So a woodchuck ate your garden and left you with nothing? When you’re a hunter, you can eat your garden and the woodchuck, too! Here’s how to do it legally and ethically.
Some people come from hunting culture, bagging their first buck as a teenager with their uncle in Da Yoop. Some people have hunting thrust upon them, all unexpected, after a woodchuck eats their squash plants early some June morning. They’re a gardener, not a hunter, but they have to do something about those varmints, and one can’t legally live-trap and release them miles away at some farm in the country. Not only is it illegal in Michigan, but the farmer doesn’t want your nuisance woodchuck tearing up their land and eating their crops any more than you do. Some would simply shoot the ‘chuck, but legally, that makes you a poacher. So what can you do to save your garden and stay on the right side of the law?
The first option may well be a landscaping adjustment. Putting up a three-foot-plus garden fence (with another foot buried, to stymie such a professional tunneller) could be an option. However, plenty of pests, like woodchucks, opossums and raccoons, can climb a fence just fine. (They also climb fruit trees.) Electrifying the fence might work better, but that’s an infrastructure investment that a beginner or casual gardener may not be ready for yet.
Repellents are another option, but some work better than others. Most also need to be reapplied after every rain (and presumably every heavy dew).
Legally, if hunting is allowed in an area, smaller animals like woodchucks (groundhogs), raccoons, skunks, and even coyotes can be killed if they are doing or about to do damage to property or cause harm to pets, livestock or people. (Deer must be merely scared away.) However, how often does one come upon a night-feeding opossum climbing their orchard trees to pick those almost-ripe peaches, or find a woodchuck eating your tomatoes and they don’t immediately run away? It’s hard to watch your garden 24/7 when you have to work, sleep, and do everything else.
However, there is one more option for the embattled Michigan gardener: become a hunter!
Obtaining a hunting license is surprisingly easy in the mitten state. There are two requirements that a would-be hunter must meet. First, there’s an online course to take, like the one available at Hunter-Ed.com. It’s designed to take about six hours to complete (at your own pace), and teaches basic hunter safety, how to aim and operate a firearm and bow, and some history and ethics, with a test at the end of each unit.
Once the course is passed, there’s also a required Field Day. Expect the in-person Field Day to last at least four hours, and cover some of the same material as the online course, with additional information from sportsmen, volunteers from the Department of Natural Resources, and law enforcement officers. There will probably be a chance to familiarize oneself with, and shoot, a firearm at a range, and a must-pass written exam.
Alternatively, there are more traditional, fully in-person hunter safety courses that should last a minimum of 10 hours over two days, covering the same material as the online course and the Field Day. In Michigan, these hunter safety courses are intentionally easy on the budget, to make it feasible for anyone to become a hunter. The online course was $29.95 and the Field Day collected a nominal $2 fee, while the fully in-person course has a maximum $10 fee.
With a certificate in hand showing that you’ve completed a hunter safety course, you can buy your base hunting license. Currently the fee for Michigan residents is $11, while non-residents wishing to hunt in Michigan must pay $151. This license allows the hunting of small game (like woodchucks), but additional licenses must be purchased to hunt deer ($20), turkey ($15), waterfowl ($12), and other popular game in season. A fur trapping permit is an additional $15, which is what you’ll need to trap your woodchuck if you don’t live in a place so rural that you can legally hunt in your garden.
Hunting, like other generally rural activities, has taken on political overtones in recent years as American politics polarizes into a rural “red” vs urban “blue” dichotomy. However, one of the surprising aspects of hunter education was the grounding in conservation. States issue permits largely to limit how many of certain prey animals can be harvested in total, and to insure that the animals have safe seasons in which to breed, nest, raise young, and maintain their populations. Proceeds from hunting and fishing licenses and fees go towards maintaining and improving habitat for wild creatures.
Part of hunter training involves learning about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which has aspects that may surprise people on both sides of the aisle, were it to be taken seriously and applied to other political and economic situations. Let’s consider the tenets of conservation, as presented by BowHunter-Ed.com, to wit:
- Fish and wildlife are public property. The government holds them in trust for the benefit of all people. (This sounds an awful lot like the pop definition of socialism.)
- Wildlife cannot be slaughtered for commercial use. This policy eliminates trafficking in dead game animals. (This is anti-Capitalist and anti- “free market,” isn’t it?)
- Wildlife is allocated by law. Regulations determine how wildlife resources are managed, including hunting seasons and bag limits. (If it were any other commodity, pro-capitalists would call this a Soviet-style “planned economy”.)
- The reasons for killing wildlife must be valid. Wildlife shall be taken by legal and ethical means, in the spirit of “fair chase,” and with good cause. Animals can be killed only for legitimate purposes—for food and fur, in self-defense, or for protection of property. (When Sarah Palin and her ilk shoot wolves from helicopters, however much they say it is to ease pressure on elk and moose populations that people need to eat in rural Alaska, it hardly seems this sporting.)
- Wildlife is an international resource. As such, hunting and fishing shall be managed cooperatively across state and province boundaries. (International cooperation has been called some dirty names by people frightened of the implications of a one-world government.)
- Science plays a key role in managing wildlife. Wildlife populations are sustained and scientifically managed by professionals in government agencies. (Plenty of people have stopped listening to science in recent years, especially if they don’t like research results.)
- Hunting, fishing, and trapping shall be democratic. Every citizen in good standing—regardless of wealth, social standing, or land ownership—is allowed to participate in the harvest of fish and wildlife within legal limits. (In other words, even the working class and the very poor should be able to take advantage of this public resource to sustain themselves. Hunting isn’t reserved for the aristocracy anymore. Equality for all.)
In these days of broken supply chains, higher prices, and climate chaos, re-localizing our economy and especially our food system is of great importance. Growing our own food in home gardens is a time-honored way to feed our families high quality, local food, and it can be done on the cheap. Hunting has long been a rural dweller’s way of adding nutritious, free-range, affordable protein to the dinner table as well, and it deserves a second look from those who may not have considered it as an option even a few years ago. And if you’re a gardener plagued by woodchucks eating your squash and tomatoes, leaving you with nothing in return, perhaps next year you can eat your vegetables and the woodchuck, too.
Join your local ecosystem. Just do it safely, legally and ethically. Finally, if you use a missile weapon, make sure to keep the business end pointed in a safe direction (and your booger hook off the bang button until you’re ready to shoot)!
Related: So You Want to Start a COVID Farm?