Full Metal Redneck

Last summer my garden was ravaged by woodchucks. I patched holes in the fence, used chicken wire and cinder blocks to fortify weak spots, and worked my way around the perimeter to made it varmint-proof. It didn’t work. Somehow, they were getting in. By midsummer, the tomatoes and winter squash and other plants were so big and dense that I couldn’t see where the fucking things were escaping when I’d spot them out my office window, jump into my shorts (What. I generally find pants to be an unnecessary encumbrance when writing during the warmer months) and sprint outside to try to see their escape route, which, logic dictated, would also be their entrance. They’re such prey, with commensurately sharp paranoia-fueled hearing and peripheral vision, that they would bolt at the sound of the front door opening. It drove me mad. We got no broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, carrots, fennel, radicchio, endive, or parsnips last year, except for a few stunted roots since they only eat the greens. Then the hurricane took the willow tree down, and there went all the peppers and eggplants and half the tomatoes. It was ever so bucolic.

Finally, I saw one of them dart through a section of the back fence, which is inch and a half by four inch welded wire. It never occurred to me that they’d be able to squeeze their fat, bulky bodies through such a small opening. But they can, especially once they’ve gotten a hit of that sweet, sweet broccoli. If you have a garden, do whatever you can to keep them from getting that first taste. Once they get it, they’re like crackheads. They will not be denied. They’ll go through or under any but the most diligently maintained fences.

My solution, since trenching the perimeter and burying a foot or more of  poultry netting was too grisly to contemplate, was to use the netting (in four foot rolls) in a flange sort of configuration: I tied the top edge of it about 30″ up from the ground and let the remaining 18″ lie flat. The lawn all grew up through the mesh in no time, so it’s invisible. It dissuades burrowing superbly. Thus, the entirety of this summer so far had been blessedly woodchuck free until the other day. One of the younger ones got in somehow, but when I chased it around it couldn’t find its way out. I poked it with a big stake—the ones I make for tomatoes by ripping an eight foot 2×4 in half—to goad it around the interior so it would show me the hole. It couldn’t find it, so I opened the gate and chased it out.

Then, the next day, the big daddy was in there. I had the shovel this time. I could have killed him, but I wanted to see where the hole was. He used it, and I patched it. But they had gotten a taste of the broccoli now, so they were demons possessed. The next morning, they had dug a tunnel under the one place where I didn’t do the flange thing last year because of the lavender planted hard by the outside of the fence. So I retrofitted a version of the solution there and weighed it down with big rocks. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Today, I was in my office writing an article and I took a little break to look out the window. There were two of them, nosing around the outside trying to get in. The little one was pretty lazy about it, revisiting the site of the tunnel several times to see if it had magically gotten unblocked, but the big guy was manic: hurling himself against the fence and gnawing at the chicken wire to try and make a hole he could get through like a drunken John Goodman outside an Arby’s at 2 AM. I didn’t think it would work, but all of a sudden he was inside. I dashed downstairs, grabbing some jeans on the way (which actually matters later on) and then the shovel.

When I closed the gate behind me, he bolted for the opening, but he couldn’t find it. I had him cornered up against that part of the fence, and he chattered at me with a mixture of terror and fury, fixing me with his little beady black eyes and gnashing his nasty choppers. Besides his visible fear, he looked seriously pissed off that I had the temerity to defend my produce against his depredations. His sense of entitlement, which was such that one close encounter with my shovel had not deterred him, was his undoing. I wound up, swung, and bashed him in the head as hard as I could.

He flipped over, limbs flung wide and twitching, and I brought it down again hard on his neck to be sure he was dead. Then I looked up to see a young woman walking across the lawn towards me, smiling and waving. It was someone who used to babysit for us, who is absolutely gorgeous, and whom I hadn’t seen in four years or so. She’s canvassing for an environmental organization this summer.

She stood there smiling, holding a clipboard, wearing sexy librarian glasses, looking like a very literate and idealistic supermodel, an expectant expression on her face as she readied herself to weave her pitch into the requisite catching-up banter.

I stood there, unshaven, dripping sweat, clutching a bloody shovel, my hair in a full Jewfro from the humidity, watching crimson bubbles pop on the creature’s nose, and said “It’s so nice to see you! Why don’t you go inside and make yourself at home; I just finished bludgeoning a woodchuck and I need to dispose of him.”

