Tree Rats Galore
article and photo by Dan Chason
One of the saddest times of the year for hunters is when deer and duck season closes. I hunt in Area 1, so our deer and duck season closure almost coincide. That leaves the avid nimrod with the big question. What do I do now? Some will opt to hang up the guns, put away climbing stands, clean up the camp, ATVs and gear and call it a year. Others, like me have found the Spring can be a time to get excited all over again.
I don’t turkey hunt that often. I don’t like snakes, mosquitoes or ticks. So the early pre-Spring of the year is not a time I usually can be found tromping through the woods. I will take the opportunity to chase hogs from February to about the first of March. Other than that, I can be found on my crappie rig looking for those slaps about to put on the black tuxedo and get under a cypress tree with my jig pole.
But this year was a little different. I have been itching to put my squirrel dog in the woods and just happen to know a guy who loves it as much as me. Sure enough, it didn’t take but one phone call, and my friend Doyle McEacharn (pronounced McCann) had another dog and hunter lined up for a jaunt to my camp over the weekend.
We met in Holly Ridge for a good meal on Friday night and I was introduced to Allen Best who lives in the area. Coach Best, as I learned, was a star basketball player and even coached my wife’s sisters at what was then Holly Ridge High School. Bringing up the rear, at a pace I can describe as “slower than the pace of smell” was Tommy Woodard, an old friend of Doyle and Allen’s. Tommy would have to get in a hurry to move slow. He had a methodical pace but counters it with a hearty laugh and great sense of humor. With Tommy was a brindle-colored, brown mountain cur by the name of Molly. Molly is 9 years old and is a squirrel hunting machine. I looked forward to the hunt as my lab, Buddy, had proven to be a gifted squirrel dog, even though he is pretty much self trained. He spends hours at my house amid the many oak trees, harassing anything with hair. Squirrels, coons, possums and an occasional house cat will either find a hole or a tree to climb or face the wrath of Buddy. But the one thing Buddy hates the most is a squirrel. Every time I pull into my driveway from work, Buddy will bound out of his dog house and tree a squirrel. I guess it is his way of trying to get me to take him hunting. He is my constant companion, whether in the woods or on my boat fishing. He is quite the exceptional animal.
Squirrel hunting is different from most hunts, as there is no need to get up at the crack of dawn. The avid squirrel hunter who hunts with dogs wants to give the squirrels the opportunity to get down and feed, leaving their scent on the ground. The hunt is not overly exerting. We loaded up on my Yamaha Viking II and followed the dogs, as they hit the trails and lanes looking for our quarry. The afternoon hunt of Day 1 was less than eventful, as we all did a poor job of shooting. We killed a few squirrels, treed a ton, but found them to be uncooperative. We still killed 5 in about 2 hours, which isn’t bad but not what we envisioned with two good dogs and unmolested woods.
The next morning went about like the evening before, as it was windy and cold. We opted to hunt the swamp but the squirrels were not feeding. We treed over a dozen times but they either went into holes in hollow trees or flattened out on the towering oaks, where no shot was possible. We returned to the camp and began our strategy for afternoon hunt. We still killed 5, but we knew the area was capable of producing a sure enough world class hunt. I called my son-in-law, Casey Barton, and he and my grandson Chance showed up to join us. Neither had ever hunted with a dog on squirrels. I told them to be ready and be sure to have plenty of ammunition. That was an understatement.
The strategy on squirrel hunting with a dog is pretty simple. The dog “winds” a squirrel or “trails” a squirrel from his scent and determines which tree the squirrel has chosen to climb. It is then up to the hunters to spot where it is hiding and try to make him move. This is accomplished with pulling vines, shaking trees and making quite a bit of noise. Sometimes, the squirrel will literally perch in the tree and bark at the dogs. If the squirrel finds a hole, you have two options: Try to smoke him out with a small fire built with leaves (which pushes the smoke up the hollow tree to where he is hiding), or 2, attempt to get your dogs to leave the hot scent and find another squirrel. On this particular evening, the squirrels were moving. Both dogs treed in this one area, and all of us gathered where they were barking with all eyes scanning a massive oak. By the behavior of both dogs, we knew they had more than one squirrel treed. Sure enough, someone hollered “there he is” as a gun reported and it started a war. We killed 3 squirrels in that one tree. Long story short, we killed 15 squirrels in less than 2 hours. It was one of the best trips I had ever enjoyed. 3 hunts and 25 squirrels. That is one for the photo album.
What was better than the hunting was the look on my grandson’s face. Chance loves to deer hunt and was adamant that he wanted to deer hunt the next morning. That was before he experienced that last hunt. He decided then that he wanted to squirrel hunt. Squirrel hunting is a way to enjoy good company and allows a youngster a lot of action, while not having to sit quietly. The only thing better than the hunt is when that mess of squirrels is floating in some dumplings. I know Tommy moves slow, but I bet he will pick it up a step, when those groceries hit the table.