Two hole dogs. Chris tries to open up the pipe while Mountain tries another way in.It rained hard all day Friday and drizzled on and off Saturday
, but on Sunday Chris and I hit the fields anyway.The corn is starting to come off now, but the fields are too wet to work with heavy machinery.
A corn harvester was stopped dead in its tracks on the edge of a half cut field. It will be at least three days before that machine moves again.A quick eyeballing of a couple of holes confirmed what I feared on the drive up
-- the groundhogs had not moved for a couple of days due to the rain.Scent was not going to be strong
and the ground was going to be very soft and moist. The den pipes would have settled and gotten tighter, while the groundhogs would have an even easier time than normal digging away.I had a plan, however.
Sailor had located a big sette just as I was fixing to leave this farm about a month ago. The sette was pretty deep and it was in the middle of a thick hedge. If that groundhog (or possom or raccoon) was still home, it would be a good dig, and at better than five feet deep in a forested berm, it would likely be dry.Of course, we make plans and God laughs.
When Chris and I got to the hole, the dogs sniffed it twice and let us know nothing was home. Too bad
-- now we'd have to hit any hole we could find.We walked through the hedge to the harvested soybean field on the other side.
Mountain pinged on a sette at the edge of the field, but she could not get in very far due to the small size of the muddy pipe. Neither could Moxie, and Moxie is a tiny dog.The dogs acted like there was something there
, however, and so we sunk two quick holes. All we could locate, however, was an underground mouse nest with five baby white-footed deer mice inside. We moved on.We had not gone far when I looked around for Mountain.
She had darted a little way ahead of us, but we were now a little bit farther on than I had last seen her. I whistled and waited for a few minutes, while Chris explored an area a bit farther up that had been bladed clear by the farmer."She's found," I said,
and turned around and walked back the way I had come about 70 feet.I listened.
Geese honked in the distance, sounding for all the world like a pack of hounds.And then I heard it
-- a short baying somewhere to the right in a dense thicket.I walked around the corner
and tried to enter the thicket, but it was thick stuff, jammed with a mixture of multiflora rose, poke berry and downed timber. I backed out, dropped my tools, and pushed forward again, but there was no going forward through this stuff. I slipped back out and got a machete, and hacked my way up to a hole.Mountain and Moxie were both there, going in and out of a six-eyed sette
like they were model trains running the tunnels for an 8-year old on Christmas morning.Chris pushed through the thicket behind me
, and looked ahead to where the holes were. "You know
," he said, "we could have just come in from the other side
." Point well taken. We had definitely taken the long and wrong way in.Mountain was in the ground now,
and we grabbed Moxie and staked her far enough away from the hole that I could not pick up her collar. Mountain was baying a little, but she was clearly not up to it yet.I boxed for location, and we sank a hole about three and a half feet deep.
We came into the side of the pipe and found Mountain trying to push past a narrowing constriction point where the pipe took a sharp turn and also plunged downward.We pulled Mountain and fussed around trying to scrape out the pipe
, but we could not manage it due to the turn and the descent. Eventually Chris banged a new bottom into the hole, expanding the walls of the hole and cutting it deeper to about five feet.We had more of the pipe to work with now.
We had staked both dogs while we opend up the hole, and now we decided to probe the hole and see where the critter might be located. I cut a switch, and pushed it up the hole where it was promptly grabbed by a groundhog about 12 inches in. I tried to pull the stick out, but the groundhog was holding on."OK," I thought, "I've got a pretty good idea where you are now."The groundhog was in a deep stop end, in a tight pipe, in very solid earth.
These are actually tough locations to extract a groundhog from, as a dog cannot pull a groundhog from such a spot, and any dog that tries to do so is going to get its face chewed up for the effort. On the other hand, at five feet you are deeper than you can reach with your arms, so whatever you do to the groundhog has to be done while hanging head down in the hole. This is not much of a problem if you have a gun at hand, but since I eschew firearms for this kind of work, we were going to have to do this the hard way unless I could get lucky with a small trick.I pulled a shoelace from my pocket, knotted it into a small snare,
and put the bite of the shoe lace snare in a split cut into the end of the same switch I had pushed up the pipe a minute earlier. I pushed the stick and three-inch snare up the pipe, and the groundhog bit the noose. I caught him twice this way, and pulled back hard, but both times he eventually pulled out of the snare as there was nothing for the snare to grab on to but teeth and a smooth nose. A groundhog in a solid and tight pipe like this can easily withstand 70 or 80 pounds of pulling force. If you can get a snare over a leg, you have it done, but in this case pipe was simply too tight to get the noose past the head, and it did not help at all that I was working blind.Chris tried to snare the groundhog a couple of more times
with a length of cable he had in his pack, but he too failed to get the snare past the nose and teeth of the groundhog. A new plan of attack was needed.We decided to cut back the hole
a foot or so in order to snare the groundhog. Now this sounds like an easy thing to do, and something we should have done right off, but in fact the ground was very hard and we needed to cut down the side of the hole about five feet.I am happy to report that Chris is an enthusiastic digger,
and with only a
little assistance from me, he soon had the the job done. Excellent.
God bless enthusiasm. In my defense, let it be noted that I carried the bar and posthole digger all day long.With the hole cut back, we could now see the groundhog,
and he was not big. Chris snared him, and we quickly dispatched it. He was a small one -- this year's litter for sure.We let Moxie rag the carcass for a few minutes while we watched a red tail hawk
get mobbed by a flock of crows, the hawk screaming out its frustration right over our head. Is this a great country or what?We pulled Moxie off the groundhog
and put it in the fork of a small tree so we could turn our attention to repairing the sette.I was gathering large sticks and breaking up a rotten stump
to help repair the den pipe when Chris said, "Oh Jeez" and I turned around to see Moxie, whom we had let run loose, working a second groundhog in the hole.Two in a hole and this late in the season? Unheard of.
But there it was as plain as day.We eventually got Moxie off the groundhog,
though she had some cuts to her lips for her troubles.We snared this second groundhog and repaired the sette
well before deciding to call it a day and go back to the truck to glue up Moxie.We had not wanted to use Moxie in an open-to-daylight pipe
as she has a habit of grabbing groundhogs head first, which causes more lip damage than is necessary. In the dark, she seems to bay and work with courage tempered with discretion, but in daylight at the end of a dig, she gets as wound up as a drunken Irishman. Chris and I had discussed it, and we had decided to only use her in a dark pipe and put in the shovel and pull her after we had broken through. You have to do this with some dogs, and it was a good plan. ... but aren't they all
?This plan was jacknifed into the ditch
by a second groundhog found in a sette in October. You cannot plan for the entirely unexpected.
No serious harm done, in any case. A week or two of rest, and Moxie will be at it again -- hopefully joined by another small white dog in the field.More on that last point later.
Labels: digging on the dogs, groundhog, Mountain, Sailor