(written in 2005)
When I think of August, foremost in my mind is squirrel hunting, but
there is much more to that important facet of the hunting picture than
the boom-boom of a Long Tom shotgun or the plink-plink of your favorite
There are, of course, many other parts of the August picture, more specifically
the fact that the opening of the squirrel season launches a full seven
months of activities for those who hunt or trap for furred or feathered
wild game critters.
Although I am looking for the prime ingredient for a fried-squirrel
dinner, my trips to the woodlands in August offer insight into many other
interesting and productive scenarios for later trips.
Take, for example, a beautiful late summer day several years back when
I had gone to the big bottomlands of White River’s west fork downstream
from the Elliston bridge west of Bloomfield.
I wanted to try this late afternoon hunt along an old oxbow of the river.
To get there, I would walk the railroad tracks north from the community
once known as Plummer.
As I moved along the rails I saw a squirrel cross the tracks and at
the same time noticed a tree with shaggy bark on the west fence line.
That was all I needed to know that the squirrel probably was going to
the hickory tree for a mid-afternoon snack. But there is not much brush
on a railroad track, and I knew the squirrel would see me and probably
would hide high in the tree long before I would get a shot.
I moved up a small rise until I was under the tree. There cuttings of
hickory nut shells told me my thinking was on the money. But I also knew
the squirrel would not move to offer a shot until there was no sign of
me being there.
I went down a slight bank from the other side of the tracks and took
a seat that would offer a good view of the hickory with some brush between
the tree and my position.
I waited for half an hour, but saw nothing. I was thinking about moving
on to the oxbow when a slight breeze from the north brought a familiar
scent. But I couldn’t identify it.
The scent would come and go as the breeze subsided, and it was driving
me mad. Forgetting the squirrel, I moved back onto the steel rails and
crossties, hoping that the absence of brush would bring in this most pleasant
aroma and help me identify it.
Moving north along the tracks a few feet at a time, I fancied that this
strange aroma kept getting stronger until I could see water in the oxbow
that was lined with large maples, walnuts and an assortment of other trees.
And the field on the east side of the oxbow was field corn, a strong source
of food for squirrels.
Identity of the strange-yet-familiar aroma hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Paw-paw!” I told myself, perhaps even aloud. But almost before I could
say it, I noticed this beautiful little grove of slender paw-paw trees
(shrubs, if you prefer) in the deep shade of the oxbow.
That pushed thoughts of bushytails further back in my mind, and I hurried
to the grove to find the trees loaded with fruit.
Most of the crop was not yet ripe, but I found one or two of the “Indiana
Bananas” that were soft and mushy, I tried them on the spot and made
a mental note to visit the grove again when the paw-paws were falling.
Incidentally, although paw-paw trees do not often get much larger in diameter
than two or three inches, one of the trees was a good five inches in diameter,
and an estimated 40 feet tall.
To shorten an otherwise long story, I did, indeed, visit the grove again
to collect a basket of the fruit, but before darkness chased me back to
my car, I had bagged a couple of corn-fed fox squirrels, and found a black
walnut tree that later would offer some beautiful, white-meated nuts.
And just before dark as I stalked a third squirrel (without success),
a flight of 20 to 30 wood ducks squealed into the water 60 yards to the
north where I presumed they would roost in the tops of a large tree that
had fallen into he water. I would pay them a visit later, too, before they
headed south to escape the rigors of an Indiana winter.
As darkness settled over the big bottomlands, I could not have been
more pleased with the way a late afternoon in August had gone.
If August runs true to form, it also is a great time to combine fishing
with squirrel hunting.
If those dusty dog days run true to form, small and mid-sized streams
will be as low as they will be, and this moves the finny citizens into
holes of deeper water and under log jams and other natural cover. It is
a time made for “squirlishing,” an outdoor activity (I do not see it as
sport) in which the outdoors person (we used to call them outdoorsmen,
but now many in our ranks are women) merely combines fishing and hunting.
My favorite combo involves wading a stream to fish for bass with artificial
or live (natural) bait--my .22 single-shot rifle strapped on my back (unloaded,
I merely go about the business of catching the prime ingredient for
a fish dinner, but when squirrels show I load the little rifle and my fish
dinner becomes a fried-squirrel/fried fish banquet, with roasting ears
of corn (rosneers to Hoosiers), chilled-ripe tomato slices, boiled beans
(green beans from the garden are not a bad substitute) fried potatoes (with
onion, of course), and corn bread or biscuits with real butter and honey.
