harvest time. So I did what any self-respecting hunter/gardener would do, I began watching closely for this little brute to surface. I’d always be watching when I was home, sometimes up until dark, until finally one evening with about an hour of daylight left, I came across the blueberry patch moving toward the house. That’s when movement near the burrow froze me in my tracks. Standing still as a stone, I saw movement again, but this time a flash of brown/gray was visible about 90 yards to the west of where I stood. Sadly, all I had in my hands was a pail of 10-10-10, and I wasn’t going to accomplish much with that, so I put everything down and made my way to the house, slipped inside the front door and grabbed the .22 Winchester. I put a few rounds in my pocket while slowly slipping back out the door, and once outside, I slid a bullet down the feed tube and pumped it into the chamber as quietly as possible.

Moving cautiously, I came to the corner of the breezeway and was delighted to see that the movement was still there and heading back down through the high grass toward the burrow. It suddenly stepped into view.

“BUT WAIT” my mind screamed with the speed of thought, “THAT’S NOT DARTH”! Instead, it was a pair of gray fox kits that were now standing directly in front of the burrow. And before you could say Beelzebub, they ducked inside and disappeared into the den. I quickly disengaged the rifle, placing the bullet back in my pocket, and just stood there both astonished and dumbfounded at the same time. Linda was in disbelief herself when I later explained the scene, until the next day when she saw the mother vixen, and the kits, frolicking around the burrow without a care in the world. We continued watching them right through Fourth of July weekend, and never once did they appear to show any fear or concern. But the best moment came when my little granddaughter and I tip-toed out early one morning after a sleep over to take a peek. And as luck would have it, all of them were right there, plopping around in a frenzy. Her reaction was nothing less than mesmerized.

So why, might you ask, did the woodchuck abandon the burrow and let the gray foxes take it over? Maybe the mother vixen did what mother vixens do and made a family meal out of “Darth.” Maybe the woodchuck met its demise some other way and the foxes simply took over the den? Who really knows, but for the Judd crew, it was a week of joy and excitement. And for my little grand-kid, Vivian Charlotte Baron, it was the delight of watching the foxes in a pure moment of magic with grandpa that I hope she never forgets!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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