Indiana's squirrel season will open Friday (August 15). And though many
hunters do not realize it, interpreting the movement of limbs of trees
(even the understory) tell an important story when no game is visible.
This important lesson in squirrel hunting was explained in detail to
me by numerous journeyman outdoorsmen, including my father, the late Jacob
W. Scifres, and the late William Branard "Jack" Cain.
Incidentally, folks at Crothersville, my old hometown in Jackson County,
used to say that Jake Scifres could kill his limit in a woods where there
were no squirrels. As the years of my youth passed I would learn that this
was not a gross exaggeration. If Jack Cain was not as good a squirrel hunter,
it would have taken a photo finish to place him second.
As I grew up, my dad had to work most weekdays, but we hunted together
on Saturdays. Jack, who never married and did not look endearingly on full-time
employment, was always ready to hunt with me and share his vast knowledge
of this activity that was an important source of meat for many families
as The Great Depression wound down.
I couldn't have been much older than seven when my dad explained his
"bouncing limb" theory to me in a little bottomland woods west of Crothersville.
We always hunted solo when we reached the wooded area we would hunt. On
this occasion before we had gone our separate ways, my dad held up his
hand and pointed to a swaying limb a good 100 yards away.
I could see a squirrel, but rejoined my dad who told me in a whisper
that a squirrel was moving through the tree tops--probably going to a big
leaning hickory tree that sat on the banks of a dry creek bed.
As we watched from afar my dad explained his theory on interpreting
the movement of limbs in locating squirrels.
If a limb is bending when there is little or no wind, he said, some
animal (most often a squirrel) or bird is causing the movement.
His explanation was simple. If a limb is depressed and remains so--or
moves back to its normal position--a squirrel has jumped to that limb.
If the limb shakes mildly--or if it returns slowly to its normal position--the
squirrel has moved toward the trunk of the tree from which the limb grows.
If a limb is depressed and showing some movement, the weight of the
squirrel is the motivating force. The squirrel still is there. If such
a limb springs back to normal position, the squirrel has jumped to another
limb, perhaps on another tree.
These scenarios will tip the hunter on the general direction the squirrel
is moving. This gives the hunter an edge, and makes it possible for the
hunter to move silently and get to a spot where he may intercept the squirrel.
But what if it's a bird, I asked.
The weight of a bird--especially a large bird--can depress a limb,
he said, adding that the hunter must check such movement. But when a limb
springs back to its normal position, and no nearby limb is depressed, the
hunter can assume the motivator was a bird that simply took to flight.
The most effective method of finding squirrels still revolves around
being able to identify trees from a distance (this means knowing trees
by their bark and general characteristics, including configuration of the
limbs). But there are many other factors involved.
One of my most productive squirrel hunting tricks involves looking
closely at swaths of sunlight that filter through the canopy of leaves.
When squirrels are feeding high in a tree, the minute pieces of cuttings
(the small pieces of nut and acorn shells), may not create enough noise
to be detected. But even a small piece of nutshell falling through a shaft
of sunlight will indicate the presence of some bird or animal feeding above.
When hearing is not effective, sight may be the best tool--especially when
sunlight highlights items so small they might not be otherwise detected.