A STATE OF MIND: Chuck’s Tale

by Larry Floersch

Like any other red-blooded American man who watches football occasionally and maybe a NASCAR race now and then, I’d like to believe that I can protect my property from any form of assault. At least I felt that way until Chuck moved in. Chuck was a woodchuck, or groundhog, or whistlepig, or whatever you want to call him, and when he burrowed in under the porch, I suddenly began to feel like Bill Murray — not Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” but Bill Murray as assistant greenskeeper Carl Spackler in “Caddyshack.”

At first I tried to discourage Chuck by simply yelling at him, thinking that if he came to realize the superior intellect I displayed through my choice of coarse words and insulting epithets, he would leave. Instead he’d just slip back under the porch into his burrow, then pop out later when I wasn’t looking, munch on a few flowers in the garden and sun himself on the porch step.

I became more aggressive and tried poking a stick down into the burrow, figuring that he would understand he wasn’t welcome and make living arrangements elsewhere. He did not get the hint.

I resisted the water-down-the-burrow treatment because I did not know where it might flow under the porch, but I did try a spray repellent. The repellent, I think, reminded Chuck of patchouli.

Next came smoke bombs. Not the smoke bombs you can buy at the farm and garden store intended to get rid of woodchucks, skunks, rabbits and every living thing within a five-mile radius. Those, according to the label, should not be used next to buildings because of the risk of nuclear devastation, and Chuck had arranged his burrow right next to the foundation of the house under the porch floor. So I tried those little Fourth-of-July smoke bombs you can buy at the grocery store. I am convinced he laughed at the ineptitude of my efforts as he waited for the red, white and blue smoke to dissipate.

Then I remembered the words of a master gardener who had a segment on the radio many years ago. This guy had humane and harmless solutions for almost all standard garden pests. But when it came to woodchucks, he said the best thing to do was to just shoot them. I got my old shotgun out of the closet and removed the dust that was plugging up the barrel. I only had a few old shells of number 6 shot that I had purchased back in 1986. I wasn’t sure number 6 shot was the right size and I wasn’t sure they would even fire after all those years, so I headed to the sporting goods store for some fresh ammunition.

At the gun shop I displayed my American manliness by looking in the wrong section of the ammunition department. When the guy behind the counter was free, the conversation went something like this: (Me): “Wow, shotgun shells cost a lot now!” (Him): “Those are for waterfowl. Because they can’t use lead shot for waterfowl anymore, they cost more to make. What are you hunting?” (Me) “A woodchuck. Big bruiser. About the size of a black angus. I need something to put him down with one shot. What do you recommend?” (I figured he would sell me something with shot the size of tennis balls). (Him) “Good ol’ number 6 will do the job,” he said with a smile that had a hint of disdain. By now he had sensed I did not have “NFL Sunday Ticket” and only watched NASCAR races occasionally. I left with a box of fresh number 6 shells and the feeling that my brain was the size of BB (that’s .177 caliber for you enthusiasts).

Now armed and dangerous, I waited for the final showdown. Whenever I’d catch a glimpse of Chuck moving about, I would grab my gun. But Chuck was too smart. He would stay so close to the house that I could not risk a shot out of fear of damaging the house or of just “winging” him and allowing him to slip back into his burrow to die under the porch.

I decided a trap was in order. To be honest, at this point the thought of relocating Chuck never crossed my mind. I figured if I could trap Chuck, I could shoot him on my terms. Sure, it would be outright murder, but he had already murdered a lot of the flower garden. I bought one of those have-a-heart-type traps at the farm-and-garden store, baited it with some nice lettuce and carrot tops, placed it in Chuck’s favorite sunning spot on the porch step and waited.

Chuck was too wary to enter the trap. He did, however, try to pull some of the carrot tops through the side of the wire grid. After a week of frustration, I removed the trap.

I’d like to say that this all turned out well for Chuck and that he just moved away, found a nice woman woodchuck and raised a family. But the trap in a way had done its job. Bothered that the trap had taken over his favorite sunning spot on the top step, Chuck began sunning on the second step. One Saturday around High Noon, my wife called out that Chuck was on the step. I grabbed my gun, and sure enough, he moved down to the second step. That gave me just enough of an angle for what I thought was a reasonably clear shot.

In these situations there often are no clear winners and collateral damage. The crocosmia lost a number of leaves, as did the rudbeckia maxima and the hosta. And did I mention the damage to the metal trellis for the honeysuckle or the chunk missing from the plastic downspout for the gutter? As a distant relative of mine said, “War is Hell.” I buried Chuck with military honors.

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