This March, I took a position with the Bureau of Land Management in Southern Idaho. An important aspect of my move to Twin Falls has been, well, Craigslist. A faux antique dining room table (for a desk), an aged vinyl chair (1960’s diner style), and free pallets to support my thrift store mattress (always one of the more risky purchases). As a seasonal worker, I’m looking for inexpensive functionality and craigslist delivers. Recently I came across this ad offering “free rockchuck removal”.
free rockchuck removal (hagerman & surrounding)
Im looking for a good place to go rockchuck hunting close by if you have a lot and want them gone please let me know i will be respectful of property
There aren’t rockchucks (also called the Yellow-bellied marmot) in the Siskiyou Mountains where I grew up and my first encounter with Marmota flaviventris had been the previous day at the BLM office. A lone male has taken up residence under the building’s back porch, and he comes out regularly to nibble on the lawn and or lay in the shade of the picnic table. His appearance is what you’d expect of a burrowing, high elevation rodent. Flecked gray coat with deep orange belly. Small ears, tight to a squirrel-like head. He is about the size of a chubby house cat. Under more natural circumstances, he would have probably had a small harem of females and a series of burrows amid a rock outcrop or cliff. But he seems happy and who am I to judge. He’s definitely safer.
Skeletal remains of a rock chuck, caught-up on a bush half-way up the cliff above Vineyard Lake.
It is apparently great entertainment to shoot these chubby rodents in mass, from the organized “chuck derby” to the leisurely afternoon of “yard-work” with your favorite high powered rifle. The internet is filled with photos of these marksmen shooting and posing with their vanquished and often disemboweled quarry. As Mrchuckhunter eloquently puts it in a youtube comment below, his Chuck Hunt video “Passing a 27 caliber bullet through a chuck, is a little hard on the skin holding the whole package together. Where did he go? ‘Chunks and vapor.’” According to the same man, Southern Idaho is the hotbed of rock chuck killing potential. I saw this first-hand just last weekend.
A fish biologist friend had recommended that I explore Vineyard Lake, which lays in a small box-canyon just North, off the Snake River Canyon. I started out in the early morning, parking my car at a dead-end, I crossed an irrigated pasture and followed the rim overlooking the Snake River. It was cold and the wind blew through my clothes while I trudged east. As I descended into the box canyon, a Red-tailed hawk seemed to hover in the headwind just before me (redtails cannot hover in place like the Northern Harrier) and a rock chuck gave a severe alarm whistle from somewhere within the rock scree.
Down next to the lake the wind was almost imperceptible. There was a small creek that fed into the lake and I followed it to a spring that seeped from the canyon’s walls on three sides. I ate breakfast here and read a book for several hours. Later, when I came out into the open, back at the lake, something moved on the rim across the water to my right. It was one of three men, silhouetted dark against the sky some 350 yards away. I didn’t need my binoculars to see his scoped high-powered rifle, but as I brought them to my eyes I saw him croutch and fire down into the canyon. The other men were looking down at where he’d shot, and I scrambled back into the cover of a protruding canyon wall. My heartbeat churned in a panicked rhythm. I listened and waited, unwilling to venture back into the open to alert the gunmen of my presence. Eventually they left and I climbed out of the now silenced canyon.
I am a hunter and find a fierce joy in the seasonal pursuit of Black-tailed deer through the valleys and mountains of Southern Oregon. I love hiking in at dark and trying to reach a point which, from topo lines consulted the previous evening, I believe will have a thick riparian area and just maybe, a buck. If my job were to last until hunting season here, I’m sure I would find as much joy in hunting the Pronghorn and Mule deer of Southern Idaho. However I am unable to reconcile rock chuck shooting with hunting. It lacks the mental and physical challenge of hunting. It also lacks the humanity.
As I drove home that afternoon, the radio prattled on about the gun control legislation stalled in congress. Someone came on to say that no hunter would use such tactical military arms as they where attempting to control. I thought of the gunman silhouetted on the rim above me. No real hunter perhaps, but that is not to say those guns are not used.
– Jakob Shockey