Despite a cool April, woodchuck hunting has been very good throughout Carroll County's rolling farmlands. My chuck hunting pal, Wayne Albaugh, and I have managed to put together a string of successful hunts in the Union Bridge and Uniontown areas.
Albaugh lives close to superb varmint haunts and is able to get out a few times a week. Due to uncooperative weather and work schedules, he had nearly a dozen notches on his heavy-barrelled, .22-250 Remington bolt action before I could join him on our first joint hunt a couple weeks ago.
Actually, that first trip was the only decent weather we have had. Even then, a steady wind forced us to do a bit of guessing. For instance, the second chuck taken that day was across a valley, and feeding on tender grasses at a range we estimated at 375 yards.
With Albaugh shooting very accurate Winchester Supreme ammunition using target quality 52 grain bullets, I spotted the first shot. It looked like the wind moved the bullet.
Albaugh made the sighting correction as he peered through his 20x scope and gently squeezed the trigger for an instant elimination of area farming's No. 1 pest.
I only connected on a single groundhog (Albaugh got five) because of the ranges we found ourselves shooting over. My choice that day had been a very sweet shooting Ruger M77 Mark II target rifle chambered for the popular .223 cartridge. This is an ideal choice for 80 percent to 90 percent of all chuck hunting requirements, but this day the average shot was close to 400 yards over open cropland.
The .223 cartridge is limited in effectiveness on this sized game to about 300 yards. The next time I gun this spot, my choice will go to a .22-250, .220 Swift or if the wind is blowing like last Friday, a .240 Weatherby Magnum. All three, plus the .224 Weatherby Magnum, .225 Winchester, .243 and 6mm are best suited for ranges beyond 300 yards.
Albaugh couldn't join me last Friday, so I took a short afternoon hunt in the Hampstead area. Gusty winds dictated my use of the .240 Weatherby Magnum Mark V. The .240WM is a lesser known member of the .243 and 6mm family of dual purpose, deer-varmint cartridges so popular with area hunters.
The heavier 70 to 75 or 80 grain bullets used by these cartridges buck wind drift much better than the lighter 40 to 55 grain bullets used by the various .22 centerfire varmint cartridges favored by Eastern woodchuck hunters. By simply switching to 95-105 grain bullets, the same rifle is a crackerjack deer choice.
When toting this 24-inch barrelled, sporter weight rifle on groundhog hunts, I load it with 70 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets propelled to more than 3,800 feet per second by a handload I worked up especially for the rifle. When shooting from solid rest, this load will put three shots into less than an inch at 100 yards, making it suitable for shots on woodchucks to 300 paces and a little beyond.
I took four chucks inside of a couple of cold, windy hours at ranges as close as 125 yards to a distance off 268 yards. Even using the heavier 70 grain bullets, I found myself holding as much as 6 inches into the gusting winds at the longer ranges.
Fishing at Liberty and Piney Run reservoirs has been holding up well with steady catches of crappie and some very nice bass being hooked in the shallows.
Trout fishing at all of the county's stocked streams and ponds also remains very good. Piney Run is scheduled to receive another 1,000 trout next week, while the upper Patapsco River will get an additional 1,500.
* The Spring Trophy striped bass (rockfish) season kicks off Friday. The minimum size this year is 32 inches and you can keep a fish a day, up to five for the season. Fishing is limited to the Brewerton Channel off the mouth of the Patapsco River, south to the Maryland-Virginia line through May 31.
* Carroll anglers wanting to learn more about saltwater fishing will want to attend a meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association. The chapter meets the third Tuesday of each month at the Beaver Run Rod and Gun Club. Call Bryan Ricks at (410) 876-9038.