Opening of the squirrel season--the vanguard of
the hunting year in Hoosierland--is enough to keep an outdoors person occupied,
but it is only the beginning. August has much to offer before the mid-month
squirrel opener and the action never falters in its headlong dash into
Although preparing for the August 15 opener of
the squirrel season, and the hunting, itself, is enough to occupy any outdoors
person, the facet of the picture that is most prominent probably lies in
the fact that hunting bushytails can be parlayed with many other activities.
Chief among the residuals is a thing I probably
invented. I call “squirlishing.” Boiled down to its simplest terms, squirlishing
is simply hunting squirrels and fishing. There are as many ways to participate
in this activity as there are species of fish and methods of catching them.
I invented squirlishing on a hot late-August day
many years ago.
My dad had turned me loose to fish and hunt on
the two forks of the Muscatatuck River when I was 10 years old, but my
“expeditions” always were for fishing or hunting--never both at the same
I must have been a pre-teener the day I stopped
about noon to talk with Jack Cain, my squirrel/quail hunting mentor, as
he rested on the Liar’s Bench outside the drugstore.
I asked the older and wiser Jack if he would like
to get his fishing pole and join me in wading and bank-walking the west
fork of the river for some bass fishing with artificial lures.
Although the squirrel season had been open for
more than a week, a prolonged dry spell was making the hunting difficult.
I thought I would just stick to fishing until we got some rain.
“No!” Jack said, glancing to the western skies,
“I think I will wait until after the rain and go squirrel hunting later
in the afternoon . . . I think we’re going to get some rain.”
Impetuous kid that I was, I couldn’t wait--I had
to be doing something--so I went fishing by myself.
By mid-afternoon I was two or three miles northwest
of Crothersville (my old Jackson County hometown), and having a good
afternoon with the bass of the river. But black clouds in the southwest
were becoming more threatening by the minute. I could see that Jack’s prediction
of rain soon would break the drought.
Thinking that I should try to find cover before
the storm hit, I set sail downstream as fast as my legs would carry me.
There was a large beech tree in a riverbank ticket half a mile downstream,
and I was trying to get there before the storm hit.
When the first raindrops fell on surging winds
I was standing at the side of the tree. This beech must have been more
than four feet in diameter a foot above the earth. Although it was a live
and growing tree, it was hollow and there was an oval-shaped opening
more than a foot wide that started about two feet above the earth and extended
upward for about two feet--plenty of room for a skinny kid to slip in,
and plenty of room to sit facing the opening in the dry, dead wood that
paved the bottom of the snug little room. I had been here before. It was
one of my citadels.
As the rain pelted harder I leaned my casting
rod against the tree, wormed myself into the hollow, and took respite in
a ringside seat to one of the most fascinating displays of fireworks I
have ever seen.
Rain fell in sheets, and for half an hour or more
jagged streaks of lightning crashed into the cornfields so close at times
that it raised the hair on the back of my neck, and my spine tingled from
one end to the other. I was awed by the display, and in retrospect, I am
happy to have had the experience. But I would not want to see it again.
When I tell the story of that encounter with the
ravages of nature, many question the wisdom of seeking refuge from an electrical
storm inside a tree. But I was not afraid because, to this day, I have
never seen a beech tree struck by lightning. The same is true for sycamore
trees. On the other hand, oak and cottonwood trees are to be shunned at
such times as lightning rods.
When the storm had passed through this flood plain
of the Muscatatuck River the sun came out and the area became a beautiful,
late summer afternoon.
Dry as the proverbial bone, I crawled out of the
tree and walked to the banks of the river to resume my fishing. But as
I stood on the banks high above the river, it quickly became apparent that
my fishing was finished for that day. The water looked like a cup of coffee
with too much cream and it was rising.
As I stood at the edge of the pin oak thicket
commiserating on the fact that my fishing was done for the day, the treetops
came alive with birds and squirrels--all celebrating the freshness that
followed the storm. And I watched for several minutes thinking that there
must be a way to have both fishing pole and rifle when I went to the river.
This thinking gained credence that night when
I went downtown to listen in on the stories older men spun while congregated
on the Liar’s Bench. Jack was there and his first words were a reminder
that he had predicted the rain. Then he added insult to injury by pointing
out that he had bagged his limit of five squirrels in a short time when
skies had cleared.
That set the squirlishing wheels to spinning even
faster in my head, and when I arrived home the first thing I did was grab
an old leather belt and a yard or so of my dad’s setline stagen (strong
cord used for the mainline for set lines).
By wrapping the stagen tightly around pistol grip
of the little rifle and on the rifle barrel in front of the forearm, I
attached the leather belt at the two points to fashion a sling that would
suspend the rifle from my shoulder, leaving both hands free for angling
When the river returned to normal level and the
water cleared, I tried my new game and found it exciting. I would simply
fish the good holes as I always had, staying alert for squirrels in the
trees that canopied the river. When I saw a squirrel I would load up and
the focus of my outing would change from fishing to hunting.
