Last Minute Squirrel

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Loyalist Dave

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It was in the afternoon, I had worked an early shift, and headed home. Being February 28th, 2022 in Maryland, it was the last day of rabbit and squirrel season, and the landowner had said there were rabbits this year.

I found this interesting, as the fox in the area are thick so tend to wreck havoc on the baby bunnies in the woods, and thus we don’t see bunnies except in the suburban yards at dawn or dusk. Still, the landowner’s Norther two lots had a woodlot, and had a very overgrown meadow, full of briars. Perhaps the baby bunnies had habitat where they were now secure?

I arrived and loaded up my Indian origin trade gun. “Red” was its name, because I had painted the stock with oil based red paint, as was sometimes the custom with trade guns back in the day. 20 gauge, I loaded 3 drams of 3Fg, followed by #4 shot measured from the powder measure set on “120”. After loading I primed the lock, and walked to the hunting area.

The meadow was meadow no longer. I had missed coming over during COVID lockdown in 2020, and each time in 2021 that I made plans to hunt, something upset those plans. Finally the primitive Maryland season approached on February 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, 2022. However, I came down with COVID on January 28th, and while I was COVID free as of January 31st…, that virus can have after effects. I tried to go out February 3rd for a deer, but after going up and down several flights of stairs gathering my gear, I sat down for a second to catch my breath and simply couldn’t get off the sofa. So I had not seen the “meadow” for twenty-four months.

A bit of time, and the meadow was covered with brush, much of it almost six feet high, and all of it thorny. Oh well, I decided to go to the adjacent woodlot instead and concentrate on squirrel.

It was very quiet, except for the massive crunching the driest of leaves and twigs made beneath my feet. Well I wasn’t going for deer, so I found a spot and sat down. After a few minutes the woods began to relax, so to speak. Small birds began to chirp and move. I filled my pipe, lit it, and waited.

A pair of woodpeckers began to work the woods. They were red cockaded from what I could see. They were rather vocal too. Sometimes they sounded frustrated as they pecked and tore off bark, looking for bugs. Then every now and again the call would change, to sound more like “Ahhhh”, so I assumed as each sounded this new call, they had found tasty bugs. When they moved as a pair to new trees, a different call was sounded. More like a warble, which I think they used to keep track of each other as they flew, while their eyes were busy looking for trees likely having grubs.

Many folks when one says “woodpecker” think if the large, Cornish game hen sized bird with the red feathers on its head coming to fine tip that points backwards from the head of the bird. We have those too in Maryland. They are the Pileated Woodpecker. I didn't see any of the Pileateds, but I have seen them in the past. My pipe was done, and I tapped out the ash and put it into my pocket.

Then the drumming began. Bdddddddm…, pause…, Bdddddddm…, sounding very much like an imitation of a German light machinegun from the Second World War, but being done with wooden clubs. AH, so there were other woodpecker varieties out today. Downy Woodpeckers make that sort pulse of a drumming noise when pecking. When they try it on a house, especially where there is aluminum siding or worse, a tin roof, these smallish woodpeckers become dire pests. Legend says they have at times awakened the dead. Which explains why Downies also account for many sales of plastic owls, which are then mounted upon roofs to discourage their searching for food on rooftops. I continued to look up into the trees looking for movement.

There were no hawks about, which puzzled me as I sat there hoping the forest would relax even more about my presence, and perhaps enough that squirrels would come out. On the other hand the shrill cry of a pair of hunting Red Tailed hawks or the deeper call of a Cooper’s hawk might just convince the bushy-tails to stay hidden. Probably best the Hawks were not out in my area.

As I pondered the lack of hawks, I saw how the most recent wind storm had toppled about a half-dozen trees, mostly the trees with rotted heartwood. I saw a lack of the thick balls of gathered leaves high up in the trees that are sleeping quarters for squirrels. Now, there was plenty of hickory nut hulls, so something was eating the nuts. The acorns were mostly gone too, but the deer would likely be after those as well.

So there I sat, wondering about the squirrels, the few hours left until the season closed, and wondering what if anything I would see other than the woodpeckers. Even if I saw no game, it was good to be in the woods.

