"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Out-Foxing Fox Squirrels
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

There’s nothing spookier than a squirrel that has been spooked, but Mr. Bushytail’s “wily” tendencies can put such an animal in the skillet if the hunter has a trick or two up his sleeve.

My first exposure to this sort of hunter trickery came long before I was old (big) enough to carry a gun.

My dad, the late Jacob W. Scifres, was administering one of my earliest squirrel hunting lessons in a woods west of Crothersville, my old hometown.

We, actually my dad, saw a squirrel on a hickory tree well out of the range of his hard shooting Winchester Model 97 shotgun. But we still had to get close enough for a shot, and before that happened the extra noise I made had spooked the squirrel.

The squirrel was keeping the trunk of the tree between us. But when we were in range, we just stood quietly in the brush for several minutes.

Finally my dad told me to walk slowly to the other side of the tree.

I had taken only a few steps beyond the trunk of the tree when the shotgun exploded, and the prime ingredient for a fried squirrel dinner plopped on the forest floor.

The ideal situation is to stalk so slowly and silently that the hunter gets a shot before the squirrel knows he is about. But this doesn’t always happen.

Thus, over the years, I learned a number of tricks that would (still will) trick squirrels into showing themselves. Incidentally, most of these tricks will not work on gray squirrels because grays tend to vacate the premises when spooked. But fox squirrels are less wily, not to mention being more numerous in Indiana, except in the big hill woodlands of the southern third of the state. This, of course, is what makes gray squirrel hunting more difficult.

I have known hunters who carried a ball of fishing line (even grocery twine) in their hunting coats for creating noises on the far side of trees, but my favorite method of getting shots at spooked squirrels involved nothing more complicated than a few hickory nuts.

I simply pick up half a dozen or so hickory nuts and keep them in my pocket. When a squirrel has been spooked, I sit quietly for a few minutes, then toss a nut to the far side of the tree in a manner that will cause it to roll through dry leaves on the forest floor. If I am well concealed and have been quiet, this will do the trick. 

Nuts remaining in my pocket at the end of the hunt are used for target practice. One at a time, I flip them 10 to 15 feet in the air and crack them in flight with my little rifle. This sounds like a game of great skill, and I am sure I have impressed many fellow hunters with my shooting skills. But the trick of this shot lies in the shooter’s ability to catch the nut at the apex of its straight-up flight. Actually, it is no more difficult that shooting a nut on a tree limb.

Although the wariness of squirrels is a most noted characteristic, curiosity (like that of the proverbial cat) will often be Mr. Bushytail’s undoing.

Jack Cain, one of my older outdoor “perfessors,” many years ago gave me a lesson in using a spooked squirrel’s curious nature to get a shot.

Jack and I had been hunting solo (as we almost always did) when I saw him sitting to watch a hickory tree. In sign language, Jack told me there was a squirrel on the hickory and that I should watch from a distance.

I sat down quietly and watched. Ten or 15 minutes later Jack fished his old “Barlow” from his pocket, cocked his rifle, and rested it against a tree that hid most of his body. He gently rubbed the tip of the knife blade against the rough surface of the rifle bolt to create a gentle scratching noise similar to the sound a squirrel makes in cutting through the hard shell of a hickory nut.

In a few seconds Jack’s rifle cracked and out came the squirrel.

Jack explained that the spooked squirrel had flattened its body out on a large limb high in the hickory tree. All he could see was the tip of the squirrel’s ear, a bit of the hair on the back, and part of the tail. When all was quiet, the raspy noise Jack had created whetted the curiosity of the squirrel. It raised its head to locate the sound.

Incidentally, when squirrels are spooked and hiding, the hunter will often locate the animals by looking for their tails. Spooked squirrels often conceal their bodies well, but seem to forget about their Achilles tails dangling for all to see.

It is, of course, highly unethical--not to mention unlawful--to damage a squirrel den or nest.

Take A Kid Hunting Day

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is partnering with the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Hoosier outdoor recreation organizations of the state to organize the first annual “Take A Kid Hunting Day” on September 17. Although this year’s special hunting day for kids will be confined to wild game species open to hunting on that day (dove and squirrel), next year’s youth hunting activities will include a special youth hunt for deer. Important, as this first kids’ day of hunting may be, in essence it represents only the “tip of the iceberg” below the surface of Indiana’s outdoors waters. 

Staged by the Fish And Wildlife Conservation Youth Committee, a group of  (DNR) employees, and the movers-and-shakers of many of the state’s conservation/hunting-fishing organizations, this first day for the kids will depend largely on organizations and individuals to take a kid hunting on Sept.  17. 

The rationale of this effort will be found in the fact that DNR studies indicate that Indiana lost 31 percent of its outdoors types in 20 years (1983-2003). The plan simply seeks to keep hunting, fishing, and allied outdoors activities strong in the state by hands-on education for Hoosier youth who have many other recreation opportunities. 

Designed, organized and chaired by Steve Rilenge, of V.P. Construction Company, and president of the Central Chapter of Safari Clubs International, the committee met recently to start planning for the 2006 event for kids. The Central chapter of Safari Club has sponsored numerous other hunting programs, including a popular plan that urges hunters to donate part of their venison to the needy. 

In addition to members of the committee, this meeting was attended by DNR Director Kyle Hupfer and representatives of The Sportsmen’s Roundtable, the Indiana Bowhunters Association, the Indiana Deer hunters Association, and the Indiana Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Future work of the committee is expected to involve many other individuals and organizations that can help make our youth more aware of hunting/fishing/outdoor recreation opportunities. 

Rilenge noted at the recent meeting of the committee that some 40,000 flyers were distributed at the recent Indiana State Fair to launch the promoting Indiana’s first “Take A Kid Hunting Day.” He added that five Lamar Advertising Company billboards around the state will help make Hoosiers aware of the program. 

The billboards will be seen on I-70 west of Richmond, on the northwest corner of I-465 in Marion County, on US 30 near I-69 in Fort Wayne, on I-65 north of Clarksville in Floyd County, and on I-65 at Crown Point. Indiana has had special youth hunts for waterfowl, pheasant, and dove for several years, in addition to a free fishing weekend. Next year it will join Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky in promoting special deer-hunts for youth.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

kidsign.jpg (100626 bytes)
This is the poster distributed at the State Fair to promote Indiana’s first “Take A Kid Hunting Day” on Sept. 17. The same poster will be seen from five Lamar Advertising billboards around the state. Big things are happening for little people in Indiana. 

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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