Monday, June 7, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Hunting Varmints 101

by Naomi K. Shapiro

Call 'em varmints. Call 'em critters. Call 'em small animals. Whatever. They're available, and they're a real hoot to hunt.

Whether it be a rodent (including squirrels, chipmunks and gophers), raccoon, possum - -whatever -- hunting varmints is great sport for some people, and keeps the populations of these animals under control. (We don't consider coyotes a "varmint," so, while we haven't forgotten them, we don't include them as we feel they're a special breed apart from "the usual suspects."

State or area regs for "varmint hunting" change regularly, so check them carefully, including what/where/when you can hunt; restrictions on numbers; and what you have to do with the animals once you've killed them. Regs are particularly rigid when it comes to the use of ANY weapon in zoned/populated/incorporated areas like towns, villages or cities. All of these things should be checked thoroughly before you start playing "John Wayne".

Guide Phil Schweik relates that varmint hunting is usually the first and easiest way to have kids or novices experience hunting. It's inexpensive. It's a lot of fun, it's readily available everywhere, and It gives someone the opportunity to experience and respect the totality of being one with nature in every wondrous aspect of that scenario. And most importantly, it's a great way to teach SAFETY first hand. We're probably "preaching to the choir" when we say this, but it's absolutely essential that you have your kids or novice hunters take a hunter-safety course – and it doesn't matter if it's just to use a BB- or pellet-gun. Do it! Insist on it! Don't let anyone get near any type of weapon without the completion of a comprehensive safety course. Phil Schweik, who is as experienced an outdoorsman that has ever "walked this earth" takes a hunter safety course each and every year! And as we've said before, if it's good enough for him, it should be good enough for everyone else! Safety is always and uniquely "job one".

OK, off the "soap box" and onto the "fun."

Phil Schweik says that the first thing he used as a kid was a BB gun. You could nail a chipmunk, gopher or squirrel in the backyard -- and don't kid yourself, these critters cause a lot of property damage. They dig lots of holes, they spread disease, they damage wiring, they dig up gardens, they get into your garage and home, and all around they can be very destructive and a classic nuisance. Our fifteen years living in a home on a lake in the middle of a national forest taught us never to underestimate the destructive power of these little critters.

After using a BB gun, good numbers of people "graduate" to a pellet gun. Air-powered. And don't kid yourself, a pellet gun can be very powerful and potentially dangerous.

According to Phil, once the kid or novice hunter has the needed experience, the general and very useable "lifetime" weapon of choice for general varmint hunting is a .22 caliber rifle. We've seen varmint hunters "overcalling" with a .30-06, and even once, if you can believe it, my husband spotted a guy using a 300 grain bullet in a 45/70, short barreled guide gun on a gopher. I suppose he thought he had spotted the likes of a grizzly or bison -- and of course a 45/70 has a kick worse than a "boilermaker" with a double shot of rot gut. Phil suggests a .22 autoloader, which can fire semi-automatically with large numbers of bullets available. Lots of hunters enjoy this type of shooting and many have started using a "beamed" laser scope. These .22 caliber rifle outfits are not particularly expensive, and they're light, simple to maintain, and easy to operate. And one of the reasons hunters like this type of setup is that these animals are small and fast -- the laser scope really helps. And if you think it doesn't take skill to shoot one, you're wrong. The animals are fast. They skedaddle all over the place, turn on a dime, and can quickly disappear up the backside of a tree.

What do you do with the critters once you've shot them? Depending on the regs, you can bury them, OR leave them for a day or so. In the forest nothing is ever wasted, so check in the morning after some varmint is shot and it likely will be gone. Nature has its own special way of "clean up." Just ask any crow, weasel, or feral cat.


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