Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Woodchucks can’t chuck wood with buckshot in them


I’m trying to fathom how anyone could be opposed to the creation of a woodchuck hunting season. But some goofballs are:

Democrats on the state Assembly’s natural resources committee are questioning the need for a bill that would create a woodchuck hunting season.

Rep. Andre Jacque, a DePere Republican, has introduced a measure that would remove woodchucks from Wisconsin’s protected species list and establish a season that would run nearly year-round.

Target: Jimmy

The natural resources committee held a public hearing on the bill Wednesday. Rep. Tom Hebl, a Sun Prairie Democrat, said he’s never heard of anyone eating woodchucks or selling their pelts. He asked Jacque if he thought hunting an animal just to kill it is immoral.

Hebl comes from a community where the Cheeto-eating population* watches a groundhog make a weather prediction every year. Jimmy the Groundhog should be stew right now for his errant prediction.Just because nobody Hebl knows would like to shoot a groundhog or can find a use for them, it doesn’t mean there aren’t hunters out there willing to take a shot at the fat rodents.

Mother Earth News did a whole article on hunting and eating the animal. (Hebl’s subscription must’ve run out.) The author suggests that people wait until late in the summer before shooting a groundhog because the young are so dependent until then. Yes, prevent animal suffering by establishing a hunting season. What a concept.

A somewhat tougher challenge faces the sharpshooting hunter, who must sneak up on the keen-eyed, sharp-eared quarry. Small-caliber rifles (for instance, a .22 rim-fire loaded with high-speed hollow-point bullets) or any of the more modern flat-trajectory “varmint” calibers—such as a .222 magnum, .22-250, or .225—are suitable for taking groundhogs. The best times for stalking monax are during the animal’s usual feeding periods of early morning and just before sunset, but chucks can also be found sunning themselves at the entrances to their burrows (they seldom roam far from their homes) during almost any daylight hour when the weather’s warm and sunny.

While hunting in local hay- and cornfields, often in temperatures of 90°F or more, I keep a large picnic-style cooler in the bed of my pickup. Immediately upon bagging a chuck, I gut it and place it in the iced box. You wouldn’t want to eat a T-bone steak that had been left in a hot hayfield for an hour, and exposed wild game doesn’t fare any better. So remember . . . get that meal-to-be on ice right away!

Here’s a recipe for woodchuck au vin from the New York Times. Remember to locally source your woodchuck meat as soon as Wisconsin law permits.

The gardener who created this dish notes that the herbs and vegetables in this recipe are available fresh from the garden because they have not been eaten by the dish’s main ingredient.

Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 woodchuck, dressed and cleaned of scent glands, boned and cut into strips or bite-size chunks (see note)

2 shallots, chopped

2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup beef stock or water

2 cups dry red wine

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white vermouth

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 fresh or dried bay leaf

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 1/2 cups pitted Cerignola olives, very coarsely chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons flour

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Place a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add olive oil. When the oil is hot, add woodchuck meat and sauté until lightly browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

2. Add shallots and carrots to pan and sauté until lightly browned. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add stock or water, red wine and 3/4 cup of vermouth. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping bottom of the pan. Return meat to pan, and add pepper, thyme, bay leaf, and 1 tablespoon of the rosemary. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Add olives and remaining 1 tablespoon rosemary. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender, about 45 minutes.

4. Discard bay leaf. Raise heat and boil uncovered until liquid is slightly reduced. In a small bowl, mix remaining 2 tablespoons vermouth with enough flour to make a soupy paste. Thicken sauce to taste by adding paste a tablespoon at a time, simmering for a minute after each addition; all of the paste may not be needed. Stir in parsley, and season with salt if needed. If desired, serve over rice or egg noodles, or with boiled potatoes.

Yield: 3 to 6 servings, depending on size of woodchuck and squeamishness of guests.

Note: A woodchuck has small scent glands under the forearms and in the small of the back that must be removed. The insulating fat under the skin should also be removed. A dressed woodchuck does not require soaking, though many people recommend soaking overnight in salted water. As with all game, the meat of older animals is tougher and has a stronger, gamier flavor than a young animal. This recipe may also be made with the boned meat of one large or two small rabbits.

* No, I don’t know why people in Sun Prairie like Cheetos so much.

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