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Wheat Chucks

By Bob Anderson

It was early on a Saturday morning and Mel and I were cruising up a back canyon road past occasional ranch houses, wheat fields and cattle operations. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and relaxing, considering the day before I had been in Atlanta meeting with high level communications executives about constructing another 1000 miles of Internet backbone. On my left was a creek with a pump house and a stack of  8” diameter telephone poles. Below that, a long narrow wheat field and about 600 yards up the road was a nice little contemporary farm house. The creek flowed away from the road over to the base of a basalt cliff that was about 100 feet high with a boulder field at its base.

As we approached the farmhouse, I remember the call I received in Atlanta from Mel explaining that we had been granted permission to shoot rock chucks on a neighbor’s ranch. Just seeing the wheat, the cliff and the free flowing creek made my heart race. We had food, water and shelter. Pulling into the farm, we had the ranch house on the left with a tractor parked in front. Sitting on the tractor's seat was a fat old rock chuck. To our right were equipment sheds and shops and straight ahead were six large grain silos. We parked and approached the house and the farmer met us half way. I soon found out that we had graduated from the same school and with the same degree, 40 years apart. He explained the rules for shooting and where he was having problems. We obviously could not shoot the chuck off the tractor seat, but he was having problems with the beasts tunneling under his pump house and under the silos. The cliff, he explained, was home to several of the creatures and there was a 6' stack of pallets out in the south pasture that they loved to sun on. We were told we could drive down to the far end of the silos and behind them was a road that dropped about 15 ft down to the wheat field and that would be a good place from which to shoot.

Driving down the line of silos, we discovered that their bases were honeycombed with chuck tunnels and as we emerged to the back side of the silos, our hearts almost stopped! There, to our wondering eyes should appear, but three lazy rock chucks sunning themselves on a stack of pallets 70 yards away. Mel parked the truck and eased out of the cab and removed a custom 22 hornet  from his gun case as I did the same from mine. These are single shot beauties built up on Remington 700's and shoot itty bitty groups. We fired on a count of three and two chucks were down and the third had disappeared. Not a bad start for the day.  Getting back in the truck, we drove to the bottom of the hill.

Mel found a suitable place to set up our shooting benches and we proceeded to unload the pickup. First came the shooting benches. Mel is an old carpenter/cabinet maker and he crafted a portable shooting bench that is a clever three-legged affair. The front two legs swing down and then the third leg slides into a slot under the bench top. It is longer and extends to the rear of the bench and incorporates a seat, so when you sit down, it anchors the bench and provides an extremely stable shooting platform. Somewhere he has a picture of 8 bags of cement sitting on the seat, it is that strong. The top is covered with carpet. The next thing out of the truck were our gun cases. Mel had built us each a gun case out of cabinet grade plywood. The cases had a piano hinged top and held four varmint rifles nested in sheepskin slots.  My collection of rifles, all Remington 700's,  included a custom built 22 Hornet built with a PacNor 26” barrel and the Remington trigger that had been converted to a triple lever set at 3 oz. The bolt face had been milled off and counter sunk to ½ the thickness of a Hornet rim. The ejector was pinned and a Sako extractor installed. An aluminum feed tray was installed and made for a very effective single shot. After firing, you open the bolt and remove the casing from the bolt, since it is not ejected. That way you are not chasing casings all over the ground. It was scoped with a fine crosshair 12x Leupold. The next rifle was a Remington 700 heavy barrel varminter in 222 Remington. This was factory stock, but was bedded and the trigger tuned down to a couple of pounds. The scope was a 20x fine crosshair Leupold.  Mel was able to make this rifle shoot inside .250”. My third rifle was a Remington 700 in 22-250 bedded and tuned and equipped with a 26” PacNor barrel and a 6x20 power Leupold with a fine duplex scope. My last rifle is a 6x47 Remington 700 with a 26” sporter weight barrel made by Hobart. It is also single shot and has a single shot tray installed and a triple lever trigger. This is my go to rock chuck gun.

The 6x47 is a wildcat cartridge and is a Remington 222 magnum blown out to 6mm. I was able to pick up 3000 handmade 70 grain 6mm benchrest bullets from an old retired benchrest shooter. The accuracy of these bullets is incredible and I only use them for hunting chucks. The rifle is zeroed in for 400 yds and is adorned with a 20x Leupold fine crosshair scope. The recoil is minimal and you can actually see the bullet hit.

After having brought out the bench and rifles, I broke out my Zeiss Jenna binoculars and began scanning the cliff and the surrounding area. About 200 yards out in front of me was a split rail fence and what should  be sitting on that fence? No, not a chuck, but a ground squirrel. He was just sitting there on top of the fence post checking out his territory.  I oriented the bench and crosshairs on the squirrel and touched the trigger. There was a rather spectacular explosion of fur and then there was nothing.

My next opportunity was two rock chucks sunning themselves on top of the pallets. One was sitting up in the back and the other was laying down towards the front. Logic dictated that I engage the chuck situated to the rear.  A slight pressure on the trigger and the chuck ceased to move. The one in front was just beginning to turn to see what was going on behind it when 70 grains of bullet crashed into its head.   My attention then went to the cliff and I began scanning it with my binoculars. I was able to pick out at least six rock chucks at a range of 400 yards. They were either sunning themselves up on ledges on the cliff face or carefully moving around in the boulder field at Rock Chuckthe bottom of the cliff. The one that caught my immediate attention was a big fat chuck sitting up on the top of the cliff looking over the entire ranch. I took careful aim and placed the crosshairs on his chest and squeezed the trigger. The impact pushed him over backward and only his feet were visible. The next one was laying on a basalt  outcropping about two thirds up the cliff and when I fired he continued to lay there, but he was no longer moving.  The next one was down in the boulder field and was slowly moving among the rocks. He crawled out on a large rock and only his head was sticking up. That was his first mistake as when the trigger was squeezed again, his head never even twitched.

It was time to take a Pepsi break and relax. So Mel and I were kicking back and enjoying the warmth of the sun and the view of 2000 acres of wheat gently waving in the breeze. We were talking about the beauty of the area and the great shooting and how we had shot enough chucks for the day and we should think about packing things up. It was then that I noticed something laying on one of the telephone poles lying by the pump house 600 yds away. After looking at it through my binoculars and conferring with Mel, it was a rock chuck sunning itself on the pole. I re-oriented my shooting bench, put the crosshairs on the rock chuck and asked Mel for his advice as to how high to hold for that range and how to adjust for windage. I changed my holdover and allowed for the wind and pulled the trigger.   The rock chuck had vanished. I asked Mel if I had hit it or not and he told me that I had hit low and blew a couple of pounds of wood splinters into its backside.  Mel suggested that we let things settle down and go into town so he could fill a prescription.

When we returned to our shooting benches an hour later, the chuck was back on the log. I settled in and took careful aim and held the same as before except I added about 8” of elevation and fired. The chuck was still lying there on the log. Mel expressed the opinion that I had hit him, so we jumped into the truck and drove back out to the highway and down to the log pile. There we found the chuck and it had been hit right between the shoulder blades. A clean one shot kill, except for my first missed shot.

It was the perfect end to a magnificent day of shooting. The shooting was challenging and we didn't over-harvest the chucks. We did, however, remove enough animals to give that farmer some relief, guaranteeing us a return invite.