To Hoosier sun worshipers, and those from other states of the nation's
mid-section, August is the beginning of the end.
To hunters, it is the beginning of the beginning.
To many hunters August is the opening of the squirrel season. That,
alone, is enough to give this eighth month of the year high priority on
the agenda of Hoosier outdoor folks.
Still, if you take a larger view of the outdoor scene, August is the
beginning of roughly six months of hunting activities-- eight months if
you include the seasons for fur-bearing animals for hunters and trappers.
We will, of course, get to many of these pursuits as we flip the leaves
of the Trout Unlimited calendar that keeps me current. But for now, Mr.
Bushytail sits high in the thoughts and plans of most Hoosier (and Midwestern)
Incidentally, if you are wondering why outdoor writers such as "yours
truly" would more or less retire the word "outdoorsmen" for "outdoor folks,"
it is because this gender thing creeps into the picture.
A few years ago when I wrote a column on the impending opening of the
squirrel season, I used the term "outdoorsmen" to cover all who hunted
In the mail a few days later I received this terse, unsigned note, the
gist of which is etched in my memory card. It read: "Women hunt,
too, you jerk. Why won't you admit it . . . the day when women stayed home
to fry the squirrels the men brought in is gone. We hunt, too."
I did, indeed, admit the same in a subsequent column, and pointed out
that not just the fair sex, but those from many walks of life hunt squirrels.
My wisdom--if that is a fitting name for it--was re-confirmed no further
back than last week.
In a telephone conversation about tennis with a female registered nurse,
I thought I would throw her a curve by mentioning the fact that the squirrel
season opener loomed (August 15, to be exact).
"Oh! I love to hunt squirrels," exclaimed the lady who smacks a pretty
mean tennis ball. "I started hunting squirrels when I was a little girl."
Thus, the unwritten canons of modern-day journalistic endeavor suggest
that we forget brevity and replace the 10-space, one-word "outdoorsmen"
with the 13-space, two-word "outdoor folks."
It's not really that big a deal with your reporter who is happy to
admit that seeing a member of the fair sex excel--or just participate--in
outdoor activities especially (hunting/fishing)--is sheer joy.
I have, of course, gotten my comeuppance on such matters many times
before--and since. It is a risk one must accept in this writing business.
So now we get to the bushytails, and conditions that prevail now--and
will be with us when the season opens August 15
Squirrels have been cutting (feeding on) black walnuts, poplar seed
pods, and a variety of other tree seeds for some time. Hickory nuts--at
least those that mature early--will be plentiful throughout the state this
year. That will be the best bet for hunters when the season opens.
However, the oaks, beech, and numerous other seed-producing trees are
showing promise of a good mast crop this year, although this can be spotty
from one area to another.
When August--and the opening of the squirrel season-- is at hand, it
is easy to conjure up visions of great and interesting hunts from yesteryear.
And so it is that I retrace steps that were light and gay at a time when
even Adolph Hitler was feared by no one. It was a time when the chief concern
of a sub-teenage boy in good old Jackson County (Crothersville environs)
was whether squirrels would be cutting hickory when the season opened--which,
of course, they always were.
As my squirrel-hunting past skips across the desktop of my computer,
thoughts of many episodes skip through my mind. Like the time my dad (the
late Jake Scifres) and I had ridden the interurban (the electric train
that sped from Indianapolis to Louisville . . . and who knows where else)
to Langdon crossing where we would start our hunt back home.
It was a Saturday morning and we would start at a big woods just west
of the crossing. My dad carried his trusty 16-gauge Winchester Model 97
(30-inch, full-choke barrel) and I would have the little Springfield bolt-action
single-shot .22 that sits even today only an arm's length from my chair.
As usual, we would separate to hunt, with the agreement that we would
meet again at the southwest corner of the woods to continue our hunt at
other wooded areas until we were back home again early in the afternoon.
Our hunt had started just after daylight even though dark clouds were
scudding in from the southwest with the promise of rain--perhaps even a
storm. TV weathermen were unheard of in those days--the boob tube was only
a thing you saw at the World's Fair. We were our own weathermen, schooled
in such matters as the feel of the wind, the call of rain crows, halos
around the moon, the flutter of leaves, and other telltale circumstances.
With thunder rumbling in the southwest I cautiously approached a tall,
gangly river-bottom hickory tree to find my dad standing a few yards from
the trunk of the tree. The tree 18 inches or two feet in diameter at the
butt, towered high above other trees that surrounded it.
My dad saw me approaching and pointed skyward to tell me there was
a squirrel up there.
To give further credence to his message, he bent over, picked up a
piece of fresh-cut hickory nut shell and squeezed it between his index
finger and his thumb. I could imagine water oozing from the piece of shell,
and the freshness. Then he held his finger over his lips to add that I
should be very quiet in my approach.
A few minutes later I was standing beside him. He explained that there
was, indeed, a squirrel breakfasting on a hickory nut high above.
He confirmed this by pointing to a small opening in the understory
foliage, and directing my view to a limb three or four inches in diameter.
The squirrel was sitting crosswise on the limb. In this position, we could
only see the front paws of the squirrel, the hickory nut and the underside
of the squirrel's head.
My dad told me he could not see the squirrel from any other spot, adding
that the rain would be there soon and the squirrel would disappear. Pointing
out that he wasn't sure he could bag the squirrel with the shotgun (which
I found questionable), he wondered if I could shoot through the small opening
and hit the squirrel's head. I would give it a try, I said.
Kneeling on my right knee and pointing the little rifle straight up
through the opening, I leveled the front sight in the "V" of the back sight.
Then I steadied the front sight on the squirrel's head.
Soon after the rifle cracked the squirrel hit the ground a foot from
the spot where I kneeled.
I had passed the test to which I had been put.
I could count many other happy squirrel-hunting episodes involving
that woods--and that hickory tree. But my next (not-so-happy) vision unfolds
a few years after World War II.
Jack Cain, another of my squirrel hunting mentors, and I were sitting
on a lazy October afternoon in a wooded area on Bowman's Hill, half a mile
or so east of the Langdon Crossing woods.
It was a hot, still, muggy afternoon and suddenly the quiet was broken
by the strangest noise either of us had ever heard. It came from the big
We walked briskly to the edge of the woods, then quietly stalked the
sound of voices deeper in the woods.
From a distance we could see two men standing by a large tree that
they had cut. The falling tree had thrashed through smaller trees that
surrounded it and the understory. The scene left no doubt that the sounds
we had heard were made by the falling tree--one of my all-time favorite