Squirrel hunting keeps basic skills sharp
The State Journal-Register
If you want to be a better deer hunter, go squirrel hunting.
I heard that from several old-timers when we were bucking bales or cutting corn out of soybeans. It was good advice then, and it still is.
Many of us cut our hunting teeth in the squirrel timbers. Squirrel season was, and still is, the first upland hunting season of late summer.
We learned quickly that we had to move quietly. We developed the ability (slowly in my case) to watch and wait when we saw tree branches rustling or pieces of hickory shells raining down. Then, it might be half an hour before we saw the squirrel.
We learned how to shoot off-hand, sitting, standing and kneeling. We had to be aware of out-shooting backgrounds. We learned to wait for good shots.
And, we learned the hard lesson that sometimes, the shooting opportunity simply isn’t going to be there. All of those skills are important to deer hunters.
More importantly, we were out in the wild country where we could practice the power of observation. We saw how a deer could pick up our scent on the wind and how fast those gosh darned crows and woodpeckers spotted us and set up the alarm.
The squirrel timbers are a good training ground for young hunters. The game is plentiful. The season, which started Aug. 1 in the South Zone, continues until January. Safe firearm handling can be taught and reinforced in a real hunting situation. Young and old alike will learn the importance of moving quietly and slowly.
Squirrel hunting doesn’t take much equipment. Hunters wearing jeans and a T-shirt have harvested a lot of squirrels. If you have a .22 rifle, a pocket full of shells and a sharp knife, you already have all you need to have a pretty good time.
Best of all, squirrel hunting isn’t crowded. There are plenty of hunting opportunities on public land. Hunting small game isn’t popular with many hunters who focus their attention on deer and turkeys.
The first lesson a young hunter will learn is that these aren’t your Washington Park squirrels. They are wary, hard to see and will lie flat on a tree branch for as long as it takes if they see you before you see them.
They will bark at you when you can’t see them and jump from one tree to another just when you think you know where they are.
The good news is that the hunt can be tailored to fit a youngster’s attention span. If they start to fidget, move to another spot. A lot of us learned to sit quietly 15 minutes at a time.
Squirrel hunting is fun. And it helps youngsters learn to watch, listen and become part of the outdoor experience. The sooner young hunters learn those skills, the better — and the more knowledge they will have to pass along to another young hunter down the road.