Stalking the Wild Woodchuck
By Mark Adams
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. The fence was supposed to be impregnable. 26 feet by 36 feet, surrounding the vegetable garden. Sunk down 18” into the soil. Welded wire, 2” X 3” squares, stapled to post and rail fence. Four feet high, because deer are too cautious to jump into a smallish enclosed space.
Everything was growing fine until June 5. I had already harvested radishes, beautiful
heads of ruby red lettuce, and beet greens, as a way to thin the beet patch. That morning something nibbled on the lettuce, and on one of the eight heads of broccoli, which were just about ready to harvest. I set a Havahart trap in the middle of the garden, baited with some broccoli leaves. And I spent 44 dollars on a big package of bird netting, which I cut into sections and draped over the broccoli and lettuce, figuring the animal, whatever it was, would shy away, not wanting to get caught in the netting.
The very next day, the interloper had pushed down the netting and gobbled all the lettuce and two heads of broccoli. Also on the menu, carrots, beans and, surprisingly, parsley.
This meant war. It must have been a woodchuck, since no rabbit, or even a herd of rabbits
could eat that much in one day. I scouted the perimeter for breaches – none. I strung more bird netting around the top perimeter in case he climbed over (woodchucks can climb). Then I built cages around the bean and carrot patches. Sue and I cut the remaining broccoli and ate it for a week. I rebaited the trap, this time with bread and peanut butter.
I caught a skunk. To let him out, I opened the trap, set a brick on top to hold the door open, and ran. I left the garden gate open so he could get out. (How did he get in?)
Over the next two weeks, I caught a raccoon, another skunk, two cats and a total of five
woodchucks, some in the garden and some out on the lawn, in two different Havahart traps. I let the raccoon and the woodchucks go on a piece of property I own on Van Wagner Road. I hope nobody starts a farm there someday.
In the process, I learned:
- The 32” X 10” Havahart trap with a single opening works best for catching woodchucks. The 36” X 10” with openings at both ends needs to be set with one door closed and the bait pushed all the way back, or the door will close on top of the animal and he can back out.
- Broccoli is a good bait, since cats and skunks are not interested.
- Woodchucks are one of the few animals that truly hibernate during the winter. Their heart slows down to three beats per minute, and they can lose half their body weight in three months.
- It’s important to check your trap several times daily, especially if it’s in the sun.
- My woodchucks did not eat turnips, tomatoes, peppers, beets, garlic, onions, potatoes or zucchini, although I’m pretty sure they would have eaten the squash and cucumbers if there hadn’t been so much lettuce and broccoli to feast on.
- I sprayed the raccoon and woodchucks with a dab of red paint before releasing them, to see if they come back. So far, none have.
- Bird netting is horrible stuff. Trying to unroll it and drape it over the garden, all the buttons on my shirt got ripped off.
- Woodchucks and skunks can squeeze through a 2” by 3” square opening. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t see it with my own eyes.
- Woodchucks are edible. I’ve eaten bear, giraffe, rabbit, frogs, rattlesnake, mice, squirrel, whale, guinea pig, to name a few, but never woodchuck. Naturalist Euell Gibbons, in his classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, posts a recipe for Woodchuck in Sour Cream. I’m asking Vicki Frank Day to feature it in her next article.