Walter Scott: If a woodchuck could ... climb a tree

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Drakesville, Iowa.

Columnist Walter Scott

There have been debates on whether a woodchuck has the ability to climb trees. Since I had never seen one in a tree, I just assumed they could not climb. I was wrong.

Woodchucks, also known as ground hogs, are a dark brown, furry little mammal about a foot long. Their primary purpose in life is to dig holes and ruin things.

They will dig large holes in pastures making walking hazards for horses and cows. If a cow or horse is not paying attention, which they rarely do, they can break a leg in one of these open holes.

The only positive thing I know about woodchucks is they are a good food source for coyotes, bobcats and some people. They are clean little vegetarian animals with all dark meat, similar in taste to a rabbit.

Saturday morning, while drinking coffee on the porch, Jag suddenly exploded into action. I thought he was sleeping soundly in his chair but must have had one eye open.


He frequently has what we call “stupid attacks.” This is when he tears off the porch, barking viciously for a minute or so, and returns to his chair. There seems to be no known reason for these sudden bursts of energy, so we generally ignore him.

This time, he ran around the corner of the house to a group of hickory trees and continued to bark. Billie, the poodle, ran out to help him when it got to the point it sounded like he was serious and not having a stupid attack. When Billie also started barking, I decided to go investigate.

Both dogs were staring up a tree at the edge of the hickory grove. About 20 feet up the tree was a woodchuck, clinging to the side and watching the dogs below. Since nobody helped him up there, it is safe to assume, woodchucks can climb trees. It may not be their favorite place to be, but in an emergency to escape a vicious dog, they can and will climb.

With two dogs at the base of the tree, there was no escape for the woodchuck. I could call off Billie, who would like a good fight, but is more willing to back down and let someone else take the first of the battle.

Jag, on the other hand, will never back down from a fight, no matter what the odds. He thinks he is the toughest animal around and will fight anything to prove it. He treed the woodchuck fair and square and would not leave. Even I do not have the courage to try to drag him away.

Jag would wait for hours if necessary to fight the woodchuck. Since it was as big as Jag, there was no guarantee of the outcome.

Having no desire to have the house or shed undermined by a burrowing rodent, fresh holes in the pasture, of the dog chewed up by an angry rodent with big teeth, I grabbed the rifle and dispatched him with a clean shot to the head. When it hit the ground, Jag attacked, just in case it tried to run away.

I tried to take Jag’s trophy from him, but he would have no part of it. When I got near, he grabbed the woodchuck and ran into the timber as far as he could manage to carry it. I have a good recipe for woodchuck and rice, but that will have to wait until I get a woodchuck when Jag is not around.

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