I saw a squirrel working West of me. Too far for a shot, but I might slowly, and cautiously, crunch my way in that direction. It had been my observation that squirrels, when they become engrossed in squirrely activities, sometimes are less aware of the surroundings. If I was lucky, two squirrels would become involved in a territorial dispute, and when that happens one can almost stroll over to them and shoot them.

After several minutes of my trying to creep, taking but one step at a time, I no longer heard the squirrel rooting around just beyond a tiny rise in the woodlot. I definitely had lost sight of it. So I froze for a while, and heard nothing more. I began to slowly turn in a circle to scan the woodlot once more.

I heard the very faint sound of what I was pretty sure was a squirrel cutting a nut. It was coming from the hedgerow to my East, where the meadow met the woodlot. Of course, Murphy’s Law, that was exactly the opposite direction I had been moving. So I began to creep back along my path for a bit.

I arrived back at my starting point, and stopped, intending on allowing the squirrel perhaps to make a mistake and come toward me and into range. At least I was pretty sure it was a squirrel.

It WAS alright, but the sun had dropped lower, and I was now casting a pretty good shadow. It must’ve seen my shadow move on foliage near it, for I saw it bolt hard and fast away from me and toward some oak trees, with its tail curled up short in a sort of question mark shape that means the squirrel is plenty scared. Well…, at least I’d seen a game critter out here. I scanned upwards hoping to see the squirrel move, but there was nothing.

I checked my watch, and it was just about 5:30 pm. Only a half hour to sunset. I walked without worrying about the crunching of my feet, and sat on a log closer to where I’d heard the first squirrel. I gazed up into the trees hoping to see movement.

It’s always interesting to me, watching the same trees as the sun moves above. The changing angle of the sunlight will reveal stuff. Like the paper hornet nest that was high up and several trees away from me. I’d looked that way earlier, but had not seen it. The hornet s would be long gone, and I made a note to return and to knock it down for wadding.

Other trees revealed secrets too. Two of them didn’t have knots high up…, they had holes. The changing sun angle also showed the edges of those holes had been gnawed, and one had some discoloration, like an oily smear just under it on the tree trunk, and leading up to the hole. Just the mark a squirrel might make after many enterings and exitings. Slowly I scanner further...FOUR hollow knots on four different trees in all. So the squirrels were here but not in nests. They were IN the trees themselves!

At about fifteen minutes to sunset I heard rustling to my right, which of course, Murphy's Law again, was also in the direction of the setting sun. So good, no shadow cast that way, but bad ..., sunlight in my eyes. Now the squirrel was silhouetted which would be good for sighting down the trade gun barrel, but, as the squirrel was moving up the tree, it was nearer the sun's position on the horizon, and sunlight was directly into my eyes. OUCH.

I was rather sure the squirrel had seen me stand up, but I had not crunched my feet on dry leaves, so it may have been a bit curious. Instead of going higher in the tree, and my not being able to see it at all, it moved to my right, to the edge of the tree trunk where a branch began. It took position where the branch met the tree trunk, about ten feet above the forest floor, the way squirrels often do when taking up a sentry position, and it was about twenty-five to thirty yards away from me.

KA-WHOOOOM the 80 grains of 3Fg went off just as the flint hit the frizzen, launching the load of #4 shot toward that squirrel. I was pretty certain that I had heard the “thud” just after the initial boom, which was a good sign that the squirrel had come off its perch due to the shot finding its mark.

Reload, now creep over to find the squirrel. They blend rather well with the forest floor when it’s less than ten minutes to sunset, and the low brush has everything from the knees down in shadow.

AH! There it was! A good hit, and the squirrel went into my pouch. It was too dark really to see any more squirrels and it was mere minutes until the season ended, so I discharged my reload into my favorite stump, and headed to the truck

Not too bad for the last few minutes of the last day of the season, and I gave thanks for the woods time and for the squirrel. OH and for the added bonus when I got home and showed the squirrel to the wife (city girl reactions to harvested game are an extra added pleasure…, she almost jumped on top of the kitchen table!) LOL

Thus ended the season until August.

SQUIRREL 2022.jpg


LD
 

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