Meridian Star

Outdoors

October 18, 2013

A key to taking Autumn squirrels

MERIDIAN — Question: What kind of sport hunting tests your woodcraft skills to their limits, challenges you to make noiseless stalks, offers one of hunting’s most difficult targets and, if you fail, gives you another opportunity within minutes? It’s not deer or elk hunting or hunts for pronghorn or bear, where a couple of stalks a day would be exceptional. Fall squirrel hunting is your answer.

    And there is no better preparation for hunting the big game species that must be spotted and stalked than still hunting squirrels in our southern woods. I have hunted all the big game noted above, but let me assert at the outset that not one of them has been more difficult to stalk or caused me more frustration than the typical gray squirrel in a Mississippi hardwood forest.

    But good squirrel hunters have long ago learned how it is done and they go out and do it well and there are few hunters in the world more worthy of the title.

    Evidence of the skill needed to successfully bag squirrels came quite acutely to me once when I introduced a fine hunter and good wing shot to squirrel hunting. The swamp we hunted was literally full of young, low-growing water oak trees that were in their first years of acorn production. It seemed every oak had a couple of squirrels plucking acorns far out on young, low, limber limbs. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

    I soon had my limit and had heard my friend shoot several times. When we got back together, I was shocked to learn he had not a single squirrel in his bag. “I can’t get close to the darn things,” was his explanation. “They would run off every time!”

    The obvious suddenly dawned on me. One doesn’t learn to slip up on a squirrel during one’s first hunt.

    What I know about squirrel hunting I learned from my father and from a couple of buddies who are outstanding stalkers. But I am a slow learner, and I decided early on that because noise and movement made by the hunter were the biggest hindrances to success, I would hunt by sitting still and letting the squirrels come to me.

    For years that was my method and I have killed a lot of squirrels with that strategy. But my buddies always brought in heavier bags than I. We chalked it up to better eyesight, better shooting and other excuses. I finally learned their secret.

    It is actually not a secret at all, it is the widely accepted method of squirrel hunting. I just didn’t want to practice it because it involves movement and noise; both alarm signals that alert squirrels to danger. But what my friends do is what all good squirrel stalkers do. They keep moving.

    I knew they walked and I didn’t, and I knew they usually beat me. “You guys can walk like a cat in these dry leaves and I walk like a drunk elephant,” I would tell them. I assumed they were relatives of Daniel Boone and somewhere in my ancestry was one of the Three Stooges.

    Well, I finally learned that their noise was worth their seeing a lot more squirrels than my “sit still and wait” tactic. I began slipping among the fall white oaks without worrying about tripping over fallen limbs and crunching dry leaves underfoot. What I learned at long last was the tactic known by every good squirrel hunter in the country. That yes, every moving squirrel hunter spooks squirrels and many stalks end in the squirrel dashing away to a safe knot hole. But the moving hunter will soon come upon another squirrel and encounter another chance. The stalker will find enough squirrels to beat the stand hunter almost every time.

    When I tried this sneaking approach I spooked more squirrels, but I killed more per hour. I am onto my old buddies now and these days I can hold my own with them; all of us playing the same game.

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