But I was wearing pants, so it wasn’t weird.

Then I scooped him up and catapulted him over the fence into the meadow. I did deliberate for a minute, imagining the totally awesome Caddyshack-meets-Game-of-Thrones blog post I could have written about gutting, skinning, cooking and eating him with a ragout of broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, carrots, fennel, radicchio, endive, and parsnips, complete with lots of photos that would have put my pig-killing post to shame and probably earned me some juicy hate mail on account of the fuzziness quotient of the beast in question. But I opted to compost him instead.

Hank will probably call me a pussy, but I’m OK with that. There’s no question that when you kill something with a shovel, you have crossed a Redneck Rubicon of sorts. There’s no going fully back to the erstwhile effete you used to be. It is equally indisputable, however, that if you eat the thing you killed with a shovel, you have voyaged quite a ways (sorry, “a piece”) farther down the road toward full hillbilly status. And I’m just not ready to go there yet. I have too many teeth.

I think the beautiful young woman was an emissary, an angel sent from the muse of civilization to arrest my descent into feral rural savagery. She was living proof that pausing to pull on some trousers before committing murder with garden implements is not a needless waste of time. Pants are a socializing counterweight to our wild instincts, the wearing of which can prevent attractive people from fleeing, and which therefore can influence one’s decision-making process as it relates to, say, hoisting a freshly-killed groundhog aloft by a rear leg and saying “Wanna stay for dinner?”

I don’t regret killing the woodchuck. I’ll do the same for any others that break in from now on; since our neighbor’s dog died there has been a major proliferation in the neighborhood. Everyone is having problems with them. I work hard in my garden and am not willing to have wild animals help themselves to entire beds of my plants. It’s bad enough that the deer browse my landscaping like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.

There will be plenty of time to learn how to eat roadkill when the apocalypse comes. Although, as I think back, I’m already regretting not leaving him in the garden for a few minutes and butchering him later on. He was so fat, and had seasoned himself so thoroughly from within by eating all those vegetables, that he might just have been the best-tasting woodchuck in the county. They supposedly taste a lot like rabbit, but rabbits have no fat. I could have made woodchuck prosciutto, delicately carrot-sweet, with his big back legs. Groundhog pancetta, rolled up with fennel pollen, would be just the thing for flavoring slow-cooked collard greens. His skin would have made an awesome pot holder, or even a jaunty hat.

I’m going to take my pants off and go cut a hole in the garden fence.

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  1. July 22

    Carl Spackler lives!

    • Peter
      July 22


  2. July 22

    Don’t despair. The word on the excellence of your garden is out; I’m sure you will get another chance at killing a woodchuck for dinner. What will be interesting is whether or not your wife will partake.

    • Peter
      July 22

      Probably not, but she has surprised me before.

  3. July 22

    Wow. That’s just awesome. Texas-style, except we don’ t wear pants.

    • Peter
      July 22

      I like women from Texas.

  4. Leslie
    July 22

    I feel your pain …… And want to experience the joy of the shovel!

    • Peter
      July 22

      Coincidentally, that’s the title of my forthcoming autobiography.

  5. July 22

    We had a major mole problem last year first with gophers, then with moles. The moles didn’t actually eat my plants, they just uprooted them all and killed them. We finally set a mole trap, those ones with the 6 prongs that is supposed to come down and kill them pretty efficiently. I felt so awful one morning when I woke up and found we’d finally caught one…only the stupid trap had only managed to pierce him with one prong on the edge of his stomach…so there he was, totally alive and in agonizing pain, drenched with mud and water from the sprinklers having gone off over him. I made my husband do the shovel duty. Though I did hack at my garden with the shovel one time when I saw them moving under the dirt. I never got that one though. And that was after I had thought I’d mole and gopher proofed my garden with meticulous wire lining…fail!

    • Peter
      July 22

      My next garden is going to be like Fort Knox.

  6. July 22

    This post had me laughing so hard! Just had an email from a long-time friend in the Midwest who was turning her compost pile with a pitchfork and speared a frog. She contemplated just mixing the critter into the pile but then opted for the garbage can. She was very happy with her choice. Apparently rotting frogs stink to high hades.

