Never Too Late for Bushy Tails

By Patrick Durkin, Contributing Writer

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.

Crack!

Long pause.

Crack!

Short pause.

Crack!

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.

 

Did You Know?

 

Set up active decoys where you don't want geese to land. Use sleeping and resting decoys to signal the area has been checked out and it's safe enough to drop in and nap.

 

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Past Articles

Geese Are Alway s Trophies
by Kyle Wintersteen, Contributing Writer

The half dozen geese crested the oaks and slammed on the brakes, the drag of their primary feathers audibly slicing the crisp January air.... Read More »

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The season begins with 22 of us staring at a net of rhododendron that rises steeply to meet a lead-colored sky... Read More »

The Kings of Fall
by Jeff Johnston, Executive Editor American Hunter

Rays of sunlight sprout over wooded horizons as a predator stalks silently... Read More »

Grouse Season
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Opening day of grouse season isn’t like any other hunting opener, not at all. It isn’t duck season, when we sync our watches to the nuclear clock... Read More »

Going Up
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Hard-core sheep hunters remind me of the penthouse culture described by novelist Tom Wolfe in his 1980s best-seller, Bonfire of the Vanities. Read More »

Hazardous to Your Health
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Many hunts can be described as hours of boredom punctuated by fleeting instances of action. Few put a knot of anxiety in your stomach like a hunt for dangerous game. Read More »

Hunting Dinosaurs
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »

The Glory of Handloading
by Keith Wood, Contributing Writer

Handloading's not a new concept, but more hunters are adopting it in order to save money and get through ammunition marketplace shortages. Read More »

Buck Fever
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I glimpse antlers filtering toward me 80 yards to the right. Tall rack, beams outside the ears. Beautiful buck... Read More »

Southbound Teal
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Even though you know what you are about to see as you open the freezer, the sight of your last delicious duck making its final flight ... Read More »

A Nation of Plinkers
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Plink, plink, plink plink, plink. The sound soothes good folks' ears even if muffled by foam plugs. It's the sound of everything we know to be good.... Read More »

The Right Stuff for Turkeys
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Last season when I was hunting turkeys at Miller Creek Ranch in central Texas, I found that gobblers were henned up beyond belief... Read More »

The Small Rewards of Duck Hunting
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If you consider yourself a duck hunter but have never looked to the skies from your blind and asked, "What am I doing here?"... Read More »

Is This the Year
by Adam Heggenstaller, Executive Editor

This could be the year. Waiting for day—the day—to break... Read More »

10 Million Deer Hunters Roll Out for the Rut
by J. Scott Olmsted, Editor in Chief

This is a big deal. Work will wait, schools will close—all in the name of deer season... Read More »

Rabbits:The Rite of Passage
by Ron Spomer, Field Editor

Bunnies aren't beneath me. Sadly, this is not the case for all hunters these days. Some look down their noses at old Br'er Rabbit... Read More »

Cougar
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Thirteen miles from the nearest paved road in Utah's northeastern backcountry, high on an impossible bluff, a predator stalks its prey through snow-filtered moonlight.... Read More »

The Shed Hunting Addiction
by Mark Kayser

Some days the prize is nothing more than exercise and the opportunity to spend a day enjoying outdoor splendor. That's fine with me. Other days can bring... Read More »

The Madness of Spring
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Nature's orchestra is warming up as you exit the truck and inhale an electric breeze. The sky is a gray curtain flush with... Read More »

The Mystique of Bear Hunting
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Your mind has zoned out so it takes a minute to realize that, like a scene from a poorly written book, "suddenly it's quiet... Read More »

Why We Love Dogs
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It is said that you should never insult a man's gun or his dog. I think further emphasis ought to be on the dog... Read More »

A Day at the Range
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It's July, have you hugged your rifle lately? I haven't, and it's high time I did. Despite what the calendar says deer season is right around the corner... Read More »

September Song
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It's impressive how long rows of ripe sunflowers, broad harvested grain fields and languid farm ponds with a dead snag or two really seize your attention... Read More »

The Siren Song of the West
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When wanderlust strikes sometimes I climb on my Harley and head south on Lee Highway, through the Manassas Battlefield... Read More »

Don't Call Him a Ditch Chicken
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On paper the ring-necked pheasant shouldn't be all that tough to kill. He's a predictable fellow, feeding... Read More »

Never Too Late for Bushy Tails
by Patrick Durkin, Contributing Writer

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.... Read More »

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1.7M

The number of hunters who pursued squirrels in 2011 for a combined 21 million days afield, ranking squirrel hunting as the No. 1 choice in small-game hunting.

16%

Percentage of hunters who pursue squirrels every fall, ranking third behind whitetail deer and wild turkeys.

26%

Minnesota hunters took an average of 7.8 squirrels each in 1999-2000 and 9.8 squirrels in 2010-2011—a 26 percent increase.

fast fact

NRA conducts metallic reloading training courses across the country. Go to nrainstructors.org to find one.

 

Past Numbers

1976

The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of... Read More »

18 years

Average age black bears live to in the wild... Read More »

307 5/8 inches

Boone and Crockett Club official measurement of the largest fair-chase buck ever killed... Read More »

1/2 Mile

The drumming of a male ruffed grouse... Read More »

$3,180 New Mexico

Price of nonresident sheep tags-.. Read More »

50

Running speed in mph of both a leopard and lion... Read More »

500

Number (in pounds) of an average adult male... Read More »

$50

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11

The number of states that honor the whitetail as a state symbol... Read More »

500,000

Estimated population of the Cinnamon Teal, arguably the most sought after of the species... Read More »

1.3 million

Number of U.S. citizens who participated in informal target shooting... Read More »

34.4 million

Number of turkeys in the United States in 1973... Read More »

40.9 million

number of total breeding ducks estimated... Read More »

180 degrees

How far a whitetail's ears rotate to pick up sound... Read More »

10.1 million

number of deer hunters in the United States... Read More »

1.9 million

number of rabbit hunters in the United States... Read More »

668

Number of cougars killed by Jay C. Bruce, a professional mountain lion hunter... Read More »

399,000

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14.8 million

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700

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75-80

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1.7M

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Past Facts

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The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska... Read More »

Black bears

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Cape buffalo

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Whitetail researchers

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Teal hens

Teal hens of all three subspecies make a noise similar to the traditional "quack,"... Read More »

Smith - Wesson's .22

Smith - Wesson's .22 Short first appeared in 1857 and was followed in... Read More »

Turkey Feathers

Between 5,000 to 6,000 feathers cover the body of an adult turkey... Read More »

Mourning Dove Call

The annual Mourning Dove Call-Count Survey provides an index of... Read More »

George Washington,

the the father of our nation, was also the founder of... Read More »

cougar attacks

There have been 12 confirmed cougar attacks on humans in California... Read More »

Antlers are bones

Antlers are bones; along with horns, they are the only mammal bones... Read More »

Reloading Training Courses

NRA conducts metallic reloading training courses.... Read More »