The Bushy-Tailed Pest

The squirrel’s Latin name “Sciurus” sounds like a combination of “scurrilous” and “curious,” which perfectly describes the animal. The Eastern Gray Squirrel is Sciurus carolinensis and it has two more teeth than the fox squirrel — I suspect so it can chew my bird feeder to shreds more quickly.

I’ve resorted to everything short of low-yield nuclear weapons to discourage the squirrels who gorge themselves with one eye on the deck door.

A squirrel for the taking.

For a time I tried to sting their fleeting backsides with a pellet pistol, missing at least 99 of every 100 shots. Apparently they regarded this as an extreme sporting event such as hang-gliding and if anything more squirrels showed up to taunt me.

My Wisconsin friends, George and Kit Harrison, have written a great book on outwitting squirrels titled “Squirrel Wars.” George also narrates an Audubon Society DVD that features some hilarious encounters between frustrated homeowners and determined squirrels.

What appears to be superior animal intelligence in gray squirrels more likely is persistence and focus. A thwarted gray squirrel has infinite patience and unlimited desire to solve the problem. If a strategy repeatedly fails a squirrel finally gets the message and tries something else. What it doesn’t do is quit.

Mother squirrels usually have two or three young, but can have as many as eight babies. And they often have two litters a year, meaning that the squirrel population, given good conditions, can explode. And it also can implode. A productive female could have at least two dozen youngsters in her life. But longevity depends on food.

Squirrels provide endless entertainment acting like squirrels, but they also are a game animal, favored by boys and old men alike. Just about every rural hunter learns his woodcraft hunting either squirrels or rabbits and, of the two, squirrels are more challenging. They require the same skills that deer or turkeys do, but with enough leeway to make them accessible to youngsters.

An Inexpensive Squirrel Call
You can call squirrels (one of the best calls is a half-dollar’s serrated edge scraped on a piece of wood to imitate a squirrel’s bark), but you don’t have to. You can stalk them or wait on a stand, just as you do for deer.

Squirrels are less cautious than a trophy buck although plenty cautious enough to make it a hunt rather than a shoot.

The author hunting old bushy-tail.

Squirrel hunting is leisurely. You can hunt in the chill of morning or the soft afternoon light of October amid trees flaming with leaf change.

Some hunt with shotguns, but that seems to me to take some of the “hunt” out of the hunt. I use a .22 bolt-action, single-shot rifle left to me by my father who went to the woods with a city spaniel that became a country dog. My father rarely came home without a couple of squirrels hanging from his belt.

The rifle he left me is a .22-caliber Winchester Model 67A, long out of production. Used, they list for about $150, but I suspect mine would bring far less with its loss of bluing and its rust spots. The varnish has long since vanished from the stock and the barrel is slightly loose in its bed. But it is a meat gun that shoots where you point it.

Gray squirrels are democratic animals, active all day if the weather is nice. So there is no reason to rise before dawn to hunt them except that the hour before daylight is worth getting out of a warm bed to experience.

Dawn slips in like a burglar, stealing the night so gradually that you don’t realize day is there. I see a slight motion high in an oak tree, resolving itself in the gray light to the jittery tail of a gray squirrel, barely more colorful than the early light. And then as the morning deepens, the squirrel and his mates become more active. They putter on the forest floor, rustling in the dry leaves.

The old Winchester snaps and the woods hush as everything pauses to find out what happened. What happens is one-third of squirrel stew.

 

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