Muzzleloader hunter takes aim to groundhogs
What started out as a lark has become an obsession for Dave Wolf.
A few years ago, the resident of Port Trevorton in Snyder County bought an in-line muzzleloader. He enjoyed hunting with it, and even took multiple deer with it, but he found his opportunities limited. Pennsylvania's only muzzleloader season that allows in-lines lasts just seven days in October. Adding in the regular rifle deer season only adds 12 more days.
Then, he thought about groundhogs.
"I wondered, what can this thing do on a groundhog• I figured I'd find out, just kind of took up the idea on a whim," Wolf said.
"And now, I love it. I absolutely love it. I've become addicted. I've probably shot more than 50 with my muzzleloader just this year. It's more difficult than people think it is, but it's just so much fun."
Being a groundhog hunter puts Wolf in a shrinking group, as the number of groundhog hunters has declined over the past 20 years. Using a muzzleloader on them puts him in even a smaller minority.
But he's not completely alone.
"I run into one group that does it pretty regularly," said Jack Lucas, a wildlife conservation officer in Indiana County for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "The guys I talk to, they say anybody can throw a modern rifle up on a bipod, squeeze off a shot and kill a groundhog. But to do it at 150, 200 yards with blackpowder, that's something different."
The sport offers more benefits than just a new challenge, though, say those who have done it.
"The main problem with most people and muzzleloaders is that they don't practice enough," said Gene Nagel of Butler, a member of the Independent Mountain Men of Pennsylvania and owner of Cooperstown Trading Post, a muzzleloading shop, for 33 years.
"The more you practice, the better you know your weapon and the better you know what shooting it's all about."
Groundhog hunting — which can last seven months, with no limit on the number of animals you can take — is the best way to get plenty of practice on real game, Nagel said.
Mitch Shablesky of Shablesky Muzzleloading Supplies in Beaver Falls agreed. Hunters are especially wise to use the same muzzleloader for groundhogs that they use on deer.
"I wouldn't change a thing. Stick with the same rifle, the same charge, everything. That way, when you shoot at a deer later, you know where your gun will be hitting," he said.
That's what Rockie Dean, a Hempfield Township resident and commander of Old Westmoreland Rifles, a group that shoots only pre-1840 firearms, does. He hunts groundhogs with the same .50- and .54-caliber Kentucky longrifles he uses on deer.
That sharpens your skills, he said. He's taken woodchucks at 150 yards, but shots at 50 to 60 yards are more common. Getting that close requires you to be patient, to learn to conceal yourself in the available cover and, as much as anything, to care for your firearm.
"The biggest problem you can have centers around your rifle. If your gun is in good working condition, what we call being in tune, it will fire instantly," Dean said.
"If it's not, and you get a little delay between when your pan powder flashes and your rifle fires, groundhogs will see that and they're gone. They'll tell you in a hurry whether your gun is in tune or not."
All of those things are true, Wolf agreed. But hunters shouldn't overlook chasing groundhogs for their own sake, he added.
"I find it exciting. I've taken groundhogs that have had me shaking. When you finally get one that you've missed three times, on your fourth try over about four weeks, it's a thrill," Wolf said.
"If these things had antlers, everyone would hunt them."Additional Information:
DVD set available
If you want to see what muzzleloader hunting for groundhogs looks like, Dave Wolf can show you.
Previously a host of a weekly TV show, he's put together a DVD set, 'Black Powder Chucks I and II,' of muzzleloader groundhog hunts around his home in central Pennsylvania.
Copies are $15 and can be ordered by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending a check, payable to Dave Wolf, to 8404 South Susquehanna Trail, Port Trevorton, Pa. 17864.