I don’t remember ever bringing in my limit of
both squirrels and bass, but I almost always brought in some of each. They
were food for our family.
The greatest feature of squirrelishing lies in
its tolerance. Fish don’t get picayunish about the kind of tackle or bait
(live or artificial) that the squirlisher employs. Likewise, squirrels
don’t place a premium on being bagged by any kind of gun, bow--or even
slingshot for that matter. And while the best opportunity for squirlishing
will be found on streams and rivers, lakes, ponds, gravel pits or any other
water will fill the bill if it is bordered by trees.
Throw in some cornfields--a great source of food
for squirrels at this time of year--and you have the makin’s of a prime
squirlishing spot. However, the wooded banks of any water in Hoosierland
is apt to offer hickory, pignut, oak, wild (black) cherry, ash, maple and
many other woody species (shrubs and trees) that produce nuts, seeds, berries
and other edible produce that serves as food sources for bushytails.
Although my favorite gun for squirlishing is a
single shot rifle, either an ancient Stevens Favorite, or the little Springfield
bolt-action my dad gave me at the age of seven), a hard-shooting shotgun
(fully choked with hefty loads) will make the game easier, and will undoubtedly
bring down more game for the table. But now and then I pin my hopes on
a .22 caliber H&R revolver with 12-inch barrel.
I bought a single-barrel folding 20-gauge many
years ago--strictly for squirlishing trips when I wanted game more than
Whatever type of gun is used in squirlishing,
safety should be foremost in the minds of those carrying guns with shoulder
straps or any other manner. The gun should be unloaded until a squirrel
Such tactics beg the question on how a wading
squirelisher should manipulate a fishing pole while preparing to bag a
squirrel with a gun.
I faced and solved this problem on one of my early
squirlishing trips. I was waist deep in the Vernon fork of the old Muscatatuck
when I spotted this squirrel that obviously had spotted me.
I didn’t want to subject my old South Bend No.
450 casting reel to the muddy bottom of the river so I knew I could not
let it go to the bottom while I shot the squirrel. But figured if I backtracked
to deposit my fishing rod on the bank while I took my shot, the squirrel
would be gone.
Easing the rifle off my shoulder and slipping
a “short hollow-point” cartridge from my shirt pocket into the chamber,
I prepared to shoot. But how would I hold both rifle and fishing pole?
At this point my triangle shooting theory was
born. I tried several methods of holding both rifle and fishing rod while
I took my shot at the squirrel, but they all were cumbersome.
Then I placed the rifle to my right shoulder,
the handle of the old Gep five-foot bait-casting rod on my left shoulder,
and grasped both the tube of the rod and the forearm of the rifle with
my left hand (palm up, rod on the bottom).
I lined the iron sights up on the squirrel’s head
to find that the triangle created by my shoulders, the rod and the rifle
helped me hold steady on my target if I exerted slight downward pressure
with my left hand.
At the crack of the rifle the squirrel dropped
on the far bank of the river, and I had solved a problem I have faced many
times since. As a matter of fact, when I am involved in traditional squirrel
hunts that are far removed from water, I often pick up a sturdy dead stick
the diameter of my thumb and about four feet long if I am hunting with
a rifle or a handgun. Using a tree or a sapling is hard to beat in such
shooting situations, but a strong “stick” is no worse than second best.
Just as the equipment options for squirlishing
are varied, so are the modes for movement. Frankly, I like wading and bank-stalking
best--because I think it makes me less visible in the outdoor scene. But
floating in a boat or tube-float will serve the hunter/angler well.
However, if go the small boat route, I like the
craft to be quite small. I also prefer a canoe-type paddle to oars. And
I certainly do not want the drone of an outboard motor telling the critters
I am there.
If I plan a floating trip for squirlishing, I
prefer a shotgun because holding a rifle or handgun steady is almost impossible
with the movement of a boat.
The fundamentals of squirlishing are so great,
indeed, that they can be applied to many species of game and fish with
a slight change in equipment and the turn of the calendar as seasons open
on many other species of game birds and animals.
For example, a bucket of minnows, a couple of
fishing poles, a good scattergun, and an anchor can put an outdoors enthusiast
smack-dab into some good crappie fishing while waiting for doves or teal
when August gives way to September.
And so it can go into winter.
Click on thumbnail
photo to see enlarged image.
demonstrate my triangle shooting theory with fishing rod and rifle both
playing important roles in steadying my rifle for off-hand shooting.
pose with a nice largemouth to illustrate my equipment and how I carry
the rifle on a shoulder strap. The rifle is one of my Stevens Favorite