    • Peter
      July 22

      I believe that.

  7. July 22

    I saw your tweet about this, and wondered if we would hear the tale. Wow! I’m quite impressed. When I worked on a farm in college, there was a bounty on woodchucks: $10. That was a chunk (a chuck?) of change in those days, and we always wished we would get one. When someone would get one, it was usually with a shovel. Most of the time, pants were worn.

    Random woodchuck trivia: Did you know that John Burroughs favorite meal was woodchuck steak?

    • Peter
      July 22

      I did not know that, but now I regret no eating him even more.

  8. Eve
    July 22

    awesome post! Ever so bucolic, as you say. My mom-in-law struggled so much with the little bastards that she had to put up an electric fence (and there’s also serious fencing that goes down a few feet under the dirt). The electric fence works wonders…

    We’ve got a family of racoons, a rat and a whole host of chipmunks destroying our hard work (but due to the nature of where it is, there’s really no defending it). And those deer who do love to browse, of course. I wish they would apply themselves to our lawn, instead, especially the parts that can only handled by a weed whipper…

    • Peter
      July 22

      Yeah, it’s a vast conspiracy. We’re outnumbered. I’m happy to be your fencing consultant when you move.

  9. Andrew
    July 22

    I feel your pain. There were three Rhodesian ridgeback dogs living here before we moved in. Soon as they left, groundhogs took up residence under our shed. And they do love a garden. I got a havahart trap. First thing I caught was a possum. Let it go as they don’t bother with the garden. Though it was a pain getting it out of the trap as sure enough, it played dead.

    Then got three groundhogs. They kept coming, one bigger than the next. Once trapped, I’d drive them five miles and relocate them in a nice park away from houses. Not as messy as your shovel, though it is wise to line your car with trash bags for when they inevitably shit en route.

    Then, having emptied our shed den of ground hogs, the skunk moved in. That sucked. Had to get a different trap designed for skunks, which was immediately successful. However, as relocating a skunk is fraught with danger, and most means of killing one will cause it to spray, I took care of the trapped varmint by giving it a very unsuccessful swimming lesson, trap and all. My wife thought the scene in our yard was something out of a Soprano’s episode.

    I’d think that after that, my karma would be so shot that the pests would keep coming, but we’ve been fortunate since then for the time being. I hadn’t thought of eating the groundhog, but I would imagine that it seeing you in a steaming rage, violently brandishing a blood-crusted shovel, along with the subsequent repetitive bludgeoning, might stimulate secretion of copious stress hormones at the time of its demise. Might be some pretty tough meat. If you do decide to eat Punxsutawney next time, I’d try the meat grinder or sous vide.

  10. Peter
    July 22

    Oy. By the time the shovel blade hit him, he was probably at least 50% stress hormones, so I think you’re right. Having a dog would be easy but for the allergic wife.

  11. […] a totally different note, I visited Peter over at cookblog who had quite the hysterical post on his battle to save his garden from woodchucks. A very fun […]

  12. Dwaine Gipe
    July 23

    My story to a “T” save another chapter. I went international and purchased a one cock .177 pellet gun. The most worthwhile cost was just over $500.00. A replica of the munitions Rogers and Clark quietly fed themselves with and were quiet enough in so doing to avoid the troublesome Indians. At least I had no Indians to deal with…just one nosey neighbor with a long nose. The issue was the absolute promise that the report was softer than a screen door closing or a deer stepping on a stone. It was but Mr. Hog never batted an eye when hit with .177 salvage. The gun was just fine for other backyard and garden trophy hunts. I couldn’t go to Texas hunting because the Germans had all my spare dollars vested in the silent gun. This moment is years after the gun issue. I still see an average of five hogs a year in my suburban garden. They still defy all of my dastardly efforts. God has to be on their side.

    • Peter
      July 23

      Wow, a .177 didn’t hurt him? I was actually thinking of getting one.

      • B
        August 7

        Hogs have really thick skulls and skin so the .177 will not do anything to them. As long as you get the pellet gun that is 1000-1200 FPS it will take out small vermin no problem. That is roughly the same muzzle velocity of a .22 caliber, just smaller and quieter.

