The first day of the squirrel season no doubt
is languishing in third place in terms of popularity with outdoors folks
in Indiana--maybe the Midwest--but it is more than just an opener for bushy
tails; it is the beginning of all hunting for the year. Only upland game
and deer seasons are bigger.
Indiana’s squirrel season opens August 15, as
usual. But there have been some changes this year. We again apply season
dates to the entire state, north and south of U.S. 40 no longer are involved.
It also extends through January 31, 2008. The squirrel season had been
split north and south for several years to give dog hunters more time to
hunt south of Highway 40. Now they have the entire state and biologists
of the DFW do not think it will affect the game adversely.
Many conservative hunters see the DFW as a group
of people bent on getting more for all hunters at all costs to the wildlife
resources for whatever they may gain. Politicks are not necessarily excluded.
However, I know hunters who do not look kindly
on the concept. I am more or less in the middle.
But for all practical purposes (I think we can
throw out crow and frog hunting), it is the beginning of everything we
hunt. That takes in more than five months of “nimrodery.”
On September 1 a special short season on teal
(ducks), Canada geese, doves and some insignificant early migrating game
birds with the first bow season for deer coming October 1. Otherwise, we
have in store opening seasons for the other game birds and animals we hunt.
And the opening of the squirrel hunting launches all of it. So although
we have vastly fewer hunters who try their luck with bushy tails, it is
big among the outdoors set.
It used to be that the folks of darkened homes
were deep in slumber about 3:30 or 4 a.m., then the town would awaken and
bleary-eyed ladies would turn out a hot breakfast for their mates and male
children. When the last gulp of food went down the chute, the men departed
with guns, and the ladies went back to bed for more shut-eye time with
visions of platters of fried squirrel.
The scenario still unfurls that way in the hinterlands--a
terribly romantic thing--but the art of squirrel hunting is fast being
forgotten. And it’s a shame.
I remember an opener--I think it fell on August
10--when my father’s boss came to go with us to the big hill woodlands
of Gilliad Hills in Scott County. I was sitting in the back seat, my little
Springfield .22 resting between my knees.
As the car rambled over the country roads the
sky turned pink in the east, and Jake Boyer, my dad’s boss, turned to me
and asked: “Whatta you go’in to do with that rifle with the grays?”
I opined that I would do OK, and my performance
backed my optimism, as I came out of the woods about 9 a.m. with three
grays and a fox squirrel, all head shots. I didn’t say a lot about my misses.
The men had bagged one squirrel between them.
In the ensuing days and weeks--even months and
years--I revisited the big woodlands in the wilds of Scott County. It was
about 14 miles, but long before daylight I would place my rifle on the
handlebars of my old fenderless bicycle and pedal the dirt/gravel roads
across the rickety, old Slate Ford Bridge and east to this wonderful new
woods. It was a hardwood wonderland.
On my first trip there my father had warned me
of the enormity of the woods (it was easy to get lost there) and to keep
sight of a small stream that bisected the woods and crossed the road. I
listened to his advice.
However, there were other dangers--at least in
the mind of a 13-year-old boy. One time just after daylight I was sneaking
an old timber trail on the top of a hill when something (a panther, I thought)
emitted a wild scream that put the hair on end on the back of my neck.
I got two long-rifle hollow points out of the
bullet box and went looking for whatever it was, determined to hold my
fire until the range was point-blank. I figured it was best to be on the
offense. Even though the earth was wet from rain, I found no tracks.
Later, when I heard my first doe scream, I realized
that my panther may have been imagination. But it was a squirrel hunting
adventure that will be with me always.
It also begs the question: Do we have big cats
in the wilds of Indiana? I would say you can mortgage the farm and bet
that we do. My big Scott County woods is probably gone now but we do have
a few other places environmentally suitable to big cats.
is the week for the opening of the State Fair (August 8), and the free
Wild Game Dinner (August 11). Don’t miss the dinner at any price. It is
free (all one must pay is the fair admission and parking). It is the best
collection of fish and game as food I know. But it would be nice to offer
blackberry cobbler or persimmon pudding for dessert: noon Saturday at the
Natural Resources Building, northwest corner of the Fairgrounds Track.