By: Tom Claycomb
It seems summer just can’t quite arrive this year. In fact, spring just barely showed up a couple of weeks ago in my neck of the woods. But when it hits, springtime is magical in Idaho. We have turkey hunting, bear hunting, mushroom hunting, whistle pig hunting. and crappie fishing all kicking off simultaneously.
Any one of these items I could do non-stop. And don’t scoff at crappie fishing. It’s one of the top three best-eating freshwater fish. Last spring, we were getting more than 200 every trip!
So this article could take off in five different directions, but the topic we’re going to cover today is whistle pig hunting. Their actual name is a “Townsend Ground Squirrel,” but everyone in Idaho calls them whistle pigs.
They are a unique animal. They come out the middle of March, although you will see a few as early as February. They breed in late January/early February. Their gestation period is 24 days, and they have 6-10 pups.
Like I say, adults will sporadically start popping out in late February, but moreso in March. You can have good days of shooting, then but it’s spotty. April-May is the primo time.
Then the young ones start popping out. They’re naïve. And then the spring rains stop, usually the middle of May to the end of May, and it starts getting warm and dry. By the middle of June, it is hot, and they disappear.
They don’t hibernate, they estivate. I’m not a biologist, so don’t grill me for any inaccuracies, but hibernation is the term for animals that sleep through the winter. When an animal estivates, it goes under for the summer. Here’s where it gets a little confusing to me: not only do WPs estivate, but they also hibernate…. but not quite. They start coming out in late Febuary/early March as stated above, so I guess I’d say they estivate and ¾’s hibernate.
I say the above so you know their habits. But, enough of the science. How do you hunt them? It’s really pretty simple. When you pull up to an area, you will see the mounds from their burrowing and scads of them scurrying around. Bingo! that’s where you hunt.
There’s a myriad of ways to hunt. Many people pull up and lean against their truck to shoot. Some set up a shooting bench, and many use shooting sticks. You’ll see quite a few people take out walking across the prairie. A lot of times I’ll carry a backpack with my gear, a pad to set on, and a pair of shooting sticks. I’ll walk to a good area and set up and shoot, and then move to another spot.
What guns work best? As a whole, due to the terrain, and whistle pigs being small and hidden by grass, you don’t really get an inordinate number of long shots. Most are 200 yards or fewer, with the majority being 75 and fewer. So, you see very few people using a .223. Most people use .22s, .22 mags, or .17 HMRs. They are a small targets, so you’ll want a good scope. I have a Riton Optics 6-24x on my .17 HMR.
But, I bet 95% of the WPs are shot with .22s. This year, I started shooting Federal Champion .22 ammo and CCI. I am having great luck with accuracy on the CCI ammo. In my Mossberg .17 HMR, I’m using the CCI A17, and for my Henry’s .22 mag, I’m using Federal 50 gr. ammo.
Here’s why I briefly covered ammo: For years, I thought .22s were inherently inaccurate. Not so. It’s just that most .22 ammo is mass-produced to keep the prices down (which I like and understand), but with your .22, you are shooting small targets, so you’ll be more successful with good ammo.
OL, now for a different twist: Why not use air guns on WPs? Coincidentally, years ago, when .22 ammo was up to $50/brick, I was getting into air guns. So, I started hunting WPs with air guns. Even though a .22 doesn’t have a loud report, it is still loud enough that it spooks the WPs. If they’ve been shot at much at all, they’ll hide for a few moments. I haven’t ever done an actual time study, but due to experience of shooting tens of thousands of rounds at them, I’d estimate that they pop back up 60% faster if you’re using an air gun as compared to a .22.
If you want a good middle of the road air gun, check out the Benjamin Steel Eagle. It has sent a lot of WPs to squirrel heaven. But due to the accuracy of my Benjamin Marauder, they had to build a new wing in squirrel heaven!
If this article prompts you to go pop a few WPs, don’t forget the air gun option. And if you don’t have one and are contemplating buying one, get a .22. They have a lot better killing properties than a .177.
And lastly, it is just as important with air guns as it is in big game rifles to choose accurate shooting ammo. For more info on this topic, check out this link:
So just because turkey season is over the hill, as well as bear hunting in most units, don’t panic! You still have a few weeks left to hunt if you get out and chase the wily Whistle Pig. But take plenty of ammo. On good days, I’ll get 400-500 shots. Due to the number of shots you’ll get, it is an excellent way to hone up on your shooting skills.
Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.