"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Indiana's squirrel season will not open until the middle of August, but one of the  most important July outdoor activities is getting ready for that momentous event. 

From time to time over the years ill-advised "experts" have sought to delay the opening of the squirrel season a month or more by spouting opinions that squirrels aren't fit to eat in the heat of the summer, and a few other absurd ideas. Fortunately, officials of the Division of Fish and Wildlife have had the good sense to let such notions go in one ear and out the other. Thus, when July rolls around, I start thinking of squirrel hunting, and preparing for the same. 

The early part of July is made for sighting in (for those who will be hunting with new guns, or just making sure the old favorites still shoot where they are held). 

When July starts heading for August, it is time to get out in the woods to see how bushytail reproduction has gone, and how the mast crop (nuts, acorns, and the seeds of other trees) is doing. The mast crop--with some help from farmers who grow field corn--will determine how well the bushytails eat now and into the winter. 

Learning how the development of various forms of mast is going also will tell the hunter what trees are producing mast that will be the smorgasbord of bushytails in the early part of the season. This phase of scouting the mast crop will give the hunter only general ideas now, but it will be more important in the early days of August. 

Scouting efforts do not necessarily depend on the number of squirrels one sees because there are a number of signs that will tell that story. For example, good numbers of leaf nests will tell the hunter as much about squirrel numbers in a wooded area as actual sightings. 

Squirrels are a lot like people when the hot days of summer arrive--that is to say that they look for spots that offer cool breezes, rather than be cooped up in the hollow of a den tree. 

To find such conditions, squirrels build several kinds of nests, almost always high in trees. One type of nest made by squirrels is made of leaves and it is livable through most of the year. This nest offers an interior area of woven leaves where squirrels can sleep through some pretty frigid nights. But they also build and use such nests as cooler dens in the summer. 

Another nest of twigs and leaves may be little more than a platform where squirrels can snooze away the day and enjoy a cool breeze. 

Fresh nests will tell the prospective hunter much about squirrel numbers in a woodland area, or along creek, river or stream banks that have a good cover of trees. 

Sighting in is more important for those who hunt with rifles than those who use shotguns. A new rifle or new sights on a rifle should certainly be sighted in, even if sights are set at the factory. A new rifle may not require a lot of work, but any rifle needs to be test-fired by the hunter before the season opens. 

The same holds true of shotguns. A new shotgun should be test-fired at several distances between 10 and 40 or 50 yards, and with several different loads and shot sizes. Ordinarily, the best shotgun load for squirrels will be magnum loads of No. 5 or No. 6 shot, with a fully-choked gun. But some guns may handle No. 4 shot just as well while offering a slightly larger pellet.

Most hunters do not know how their shotguns print at distances less than 20 yards because they seldom get shots that close. But being able to shoot a squirrel in the head at close range to avoid ruining the meat of the body is important. 

A good way to learn your shotgun's potential for close shots is to make an oblong target 10 inches long and two inches wide with a well-defined two-inch area at each end. Test-fire your gun at 10, 15, and 20 yards--trying to get no shot in areas of the target other than the ends. 

When such crunch times come, the idea is to put the bead on the squirrel's head, then pull right or left to almost miss, but not quite. 

July, of course, offers many other outdoor activities, many of which can be mixed or matched to create an entire day of outdoor pleasures. 

The black raspberry crop has long since gone over the hill, but blackberries and their cousin, dewberries, still are available at no charge, no license, no nothing--just a desire for cobblers, pies, jams, jellies or even wine. Then, of course, they aren't all bad when simply washed, chilled and ladled over dry cereal, or a dish of ice cream. 

Those who struggled through the Great Depression and the post depression years will remember that berry picking was a family affair--your parents didn't ask if you would like to go pick berries--they simply said, unequivocally, you would. 

Hot, muggy nights are made for frog hunting after the largemouth bass residents of a body of water surface lures for an hour or so at dusk. 

With their treetop canopies, streams and small river offer the wading angler a shady way to keep cool during the hot part of the day while fishing artificials or live baits. And who knows, such an angler may do some squirrel scouting while he/she is fishing. 

Of course, those same hot, muggy nights that make bullfrogs sit high and dry at the edge of the water also put flathead catfish on the prowl and the best way to get them is with setlines and big live baits. 

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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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