September squirrels are harder, but not hopeless
I was mindful of what a difference a couple of weeks can make as I moved slowly through the creek-bottom woodlot. My vacation back in mid-August had featured some of the best squirrel hunting I can remember, with countless squirrels swarming the hickory trees in their haste to eat their fair share. Back then, this woods was filled with the sound of hickory nut bits pouring down like rain through leafy branches. But on this morning, just 15 days later, the only sound resonating from the trees was that of squirrels barking - and they were barking at me.
Clearly the party was over, but this came as no surprise. In fact, I expected it, and my purpose for hunting this particular morning was more about getting back out in the woods than it was the expectation of harvesting many squirrels.
Each year after the heavy nut cutting subsides, squirrels slip into what I call the “September lull.” Their bellies are full, the air is still hot, and the time for storing winter food is still a few weeks off, so squirrels tend to move less and their feeding activity becomes lethargic compared to the frenzy of early to mid August. They are also far less distracted, so sneaking into position for a shot without being noticed becomes much more difficult - hence the aforementioned barking.
After I finished spooking off the more vocal bushy-tails I finally managed to get under a grey squirrel that was casually feeding, but it caught my movement as I started to wrap my arm in my rifle sling and darted off. The squirrel crossed a couple of trees but then stopped to survey the situation further before getting out of range. Delighted that I would get my opportunity after all, I took careful aim and promptly missed him, breaking a nice string of consecutive successful shots stretching back over my last couple of hunts.
“Well that figures,” I muttered in disgust, and resolved myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to be a good day.
After wandering somewhat aimlessly toward a couple of squirrels that were chasing each other - only to have them disappear when I got there - I heard a movement in a pignut tree, so I headed that direction. There were two squirrels feeding in the treetop when I arrived and a third showed up while I was circling the tree in a fruitless search for a position that allowed me to actually see something.
One of them finally spotted me and, as fox squirrels often do, he chose bravery over brain power, charging down the tree to give me a good talking to. It was a short conversation, and at the report of my rifle the woods around me erupted with barking squirrels. Negative Nehrkorn of a few minutes before was suddenly back in the thick of things. As luck would have it, the other two squirrels in the pignut tree followed the fox squirrel’s lead and came down the trunk to check out the commotion. Each offered a shot in turn, and suddenly my tally was up to three. I added a fourth just a few minutes later, taking him from the branch of a large oak behind me.
By this time the sun getting high and the temperature was well on its way to the predicted mid-90s high, which meant that squirrel activity was about to come to a grinding halt for the day. The squirrels would still be there, of course, but finding one to finish off my daily limit was going to be tough. Under these conditions I sometimes employ a desperation tactic of walking briskly, covering ground quickly and being sure that I’m noticed in the hopes of enticing a hidden squirrel to bark or squeal. On this day it worked, and the barker held his position just long enough for me to get off a long, but makeable shot.
For those who will brave the heat and the mosquitoes, the early September lull isn’t hopeless but it is more difficult. Squirrels may be more alert, but some barking squirrels hold their ground just a little too long. And while they may not be hammering the hickories like furry gluttons, squirrels still have to feed here and there. Be ready to burn up extra boot leather, and with a little luck you may be able to turn a tough hunt into a good one with a hard-won, five squirrel limit.
But if you decide to shoot doves instead, I’ll understand.