"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Interpreting the Movement of Tree Limbs
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

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.

All columns, essays, and photos 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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