"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

For many years the coming of December meant the winding down of hunting seasons while Hoosier outdoor types--and those of many other midwestern states--anxiously awaited the coming of first ice for hard-water angling.

First ice (at least ice that is safe enough for fishing) still comes in a normal year about Christmastime in the northern-tier counties, a little later, usually, in central and southern parts of the state.

But hunting regulations for many of the species of game birds and animals have changed. Hunting for most species of game birds and animals now carry over into January, even further into winter for some species.

Squirrel hunting is a case in point.

For many years our squirrel season opened at mid-August and continued through the middle of October. All kinds of people tried to get the Division of Fish and Wildlife (and its predecessor, the Division of Fish and Game) to make changes in the dates that had prevailed in Indiana since time immemorial.

There were many who wanted the opening of the squirrel season delayed until October. Their rationale (if there was a rational one in their bodies) revolved around the fact that they thought squirrels were unfit for human consumption until later in the fall.

This thinking was welcomed by many hunters who hunted squirrels with dogs, even though they knew that an August squirrel was just as tasty as an animal taken in the fall.

Today we hunt squirrels from mid-August, as usual, through December 31 north of U.S, highway 40, and through January 31 south of that east/west dividing line. And we apparently not putting too much pressure on the species--although many of us feared we might.

Although the bulk of December squirrel hunting is done with dogs (a great variety of them . . . especially curs), squirrels can be hunted with some success by still-hunting or even stalking.

The absence of foliage on our deciduous trees makes stalking and still-hunting more difficult than it is in the warm months of the squirrel season, and this is a big factor in the success of dog hunters at this time of year. Squirrels are much easier to find (see) when the leaves are down, but Mr. Bushytail is keenly aware of this and as a result goes for interior dens--or at least nests--when treed by dogs.

Incidentally, Indiana law prohibits disturbing animals in dens or nests. This would mean it is unlawful to shoot a squirrel nest even if you know there is a squirrel in it.

The mountain cur is a popular breed of dog among Hoosier squirrel hunters, but any dog--even fancy pointing and retrieving breeds with hoity-toity bloodlines--offer some potential as squirrel dogs. Dogs with some hound blood in their veins probably are best, but terriers are good and mixtures may be better.

Having grown up in good ol' Jackson County (Crothersville, Indiana), I was exposed to many good squirrel dogs. My dad, the late Jacob W. Scifres) was a poor-man raccoon hunter. This meant that we almost always had a hot-nosed cur dog or two for night hunting. These dogs converted to squirrel mode when the sun came up.

"Well," you may ask, "what is the difference in hounds and curs that gives the latter an edge for hunting squirrels?”

It is simply their noses--more specifically their ability to smell the tracks of animals and follow them.

In the jargon of country folks (especially those who hunt squirrels and other animals with dogs who trail by scent), the hound breeds are characterized by their "cold noses." Contrariwise, the curs and breeds of dogs that are used for other kinds of hunting (like bird hunting or retrieving) are said to have a “hot nose."

The cold-nosed dog is believed to spend much time straightening out the paths of animals that were left many hours earlier, while the hot-nosed dog can smell nothing but hot tracks--those left by animals only minutes earlier.

Hounds, the dog men say, bawl and wail over tracks so old that the animal may never be located. The hot-nosed cur smells only fresh (hot) tracks (scents left by animals). Many curs do not bark while running a hot track, and as a result they force their quarry up a tree before it can get to a tree that offers an interior den.

Debbie, a little wire-haired terrier, Ol' Ring and Ol' Ed were three of my dad's best squirrel dogs, but I have hunted over many others of questionable bloodlines. And many of them were good.

The late Bill Madden, an employee of the Division of Fish and Wildlife for many years, owned a big dog with much black-and-tan blood in his veins, but he was not full-blooded hound. Black Jack probably was the best squirrel dog I ever hunted over, although I enjoyed only one day of hunting with him at Willow Slough State Fish and Wildlife Area where Bill worked.

Still another outstanding (and most unusual) dog that flits through my memory was a golden retriever named Bo (I think that's the way he spelled it), owned and hunted with much success by the late and great Woody Fleming, the first non-political director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Woody maintained that Bo did not trail squirrels by scent, that he simply hunted close and spotted them visually in trees. Bo did not bark or "yip" when he saw a squirrel up a tree. He simply pointed or pranced around the tree until someone shot the squirrel.

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All columns, stories, 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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