Marmot Hunting Madness

The gateway to varmint hunting heaven might be only a knock on a door away.

Marmot Hunting Madness

Five marmots averaging 9 pounds apiece taken during a one-hour run around an infested ranch.

I saw a vehicle headed my way, kicking up a large plume of dust in the distance. I was parked at the entrance of the property per the ranch owner’s instructions. He had contacted the local Fish and Game office simply stating that he had a marmot problem and needed some help. After a few phone calls and as many texts, I was now waiting to meet Roger at the front gate and hopefully help him with his rodent problem. 

The worn-out Gator slowed to a stop with a serious squeak next to my truck. As the dust moved on, I rolled down my passenger side window. A man of few words, Roger simply stated, “Get in!” I quickly exited my truck and climbed into the two-seater vehicle. Roger stuck out his hand as a greeting and we were off. 

Roger raises both dairy and beef cows and every pasture we drove by was bright green and growing. While we drove, Roger would yell over the rattling engine and worn suspension, and point out woodpiles and rock mounds, simultaneously stating the number of marmots he has observed at each location. As he spoke, I began to silently tally the total and realized that he was nearing the mid-20s as far as rodent numbers. If these numbers were true, he was indeed overrun with marmots

At the end of the field, we made a sharp right down the property line. He continued to identify locations where he had seen marmot activity on the ranch as he conducted his daily chores. We pulled up to an irrigation bridge and he showed me how marmots were undercutting the road over the canal with their constant burrowing. Shaking his head, he stated that it would soon be too dangerous to cross if the burrowing continued. 

As we cut between two fields, a chubby marmot, mouth filled with alfalfa, scurried across the road and disappeared into a dirt hole. “He might as well be taking money out of my pocket!” Roger exclaimed, pointing to the disappearing dust beaver. His volume and anger demonstrated to me that he absolutely hates marmots.

Circling back around, he showed me a corner of his alfalfa crop that was adjacent to a group of the varmints. A 50- by 50-foot section of the crop had been mowed down to almost ground level. Roger explained that with no real deterrent, these rodents could feed at will, heavily cutting into his profits. 

Back at our starting point, I told Roger that if he allowed me to, I could slowly cruise the property glassing for marmots and remove them using my Savage .17 HMR rifle. Excited to finally have some help with his rodent issue, Roger’s only rule was that I don’t shoot his cows. I assured him that gun safety on his property was my No. 1 priority.


Rampant Reproduction

Marmots, also known as rock chucks, seek out green pastures to feed on but will often take up residency in rocks or debris piles near a food source. Reproducing in the spring, adult marmots will excavate large burrows in these piles to have their young. As with most herbivores, the number of offspring is driven by food availability; the more food they find, the more young they’ll have. 

More active during the warmer temperatures of spring and summer, marmots often seek out areas around agricultural fields that provide an almost constant source of green vegetation. In and around farm fields is where these animals find the necessary food requirements to reproduce in sometimes incredible numbers. These seasonal invasions usually put them at odds with farmers such as Roger. Due to the crop destruction and ground damage created by the constant burrow excavation, most farmers gladly accept hunter assistance for controlling these damaging rodents. 

Roger dropped me off back at my vehicle. He told me that if I ran into anyone asking about my business on the property, I was to tell them I’m killing marmots for Roger. With that verbal carte blanche, he wished me luck and sped off in a plume of dust. 

And so it went. I would make my way out to Roger’s ranch twice a week and spend a few hours glassing and setting up on these chubby, hole-digging alfalfa stealers. After a trip or two, I began to see a pattern. It was clear they had no fear of vehicles, having watched them come and go throughout the day as Roger and his crew conducted business on the ranch. They were also extremely curious, and I would eventually end up using these two behaviors to lay waste to the marmot horde on Roger’s ranch.

Using an established route, I would stop and glass several well known marmot locations. Once I spotted a few animals, I would drive closer and set up. Placing a shooting bag on the door, I would simply wait them out until they popped back out of their hole. It got to the point that if I saw them disappear into a hole, pile or mound, I knew I could kill them.

The Hornady .17 HMR 17-grain V-Max was the perfect round for anchoring some of the larger critters.
The Hornady .17 HMR 17-grain V-Max was the perfect round for anchoring some of the larger critters.

Marmot Medicine

I determined that their comfortable safety zone was roughly 60 to 70 yards. No matter where I drove on the ranch, I could close in to about 70 yards before they scurried for cover. Knowing this, I sighted my Savage model 93R17 .17 HMR rifle in to be dead-on at this distance. Topped with a Bushnell Banner 6-18x50mm scope, I could consistently hit a dime-size target at that range. 

