Hours after my oldest daughter, Leah, arrowed her first whitetail at age 12, I realized I’d helped her do something I’d long preached against: hunt deer without first hunting squirrels. But at least she hadn’t gone straight from hunter-education class in March 1997 to the deer woods that September. She’d been tagging along with me on goose, grouse, turkey, small-game and deer hunts since age 3 and she’d hunted turkeys with her 20-gauge shotgun five months earlier.
Or was I just making excuses? The fact remained she’d bypassed squirrel hunting for deer hunting. Baby Boomers like me never imagined such shortcuts 40 years ago, believing we must work our way up to deer, but “deer first” is today’s norm—and it’s not just the grumpy old man in me talking.
According to “The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports”—a 2008 report by Responsive Management—78 percent of today’s hunters hunt whitetails each year while only 16 percent hunt squirrels. True, the report shows squirrels (22 percent) outrank whitetails (20 percent) as the animal today’s hunters first sought, but that’s only because Baby Boomers dominate the hunting ranks.
Maybe all that chafing guilt helped motivate Leah and me to visit my uncle’s farm when squirrel season opened the following September. Right or wrong, she owed squirrels her due, so we slipped out the farmhouse’s kitchen door before dawn and scaled a limestone ridge that’s rich in oaks.
As dawn lit the woods, we crested the ridge and dropped beneath the skyline then hunched below the ridge’s spine and still-hunted toward the property line. We paused occasionally to raise a mouth call and imitate barking squirrels. If nothing else, we showed we meant business.
After an hour of stealthy walking and frequent stop-and-watch sessions, we hadn’t seen or heard one squirrel. I felt frustrated, even discouraged, when we reached the property line’s fence. We leaned against a big red oak to discuss our next move.
Then a squirrel barked 100 yards behind us. We had just been there! Maybe we had aggravated him in passing and he now felt safe rebuking us. Or was it taunting?
“Let’s sneak back,” I suggested. Leah probably thought we were wasting time but followed anyway. We reached the site but no squirrel. We waited. Five minutes passed, then 10. Finally, I spotted a gray squirrel perched in a hickory, its tail flicking nervously. As I pointed Leah toward it, the squirrel leapt to another tree. Leah lined up her rifle, searching for a clear shot.
Leah whispered certainties that she had gotten it. We stalked ahead then she propped up her rifle against a maple as I circled toward our last sighting. Seconds later Leah spotted the squirrel 10 feet above us, sneaking sideways on a nearby tree. Her .22 cracked. The squirrel rolled from the branch, hung briefly by a rear leg and fell with a thud.
She hurried toward it, grabbed its gray tail and hoisted the squirrel proudly. I hadn’t seen a smile so bright and pretty since her first deer a year before.
Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom
Fly-down time at dawn
is, quite naturally, assumed by many hunters to be the best time all day to bag a tom. Trouble is, the hen or hens that old fella is visiting at that time of day may not let him off the hook long enough to pay attention to your calls and come anywhere near your setup. But during the peak of the breeding season, those hens are apt to visit their nests by noon. Your best shot at calling him close may come then, when old tom is lonely for attention.
Many times a tom hangs up
not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call and, having not seen a hen, walks away. Your mistake: setting up too far outside that all-important range and never seeing him. When you call, be sure of a good line of sight through terrain and vegetation, and depending on cover, try to get within 100 yards of him before plopping down.
If you hear a gobbler moving away from you,
don't waste more time and breath trying to call him back. Instead, get up and hustle in a wide circle around him. If you need to hear him for reference, use a locator call. When you feel you are ahead of him, quickly set up and give a series of aggressive yelps with a call you haven't used yet. Many times this "fresh hen" tactic will prove successful.
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We Hunt Bear by Adam Heggenstaller, Editor in Chief, Shooting Illustrated
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Average age black bears live to in the wild
15-80 square miles
Range of a male black bear within a loosely defined home range, depending on habitat
Speed a black bear can run for short distances
Oldest documented wild bear killed in Virginia
Largest known black bear ever killed by a hunter (North Carolina)
Researcher Laura Boester at the University of Toledo found that fox squirrels hear over a noise-frequency range roughly 2.5 times greater than humans, with more capability to detect higher-frequency sounds.