  13. July 23

    Hahaha! I can SO relate to your story! Woodchucks completely ate my peas and parsnips this year too. But it wasn’t until the other varmints started going after my chickens that I completed my descent into (as you say) “feral rural savagery.” As the following recent posts I made on my farm’s Facebook page will attest:

    July 13, 11:05 pm:
    Mr. Thieving Skunk made a return visit tonight, as expected. Mighty chicken defenders, Ken and Nancy, vanquished him with pitchfork and sword. (Yes, I DID just stab a skunk with a gold-hilted decorative replica sword).

    July 21, 10:25 pm:
    A possum AND a skunk were after the chickens tonight! I cornered the possum under the steps and stabbed him with my sword (who would have guessed THAT scenario would come up again so soon?). The skunk went under the building where I couldn’t get him. Time to buy a live catch trap!

    July 22, 12:03 am:
    OH. MY. GOD. I just had to kill another possum. IN MY FRIGGING BEDROOM!!!! It came in through the cat door, walked down the hall to the opposite side of the house, climbed the stairs, and came into my bedroom bold as can be, while I was lying there in bed reading with the light on. I may never sleep again!

    After that last episode, I can agree with you that putting clothes on before murdering wildlife (even in the privacy of your own bedroom) just somehow feels like an important thing to do!

    • Peter
      July 24

      That’s hardcore, and the sword only makes it more so.

  14. July 23

    See, I have all my teeth yet a shovel is my preferred method of dispatch. I could rummage around for the rifle but hey, a shovel is usually always handy. The most recent example: while watching Margaret Friday night (not bad) the dog was dancing/whining by the open window (her nose never lies). The husband paused the movie and I went outside with the dog to investigate, finding an opossum in the goat shed, and finding a shovel too. Hose off shovel, hose off bare legs, return to movie.

    • Peter
      July 23

      You’re a role model and cautionary tale all in one. If my wife worked full-time, I’d be like you.

  15. Anna Dibble
    July 23

    hilarious laugh out loud post. Loved it! Peter, it’s time to get a dog!!!

    • Peter
      July 23

      We can’t. I’d need a different wife.

  16. Edith Wiethorn
    July 23

    A peerless post! You might want to consider getting a non-allergenic Labradoodle. Although the name sounds silly, my son’s family has a now three-year old male & he is a noble & useful beast. Features that might suit your family: 1] non-allergenic; 2] cutest puppy ever; 2] beautiful & elegant adult dog; 3] great temperament – as family friendly as a Laborador Retreiver, but never fawning & schmoozing; 4] can lie peacefully near an ongoing banquet & never drool or beg for snacks; 5] an excellent road-trip or back-country companion; 6] formidable & capable watch dog; and 7] loves to chase rabbits & squirrels on the property – woodchucks would fit!

  17. Peter
    July 23

    Sadly, they still bother her. Not as much, but enough.

  18. snailears
    August 10

    Woodchucks (we call ‘em Ground Grizzlies in my neck of the woods) do mucho damage to gardens and their burrows can snap a steer’s leg in an instant. I don’t hate the critters but I do eliminate them whenever I have the opportunity. I work at an airport and the place is overrun with Griz. It’s like a sanctuary because they have 100’s of acres of tender grass to eat, few predators and no one harassing them – hell some of them probably die of old age! A couple of years ago it got so bad that the chucks were eating the plastic covering off vehicle wiring harnesses! After a few of my co-workers had to pony up large amounts of green to fix their trucks I got permission from the airport manager to begin culling them with my air rifle. So now, at least around our hangar, the population is being kept in check. I have a .22 caliber pre-charged pneumatic air rifle made by Benjamin called the Marauder. It is quite powerful and extremely accurate; in fact I have numerous confirmed kills beyond 50 yards. The rifle is very quiet and perfect for spots where your neighbors may be close by. I don’t know how far away your office window is but you might even be able to shoot them from there.

    PS The young ones a delicious slow roasted (just be sure to remove the scent glands). They taste very much like a suckling pig.

  19. Lars
    August 19

    You, my good sir, are hilarious. I giggled my way through this post and you still got me hungry in the end. I’ve not read all your stuff, and I don’t know a whole lot about you, but I do pop in here from time to time to catch up on some of your posts. I never leave disappointed.

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