Squirrel Season: Opening Day, 2012

Note to readers: I will be discussing the harvesting of wild game using firearms. While I won’t be graphic, if you do not desire to read about such outdoor sporting activities, please stop reading now. Thanks for stopping by!

August 15:

It’s in my head every year. This date finally kicks off the various seasons I enjoy the most: Fall, Winter, small game hunting, large game hunting, ice fishing and the like. Due to health reasons I have not been able to be as active outside as I once was. This year I finally feel up to being out and about. It was about the most perfect morning to be in the woods.

Getting there:

The clock on the dash glowed a green 6:15 as I pulled away from the drive thru at a local fast food restaurant. Beverage of choice in hand, I left Warsaw behind as the darkness was giving way to a bright pinkish glow. I was driving toward North Webster and the Tri-County State Fish & Game Area for Kosciusko County. I am aware of a couple “honey holes” for squirrel and was excited to be in the woods as these tree rats awoke and got about their late summer foraging. About a half hour later or so I turned off State Road 13 and threaded my way through some back roads.

Then I saw these horrid orange diamond signs in my path. They read, “Road Closed Ahead”. When I face these signs, I often drive around them and just figure I need to check the road to make sure it really is closed. I know you do it as well. I should have known better than to waste time doing this, but I did and it put me way behind “schedule” because I had to drive back to SR13 and find another way in to Tri-County. After registering and picking up my hunter’s permit, along with 3 other early risers, I was off. I was quite disappointed at first because the section of road that was closed kept me from getting to the habitat I really wanted to spend time in this morning. I chose another area where I hunted whitetails during a muzzleloader season some years ago. I wasn’t sure about the squirrel population but I had to get in the woods! It was almost 7:00a by time I parked, donned my last bit of camouflage and loaded my rifle.

The equipment:

The rifle I use is a Marlin .22, tube fed magazine. I’ve had this gun for a couple of decades now. I think I purchased it new at a Montgomery Wards store in South Bend, but I’m not sure. It was been my faithful companion and seen many squirrel seasons itself. Below is a picture of a similar model. I had pulled this trusty friend out of storage just last week and spent some time getting reacquainted with it at the firing range. She was as precisely accurate as the day I put her away. I use a Remington hollow point .22 round. This is what I loaded the magazine with this morning. I also brought along a Primos Squirrel Buster call. (pic below as well)

The small game:

When I stepped into the woods, a gray squirrel almost ran directly into me. He was running down a fallen branch and crossing the same game path I had chosen to walk in on. I love encounters like this. Being this close to creation is a very enjoyable experience. Since the grass and path was heavy with dew, I made very little noise proceeding. I had followed the gray but lost him in the thick underbrush and saplings. It wasn’t five minutes later that I spotted another gray “cutting” sitting on a branch. I raised the rifle and it fell to the ground before the crack of the rifle had faded away in the woods. Two more grays followed suit within the next thirty minutes. The area was heavy with these speed demons of the treetops. I had fired four times and felt the heaviness of harvested game in my camo shirt. I decided to leave this area and go to another mature hardwoods area I knew of to see what it might hold. I walked back to the car a little concerned about¬† the two mis-fires / jams I experienced with my Marlin.

When I arrived in the woods of my second location, it was getting late in the morning. The breeze had picked up and it was making it very difficult to see through the treetops to spot the high-running rats. It also made it hard to hear any activity they may be involved in. As I slowly stalked through the woods, walking for several hundred feet, stopping and listening before proceeding on, time past quickly. I was not seeing any of the activity I had hoped for. I walked down a slight hill into a low area usually very wet, but with the drought of the past couple months, it was just spongy and easily traversed. Being down a bit lower than the area I had just come from, it was protected from the wind and much more quiet. That was a blessing because I heard a fox squirrel barking and chattering incessantly just ahead. I stalked to the tree it was in – (I was watching the pieces of nuts falling all around me from this busy squirrel) – but I couldn’t see the squirrel. The vegetation was such that although the nuts were falling directly at my feet I couldn’t spot the critter. So I began to walk in circles around the tree, slowly and silently, and ever increasing the size of the circle in order to spot the squirrel. I had just moved under a small saplings branches when the squirrel spotted me first. She came down the tree, head first, until she was about twenty feet off the ground. She angrily, and perhaps out of curiosity, began barking at me. I raised my trusty Marlin and pulled the trigger. The only response from it was a “click”. She had misfired again. Remaining partly hidden under the branches, the squirrel barking non stop, I slowly lowered my rifle and pulled open the chamber. I extracted the extra round it had tried to load and then attempted to close the chamber. But I couldn’t get it closed. At first I thought it was because I had the safety off, but a quick correction of that and still no luck. I looked up at the squirrel, she was still there and maintaining that head down, barking pose. Now I was nervous. I had a perfect shot, an opportunity for a clean kill, and my gun wasn’t co-operating! No matter how silently (loudly in my head) I pleaded with the gun to work with me, she just stayed in that frozen position. You lose track of time in situations like this. The squirrel was barking, I was fiddling and, believe it or not, a very large tree fell over in the background. As it came crashing down I fully expected the squirrel to shoot back up the tree and disappear in the heavy foliage. I almost gave up but then I thought I would keep working on that gun, getting it ready to fire as long as that squirrel stayed put. She stayed and finally I got the gun in working order. I’m thinking a full two minutes elapsed. That doesn’t sound like a long time, but in the woods, hunting, it’s an eternity. I raised the rifle, looked through the scope, got a great sight picture, and pulled the trigger. The squirrel dropped at my feet.

The thanksgiving:

In five shots I had harvest four squirrels; just one shy of the daily bag limit. I was happy with the success. In fact, I think that this is the best I’ve done, on any given day,¬† in any of my squirrel hunting trips. I headed back to the car and then home to clean the squirrels. I am always very thankful for the harvest of game I receive. I believe that God is providing for me and my family while I also get to participate in an activity that goes back thousands of years. I always give a prayer of thanksgiving either immediately at the harvest of the game or over the complete harvest as I’m cleaning the game. I don’t take lightly that I kill an animal for my own existence. I take it seriously but I also enjoy the ability to be in the woods. God is good, even when the harvest isn’t as bountiful as today.

Just as an aside, I am going catfishing tonight, using the livers from the squirrels as bait. I believe in using as much as the animal as possible for our enjoyment and benefit. While it will be a late night (I’m not starting until 8:30p tonight), I think I may get up early again and hit the woods to see if I could limit out on squirrels. As long as I have the ability, the ammunition and the opportunity, I am going to try to keep my freezer stocked in small and large game this year.

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