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Today is October 4, 2022

Outdoors

Tiptoe through the hardwoods: Squirrels are back

Tiptoe through the hardwoods: Squirrels are back

Squirrels are grand. Hunting them is too good to miss. Photo: Dr. Stan Rushing

    While squirrel hunting never faded completely from the outdoor scene, its once bright light of infatuation certainly dimmed for a time. Up until perhaps the early 1970s, squirrels were the No. 1 game animal in Mississippi. But that changed with the gradual increase in deer numbers and the magnetic draw these magnificent creatures held on seasoned and novice hunters alike. Bushytails moved to second or third behind whitetails. The squirrel hunt became an afterthought to many, a weekend trek in October or a day or two in January.
    And such a shift is easily understood. Deer became that entity receiving the lion’s share of attention. Food plots, timber management, discussions after church or at the coffee shop or at a high school game, outdoor TV shows, magazine articles—all leaned toward this most grandiose of big game, the whitetail. The ubiquitous and too often overlooked squirrel was just there, a common sight from the deer stand, a pesky rodent in the attics of suburbia, a noisy scoundrel sure to pick up the hunter’s movements and announce one’s presence to all woods dwellers.
    It remains the same today. But in the face of all this, the squirrel has emerged. Popularity of this little ball of fur and claws has returned. And that, in the opinion of many, is as it should be.
  Squirrel hunting has a great deal to offer. For those of us who experienced events such as the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show or who knew and particularly cared that the Browning A-5 had been dropped from production, there is little need for explanation regarding the virtues of squirrels and the hunting thereof. But for the uninitiated or the once active who are now the indifferent, perhaps some points of persuasion are in order to convince or remind them of the benefits.
    Foremost, at least in my perspective, is that a squirrel wood on a frosty morning is a place of wonderment. Each breath inhaled is invigorating when that inhaled breath exits in a smoky wisp through crisp dawn. Rays of sunlight appear as phantoms, creeping fingers of awe that sneak around tree trunks and through overhead foliage and bounce from damp ground leaves in jeweled refraction. An owl gives his last night-time hoot before settling into his oak castle, while at the same moment a crow caws and a pileated woodpecker accompanies his staccato chatter with an equally impressive jouncing bob that makes him appear as if he is ricocheting off air currents above and beneath him. These all and more in a squirrel wood at daylight. The world is alive.
    Just-mentioned superlatives aside, squirrel hunting is challenging. It sharpens the skills, hones the senses. One who becomes a truly efficient squirrel hunter is likely a truly efficient and effective hunter regardless the quarry. And the methodologies employed can ward off boredom in even the most energetic. Sit at the base of a tree and watch in judicious fashion. Tiptoe along through the woods and attempt to close the gap on a distant bushytail. Trail behind a cooperative dog as the canine scours the ground and blowdowns and puts a squirrel up, often tucked into a tight ball or flattened against a limb in an amazing display of how to become invisible. Any of these approaches will keep interest on the edge and alertness raised.
    And squirrel hunting is fun. It affords valuable learning for the newcomer and refreshment for the skilled. It is legally allowed from October through February. And it can be done in quite ordinary settings that don’t require great travel distances or budget-breaking expenditures. What more could one ask? And all these from a common tree dweller. True value in hunting, like in other arenas of life, is too often disregarded.
    Fortunately, for those of us smitten with the magic of squirrel hunting 50 years or so back and have never abandoned the pursuit, or those who were and let the passion wane or those who have yet to discover its near compulsive allure, the 2012-13 season should be one of titanic proportion. Squirrel populations tend to fluctuate with the acorn crop of the previous year: high when the crop is ample, lower when it is not. We are coming into the third year of abundance where acorns apply in most areas of the state. This should translate into inflated numbers of bushytails with which to match wits.
    And match wits they will if you so much as rustle a leaf in their domain. Don’t be surprised if they beat you.

 

    Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His books, “Outside and Other Reflections,” “Fishing Mississippi” and his new Christian historical romance novel, “Summer Lightning Distant Thunder,” are available in bookstores and from the author at www.tonykinton.com, or P.O. Box 88, Carthage, MS 39051.

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