Over the weeks the number of marmots I removed from the ranch started to climb. At the end of each trip, I’d line up the take for the day, take a quick photo and text it to Roger. He would reply with an additional location and the numbers he’d seen at the new spot. When I reached 20 confirmed, Roger met me back at the ranch to show me some additional areas. “You clearly know what you’re doing, so I’m going to show you some other spots!” he said as he climbed into my truck. 

With animals weighing into the double digits, it became important for me to anchor them where they were, or I’d lose them down a hole. Neck and head shots became the name of the game. And while they were very curious animals, they’d often give me only part of their head or an eye as a target when they came back out to investigate my presence. And that was all I needed. 

As I crested 30 kills, I noticed something. Roger seemed to enjoy having me on the property, and I really enjoyed helping him out. While I was out there, I’d also make note of any property issues he might have while I was slow rolling his ranch and let him know. 

One morning I received a text from Roger asking if I was headed to the ranch. I told him I was and that I’d be there later that day. He told me that I needed to bring a large cooler with me. I had no idea why, but before I left, I tossed one in the back of the truck. 

At the ranch, I ran my usual circuit and killed another three marmots. I drove to his house and showed him the day’s take, one rodent tipping the scales at 12.5 pounds. He leaned over the truck bed and gave me his usual approving smile and nod of the head. He then told me to grab my cooler and follow him. 

When we had first started this marmot extermination project on Roger’s property, he had mentioned that he wanted to pay me $5 a head as a bounty. I had instantly declined his offer and told him I enjoyed the task and was happy to help him out. Now it appeared that he had plans to pay me another way. We walked into one of the outbuildings on his property. Lined against one wall were several large freezers. He lifted two of the freezer doors and turned toward me. “If you won’t take my money, you’re going to take my beef!” Roger instructed me to load up my cooler with chops, hamburger and steaks. Despite my objection, Roger began tossing packages of frozen meat into my cooler. He insisted I do the same until the cooler was full. That evening, I drove home with close to 200 pounds of farm fresh meat and Roger’s appreciation. 

As the summer progressed, marmot numbers started to drop. Roger had mentioned that he kept seeing two large rodents at the edge of his alfalfa field directly behind a long wall of wood boxes. He had been telling me about this spot for weeks, but each time I stopped to check it out, the area was vacant. In fact, I had decided that they simply weren’t hanging out in that area. During a late afternoon run, I drove by and decided to check it out one last time. I parked and walked the 30 yards into the area, glassing the feeding spot from behind an old tractor. Through the binocular, I caught some movement. I was shocked to see four large marmots lying in the dirt and feeding. Three of the rodents were of average size and had no idea I was there. The fourth animal was a true monster.

Burrowing devastation such as this large hole were visible everywhere around the ranch.
Burrowing devastation such as this large hole were visible everywhere around the ranch.

Go, Go Marmzilla!

I eased back out, returned to the truck and grabbed my rifle. The only shot I had was through the tire gap of an old tractor. Placing my shooting sticks across the tires and resting the rifle on the sticks, I put the large marmot in the scope. One shot from the Savage at 50 yards and he slumped to the ground dead. With light fading, I decided to walk out and grab the dead marmot. When I got up to the downed critter, I was shocked. It looked obese — almost twice as large as the others. I grabbed the animal and took it back to the truck. Roger had seen me on the property and walked over. He walked up and looked in the truck bed at Marmzilla. “Holy cow! That is the largest marmot I’ve ever seen out here!” he said. Later, at my house, the marmot tipped the scales at 15.5 pounds, the largest I’d take off his property that summer.   

During the first week of August, I began seeing less marmot activity out at the ranch. Toward the end of the summer, it became clear that animals had either been removed from the property or had left Roger’s ranch for less dangerous grounds. Either way, Roger was pleased with my efforts and results. After several trips to the ranch toward the end of the summer without a sighting and no new reports from Roger, I decided that my time there was done. 

From the middle of April to the first week in August I removed 55 marmots from Roger’s property. After each trip to the ranch, I texted photos of confirmed kills to Roger so he could keep track of my progress. He had commented that no one had even come close to removing the numbers I had, and that I was welcome on his property anytime. 

I was more than happy to help Roger with his marmot problem, and I felt like I learned a lot about the habits and behavior of this burrowing varmint. Understanding that they are a seasonal animal, usually staying below ground during the fall and winter months, I know they’ll be back. As the days get longer and the winter chill eases into warmer spring temperatures, I know the marmot cycle will once again awaken, and they will do what rodents do — eat and dig. And I know Roger will give me a call and start barking out locations and marmot numbers. And honestly, I can’t wait!


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