Don’t forget squirrel hunting

August 23, 2008 at 12:45 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Ask a former hunter why he or she left the sport, and you are almost certain to hear one or more familiar responses.

“There’s no place to hunt.”

“There’s too little game.”

“There are too many hunters in too small an area.”

“It got too expensive.”

Good reasons or not, all of them can be true, depending on what, when and where you’re hunting.

Right now, the people spending early mornings or late afternoons in the squirrel timbers seldom see another hunter. They are hunting game as challenging as it is plentiful. Along with generous bag limits, squirrel season is so long it spans three seasons — starting in the summer and ending up in January, when it’s full-blown winter. And, best of all, there are plenty of places to hunt, and they are free. Many Illinois state parks and wildlife areas are open to squirrel hunters.

If you have a young hunter who’s dreaming about bringing down a big buck, it’s a good idea to start him or her out on something smaller. Squirrel hunting gives a youngster some hands-on hunting experience.

Many of the same timbers that are teaming with squirrels are crisscrossed with deer trails. Squirrel hunting gives a young hunter the chance to get out where the wild critters live and learn about their habitat and daily movement patterns.

Still-hunting a squirrel timber — watching, listening, moving slowly and quietly — can bring about valuable skills when deer season rolls around. A hunter who isn’t patient, can’t sit still and wait for a good shot or isn’t calm enough to take steady aim probably isn’t going to do well the first time a deer shows up under the stand.

A deer hunter seldom gets more than one crack at the deer of a lifetime. For every trophy that goes on the wall, countless others were shot at and missed. Squirrel hunting gives young and seasoned hunters the chance to hone their shooting skills in a real hunting situation where there are lots of opportunities for success.

Unlike many outdoor pursuits, squirrel hunting is not equipment intensive. Most current or former hunters already have all the equipment they need. They can buy a hunting license and go squirrel hunting this afternoon.

Lloyd and I skinned out a lot of squirrels with a pocket knife while wearing blue jeans, T-shirts, work shoes and enough bug spray to keep the ’skeeters on the other side of the crick. A lot of us farm boys hunted squirrels with single-shot .22 rifles — bolt actions, with open sights.

Several of us have held onto those old rifles and the memory of what crack shots we were when every bullet in the gun was the last one.

If you think squirrel hunting doesn’t present much of a challenge, take your old rifle, about ten .22 shorts and go to the timber. You might catch a glimpse of why you started hunting in the first place.