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
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.