There’s more than one squirrel in the forest

Jay NehrkornFor squirrel hunters in the southern part of the state, now’s the time. The annual hickory nut cutting phase is on a normal schedule this year, having ramped up from a good start to a full-fledged frenzy around August 10 – at least in my neck of the woods. The nut crop and the squirrel crop are both plentiful, and I’m enjoying some of the best squirrel hunting I’ve had in quite a few seasons.

The squirrels, as I’ve often seen them do in the early going, seem to have started at the tops of the hickories and are working their way down. They also seem to be favoring the largest hickory trees thus far, rather than younger trees. Suffice it to say, high squirrels and heavy leaf cover have resulted in a lot of tip-toeing around in circles searching for shot angles, not to mention quite a few long intervals spent gazing intently upward with rifle at the ready.

On the morning of this writing I stood near the base of a large hickory in just such a position, enduring a sore neck and the ever increasing weight of my rifle as I waited for a squirrel to shift his position and allow an open shot. “Patience,” I told myself, but when the cuttings stopped falling and the squirrel still didn’t reveal itself, I was reminded of a story I heard in my childhood.

During my pre-teen years, the church where I attend had a young minister who told a story from the pulpit about accepting an invitation to go hunting with a slightly older man in the congregation. The first squirrel they came across that August morning was easy to locate because it was making quite a racket, but it was feasting sky-high in a leafy tree and they couldn’t seem to lay eyes on it. The veteran hunter graciously offered to let the minister have this first one while he moved ahead a bit to see what was happening deeper in the woods. He’d come back to get the minister, he said, after he heard a shot.

Whether or not the minister finally killed that solitary squirrel, I can’t remember. I do remember him telling that he heard some shots while he waited and watched, and that when the older hunter returned a little while later, he came back carrying five squirrels.

My musings about this story reminded me that in mid-August, when the hunting is really good, it’s often best to just cut your losses and move on if a single squirrel is eating up too much of your time. Patience is important for getting good shot angles, but being stubborn about one troublesome bushytail can end up cost you more squirrels in the long run. I still needed two more to reach my daily bag limit before the squirrels clocked out and laid up through mid-day, so I walked away and quickly found what I needed just a hundred yards distant.

As I passed back by the massive hickory tree on my way out of the woods, cuttings were once again dripping down through the leaves from up above, somewhere.

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