OK, if you want to throw in some sliced/chilled cucumber and onion slices
saturated in a favorite salad dressing, I will nod approvingly.
Largemouth or smallmouth bass will fill the bill, but with catch-and
release thinking prevailing, I lean toward goggle-eyes (rock bass) or bluegills,
redear sunfish, crappies, or longear sunfish (redbellies) for the table.
Although most of my squirlishing is done on streams that are bordered
by trees and cornfields, standing waters that are adjacent to woodlands
can be a good bet. And those who prefer floating in a boat, can find this
activity just as rewarding, even if the movement of a boat makes shooting
difficult with a rifle. A close/hard-shooting shotgun is best for this.
Most important, at least in terms of safety, is the fact that single-shot
guns are easier to load when a squirrel is spotted, and to keep unloaded
at all other times.
The secret to success in squirlishing is moving slowly and quietly.
Squirrel hunting, per se, is best early in the morning and late in the
afternoon because those are prime feeding times. Characteristically, squirrels
take naps--or at least rest--during the hot part of the day, but showers
can change that, especially when storms have passed and the sun pops out
Being in the woods when a storm has subsided is an exciting experience.
Wind and rain will curb movement of almost all forms of woodland life (even
mosquitoes), but as winds calm and rain ceases woodlands awaken, seemingly
a celebration of the end of the storm.
Being in a woods during an electrical storm is not the safest thing
a hunter can do, but if I am caught in such a situation I look for cover
under (or in the hollow) of a beech or sycamore tree. I have never seen
a beech or sycamore tree stuck by lightning. On the other hand, I have
often seen evidence of lightning striking oak and cottonwood trees.
The safety exerts’ rule of thumb is to try not to be the tallest thing
around when lightning splits the skies and comes to earth.
As a boy in Jackson County, I made mental notes of the location of trees
that had hollows, and often used them as shelters during storms.
One hill-stand of virgin timber that offered very large trees of many
species dropped off into the flood plain of the Muscatatuck River. The
flood plain hosted a number of sycamore trees that were the largest I have
Characteristically, most of these trees were hollow, great hideway-shelters
One tree that I often used as a shelter (or just for an afternoon nap)
was so large that I found cow tracks in the hollow. However, dreams in
my slumbers were not always peaceful because my greatest fears were that
the openings would grow closed while I snoozed, and that my only tool for
escape was my pocketknife.
Another fond memory of my squirrel-hunting youth revolved around a communications
system that Jack Cain, one of my older outdoors mentors, and I worked out.
Occasionally we would be hunting in woodlands that were posted, or for
other reasons we did not want others to know were about.
Thus, we worked out codes for telling each other it was time to move
to the next woods by hooting like barred owls.
Our communications system worked very well for many years. But late
one fall afternoon we were hunting a very large wooded area known Boo’s
Thicket (just across the Muscatatuck River in Scott County),
When the sun started sinking, we always headed for the west edge of
the thicket and walk back to Crothersville as darkness came.
On this day, I hooted to let Jack know I was headed for the road. He
answered twice to tell me to come to him. I answered and headed in his
direction, thinking that he wanted me to help him bag one more squirrel
before we ended our hunt.
When I thought I would be close to Jack’s location, I hooted again to
let him know my location. He answered again, but this time he was further
east. Quickening my pace in an effort to find Jack, we kept conversing
on the run until I was far east of the road with dark coming on.
The conversation ended when I discovered that I had been talking with
an owl that was changing locations as I came close.
That sent me almost on the run to get out of the woods, and I went home
alone. Later that night, when we met on the Liars’ Bench downtown, Jack
told me that he had hooted, I had answered, and that he had left the woods
early because the day was so hot.
It seemed, Jack said, that there was an owl in the woods that imitated
a little lost boy.
on thumbnail image for enlarged view.
single-shot (breakdown) 20-gauge shotgun is a good choice for squirlishing.
This folding Companion with 28-inch, full choke tube handles both 2 ¾
(two and three-fourths) and three-inch magnum loads.