Fall’s Approach Means the Return to The Woods – Outdoor Column by Kevin Fox
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I have this mental calendar in my head that I go into this time of year when it comes to articles. Around the first part of August, I start thinking about and writing about dove hunting. The following week will be squirrel hunting because toward the end of the month, we should start seeing some cooler mornings and it would be a good time to go out and take a few squirrels. Toward the end of the month, I switch to teal hunting. It never fails, or at least it never seems to fail, that when I start thinking about a little cool down, we get our hottest temperatures of the year. This year was no exception but I am going to go ahead and write about those tree chickens. That’s what Dad called them so the grandkids wouldn’t know what they were eating.
Most outdoors people consider it a good day in the spring if they take a turkey in the morning, pick a mess of mushrooms on the way out of the timber and then go out and catch a mess of crappie in the afternoon. While it’s not a trifecta, early fall has its own set of daily doubles if you will and I witnessed my father collect them a number of times. It would begin with either a successful teal hunt on Rose Pond or a good morning dove hunt on the farm. Then Dad would dress the birds and have them soaking in a pan of water and then later that evening he would go out to a couple of pecan trees, either near Honey Creek or Fox River. He would sit in a folding chair up in the shade within shotgun range of the trees and wait for the squirrels to come in and feed. I was young in those days and lacked the patience to sit and wait for the squirrels, so I ventured off and stalked my way along the creek or river bottoms. I never even considered packing along a folding chair as I considered it to be a sign of aging until I was given a camo folding chair for my birthday last year.
I enjoyed stalking squirrels as a kid and still enjoy it today. There is just something about walking through the woods as quietly and deliberately as you can while scanning the forest floor and trees for game. If you watch those squirrels in the park, this may not seem to be much sport. Those squirrels in the wild are being sought after by all types of predators including us. When stalking squirrels, I like to take anywhere from 10 or 20 steps and then pause at the very least the same amount of time as I did making those steps. This gives me a chance to look for any bouncing limbs or listen to squirrels feeding or barking nearby. The sound of a squirrel working on a nut sounds a great deal like rubbing the edges of two quarters together. It’s a raspy or grating noise and must carry quite well or I wouldn’t be able to hear it.
And speaking of looking, I know it sounds a bit like over the hill, but I also like packing along a pair of binoculars with me. They are great for picking up a pair of ears just sticking up behind a limb or a body pressed against the side of a tree. When walking through the timber, try and see just how quiet you can be. Squirrels can be spooky and often if they see you coming, they will head out as quickly as possible and not offer you a shot or they may run to their den tree or nest, either way they do not present a shot. But if they are not spooked, they may just remain motionless for a short while and then deem it safe to go about their regular, which will allow you to get a shot. To add in this quiet approach, I like stalking through the timber at first light while the dew has left the leaves damp and therefore not making the normal crunching sound as they do when dry. Of course, the cool of the morning also is a better time for walking than early evening when it’s still warm.
Most of his life, Dad was a one-gun man and it was his old Browning A5 that he used to hunt mourning doves, teal or squirrels. The only difference was that when he hunted doves it would be with #7 1/2 shot and for teal and squirrels it would be #6s. He would try and aim in front of the squirrel’s head and attempt to get as few of the BBs in the body as possible. I, on the other hand, have always been a fan of the .22 rimfire rifle, with the only exceptions being the few times when I have taken my muzzle loading shotgun out and relived some history, where the shotgun behind the door was the game provider for the settler. It began for me with a Noble .22 single shot and from there it was a Sears semi auto .22 with a large high powered rifle scope. I shot a lot of ammo in those days and quite literally wore the Sears rifle out. But it was hard not to when I could buy a box of .22 short hollow points at the State Line gas station near Alexandria for 59 cents a box. When I say I shot a lot of .22 ammo, you must realize it was a different time period without a whole lot else to do. I have shot everything from hedge balls, walnuts, and even corn cobs in the hog lot.
Following the Sears, I bought a Browning BLR lever action rifle until it went down. I purchased a used one a number of years ago and it has become my go to .22. With a large scope on the rifle, it becomes a real tack driver and just the thing for squirrel hunting where I prefer headshots if at all possible. I do not have a squirrel on hand for comparison, but I would guess that you’re talking about a target about the size of a golf ball, so you see why accuracy is everything.
Right now, the trees are loaded with both leaves and a mass crop. Once the leaves are down, squirrels shift their focus to foraging on the ground for nuts that have fallen from the trees and are buried beneath the leaves. This is the time I really enjoy stalking and it’s also a time when it’s possible to work your way in close. Give the animal time to dig through the leaves and find the acorn or hickory nut of its choice and let the squirrel begin chewing on it. At that time, the squirrel is motionless and focused on its meal, offering an easy shot.
If you have never been squirrel hunting, I would encourage you to give it a try, or if you’re like most of us and just haven’t tried it since you were a kid, it’s time you got back in the timber and in touch with your hunting roots. It’s also great practice for the upcoming deer archery season.