As we drift through the last Dog Days of Summer, my attention turns to preparations. And Squirrel Season. There is wood to be stacked, elderberries to be picked and processed and chicken of the woods to seek out amidst the muggy evening mists.
I am buried in chores – not the kind that most people think of – repairing storm windows, getting the last cut on the lawn and such – but the abundance of pleasurable tasks that preclude my favorite season – hunting.
I take all 1,200 decoys out of the garage and the trailer and dust them off, check anchor lines and make sure that they still float painted side up. I put some new tires on the boat trailer, a new winch and bow guard. New fire extinguisher and a snap-on paddle fixture for my push pole. I replace broken decoy heads and practice my duck and goose calls on the way to work.
At night I watch movies, not Netflix so much, but Ducks Unlimited TV. For September First – that glorious first day of Resident Goose Season is just days away. And so is Squirrel Season! “Squirrel Season” you say? You mean people actually hunt those rodents that fly from tree to tree and raid your birdfeeder like entitled members of some boy band gone nuts? Yep! “Must take an awful lot them to make a dinner, huh?”….Well, no, not that many. Four bushytails, quartered and seasoned, can fill a succulent pot pie that would rival your Granny’s!
Squirrel hunting can be the most relaxing way to ring in the fall. All you have to do (having assumed you’ve got your marksmanship badge with your .22 rifle) is to sit under an oak tree and listen for the delectable pitter patter of acorns dropping on the ground. Then listen for some “chipping.” “Chipping” is one of those onomatopoetic wonders. The gray squirrel makes a “chipping” sound when cracking nuts high in the canopy of trees.
If you stay still long enough, you will begin to see them skittering up trunks and running the branches high up in the tops of oaks and beechnut trees.
From there it takes a steady hand and a lot of patience to put one of these rascally critters in your sights. They are small targets, but great fun to hunt and even better to eat. Most non-hunters will look at me quizzically and ask, “How can they be hard to hunt? I see hundreds of them every day.” If you ask them where, they will answer “the town park”, “behind the playground at school” or “at my birdfeeder.” All unlikely places to be allowed to hunt. But squirrels that have not been domesticated by eating out of the hands of well-meaning humans are a different story.
Daily bag limits are four per licensed hunter. And the real beauty of this particular niche of the hunting sports?
Other than shooting raccoons at night with dogs, this is the least pompous sector of hunting. Often times I will hear people brag about their exploits to Africa or the duck hunting in Argentina. Even my favorite sport of duck hunting can take on an elitist air that belittles the value of the experience and the love of the animal. Squirrel hunting, on the other hand, is still considered a high ranking of probability on Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if…” list.
The funny thing to me is that some of the most enjoyable hunting sports do not require you to wear moleskin breeches and Wellie boots with a colorful Hermes ascot wrapped around your neck. Squirrel hunting is about an old pair of Timberlands, jeans and a comfortable T-shirt topped off with a hunter orange baseball cap.
So here’s my challenge to you: the next time you are at a party that is getting a little stuffy, between bites of the foie gras pate with the little cocktail pickles, and listening to some brandy sniffing Master of the Universe talking about how he travels to England every year for the “Opening Day of Ruffled Grouse Season” and how much he enjoys a single malt scotch after a day in the moors – ask him if he’d like to go squirrel hunting with you on your estate. But beware, you may need to take step to the side as he gags and spews that fine malt beverage on the armoire.
Bradley Carleton is Executive Director of Sacred Hunter, a non-profit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature.