If you're lucky in this life, you'll experience that magical moment when you fall in with a group of people whose core beliefs are so compatible with your own that you immediately know you have arrived home.
"Well well...fellow chipmonk gruge holders," wrote Sassy Rebel42, an Oklahoma gardener, on my favorite website recently. "The little buggers are not as harmeless as many paint them to be. For many years I have been battling the tunnels and holes in my garden pathways as well as the beds. Much to my regret I fell as one more of their tunnles colapsed under my weight. Now I am laied up with a broken leg."
Undaunted by his injury, Sassy Rebel42 sat on his porch in a cast, picking off chipmunks in a supreme act of payback. "32 in the last 3 weeks," he bragged. "I am a regular Annie Okley."
His was just one story on GardenWeb.com's anti-pest online message board. Using a combination of public venting, confessional and appalling grammar, readers wrote in daily with tales of chipmunk havoc that were not for the easily disgusted.
Which I am not. I gave up being squeamish about dead chipmunks long ago. And the truth is, I didn't "stumble" on the website. I went looking for it, and I was happy to find it. I had my reasons.
My wife is a gardener. Over the years, she has fought deer, elk, crappy soil and a brutal climate. But none of it prepared her for the wholesale destruction wrought by chipmunks, who can seem cute -- until you know different.
Every morning, she looked out our kitchen window and assessed the damage. "Okay, wait," she'd say. "I planted that huge rose bush yesterday, and it's gone." Within days, the lettuce was mangled and the protective cages she put around the oregano had been toppled. Before the first day of summer, the entire garden was a loss.
One day she left the kitchen door open and a chipmunk skittered into the house and made a beeline for the dog-food bowl. It was the final straw, although by then the bale was plenty light. Our domicile had been breached.
Luckily, this is a Make My Day state. "I want you to kill them all," she said. "Make it hurt."
The website confirmed my darkest fears. The damage caused by the striped rats was, of course, annoying. "I, too, became a victim of the trecherous and deceitful, the taunting and destructive, yes, the vicious CHIPMONK," one southerner seethed.
But it was expensive, too. House foundations, garage doors, deck supports, entire walls -- all had been savaged by the degenerate Alvins. Everyone, it seemed, had a story, usually accompanied by an eye- popping price tag.
"Heard back from the Volvo shop," wrote Sondagsakane, of Illinois. "Chipmunks have eaten part of my emissions control system -- $625 to drop the gas tank to get at the damage. Not under the warranty, obviously. It's coming out of their scruffy little hides."
We scrambled for solutions. Nothing worked perfectly, although one technique seemed efficient: a sort of drywall-bucket Thunderdome, half-filled with water, its surface sprinkled densely with sunflower seeds. Animals walked a plank covered with a few teaser seeds and then plunged into what they assumed was a bonanza bucket of food. And drowned.
As word spread, the response among frustrated gardeners and homeowners was nothing short of euphoric. One Midwest gardener was thrilled to find a chipmunk struggling in five inches of water the very day he set his trap. It seemed to bring out his inner Dirty Harry: "I went inside and got a 7-11 Super Big Gulp 44 oz. of water and asked [the chipmunk] if he needed more water. He nodded yes so I gave him a big gulp. Now he is comfortably resting in a plastic bag in the garbage can soon to be joined by more of his buddies."
I tried the bucket trick myself and began harvesting a few dead chipmunks every day. It was a nice start. But was it sport?
"You can't shoot chipmunks," said Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the state's Division of Wildlife. "They're a non-game species."
"But what if they're destroying your garden? Or a Volvo?"
"But they're rats," I persisted. "You can kill rats, right?"
"Yeah, they're rodents," Malmsbury said. "You can trap them."
"And you can kill squirrels?"
"Yeah, they're game animals."
"But chipmunks aren't?"
"Nope," he said. "Look, I gotta go. Call an authorized trapper."
Dave, a local pest-control expert, may have been "aware" that chipmunks were not, technically, legal game. But he didn't care, either. "I'd shoot 'em," he recommended. "They're just varmints." Besides, he added, "I just euthanize all the stuff I catch, anyway."
Another local licensed trapper was equally sympathetic. "Chipmunks -- always a problem," he sighed.
"What if I shoot them?" I asked.
"No cop, no stop, I reckon."
Wal-Mart may have stopped selling handguns, but in the giant retailer's eyes, pellet pistols are still a legitimate tool of self-defense. A jet-black Crossman Repeat-Air with red-light sight cost just under $50. As I confided my intentions to my friends, it became apparent that the prospect of a chipmunk hunt had intriguing social possibilities, as well.
"Sure, I'll come over for a chipmunk shoot," said my friend Paul, a county wildlife worker. He showed up with a six-pack of beer and his own pellet pistol. We passed a pleasant afternoon together while the women stayed quiet indoors, Little House on the Prairie style.
We were successful enough to be confronted with a slight chipmunk-corpse issue. I liked the idea of using what the land provided, just like Native Americans before me. But our options seemed limited. "Too small for a sandwich, too big for a cracker," Pablo, a New Hampshire web-poster wrote sadly. "That is the true quandary regarding chippies."
Neal "Doc" Martin, recipe keeper for the Coon 'n Crockett Muzzleloaders, confirmed this. "I've never looked for a chipmunk recipe," he admitted. "I haven't eaten one yet. Some of the guys have eaten mice and gophers."
Eventually, the problem of the chipmunk remains was solved with a natural elegance. We threw them onto the backstretches of my three acres, where they were snapped up nightly by the resident red foxes. It felt good to contribute to the circle of life.
Like any hunter, I told stories, epic tales of stalking and marksmanship. My friends desperately wanted in. Chris drove all the way from the Western Slope with his BB rifle. Everyone who tried it agreed: It was restorative watching a chipmunk tumble down a rock face like a rooftop cowboy picked off by the sheriff in the street. Chris felt cheated, he added, that the only pests on his own land were antelope.
The garden struggled valiantly. I hadn't completely erased the chipmunks, but I was making a dent. Besides, there is something deeply just, in an Old Testament way, about treating a varmint as it has treated you. I'd established a biblical reckoning -- and right in my back yard, too.
This was a man's job, I thought. And when he does it well, he ought to be recognized.
"No, we don't keep records for trophy chipmunks," a woman at the Varmint Hunters Association said. Still, she wasn't uninterested. "Why? Do you have one? What's the biggest one you've gotten?" I searched my memory: About the size of a Johnsonville brat. It could be record-worthy. But then again, who knew?
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The Boone & Crockett Club, based in Montana, tracks records for most game animals, including walrus -- but not chipmunks. Yet. "The smallest thing we'd accept is an antelope," a spokesman said. "That's nowhere near the size of a chipmunk. Why? You got a big one?"
"People call us to find out if there are records for squirrels, possums, raccoons," says Sean at the Safari Club International. "But a chipmunk is a little odd. Why? You got a big one?"
Maybe. The other day, while drying dishes at the kitchen sink, I looked out into the garden and saw a chipmunk uprooting one of the last flower plants to make it through the spring. I signaled my family with the universally accepted sign for "Shut up -- I'm about to kill something." They fell into a reverential hush. Silently cranking the window open, I reached for my handgun. Everyone held their breath. A trophy if I ever saw one.
Now if only I could find a good taxidermist.