Tag Archives: squirrel hunting

Driving on 290 Toward Rockford

That’s all the text message said, Driving on 290 toward Rockford, and there was a photo attached. I had to have Nina email me the photos, the screen on my phone is barely 2 inches square and I was wondering why she was sending me a picture of the back of somebody’s SUV.

Because there were two deer strapped to the carrier on the back of the SUV.

Got to hand it to a daughter that thinks of their dad when they see something like that. She knows how much I enjoy hunting even though I’ve only had the opportunity to go deer hunting once about a decade ago out in Virginia. I did get a deer then, with a muzzle loader that’s a replica of a Kentucky long rifle. For the first time I went deer hunting, I didn’t know it would be my last chance in a long while, I wanted to do something a little more traditional. I had no access to bows and a friend had given me this rifle.

What I’ve found out since then is that hunting can get expensive. Years ago I used to go pheasant, squirrel and waterfowl hunting fairly often. Over the past eight years hunting has become a luxury I simply can no longer afford except for the occasional squirrel hunt. Even then, the places I like to go squirrel hunting are a bit of a drive and it’s been hard to justify burning off the gallons of gas it takes to go bag a few squirrels.

Some day.

Some day I’ll be able to go out pheasant hunting again on a whim and not do a complex financial analysis of my cash flow projected two to three months forward first.

Some day the time and financial resources will coincide so I can go spend a few days down in Missouri and hunt with my father-in-law. He owns 40 acres on the Missouri/Arkansas border that is begging to be hunted.

Some day I won’t think twice about driving the 200 mile round trip to Morrison Rockwood State Park or the 260 mile round trip to Apple River Canyon State Park just to go squirrel hunting. They are the two finest places I’ve been to for the simple pleasure of a day of squirrel hunting.

Some day I’ll be able to get out deer hunting around here, but I still plan a more traditional outing. I have a long bow with a slight recurve that I’ve got pretty good at shooting. I even have a couple of hand made wood arrows I’ve set aside for this opportunity.

Some day.

Till then I’ll rely on the occasional photo’s from friends to remind me of missed hunting opportunities.

Or I’ll just wait for my daughter to send another text message, with another photo of deer on a carrier.

I told her the next time she sees something like this to flag down the driver, get him to pull over and find out how much he wants for a hind quarter. You never know, an attractive young woman asking about deer hind quarters just might get her one for free. I’ve got killer recipes for venison chili and stew that are gathering dust and a hind quarter would be perfect.

Then there’s the fettuccine with venison alfredo sauce…

Even a Deer Enjoys a Good Cuban Now and Then

For well over a dozen years while out cruising the internet, I’ve been using the same picture of a cute smiling me when I was four years old as an avatar everywhere I go. Keeps people guessing. How can someone so cute be such an ass at times.

I grew up, the picture didn’t.

That’s me on the left. The monkey sitting next to me is my brother and, yes, he eventually grew into those ears quite handsomely.

The other day I decided to change the picture on my Facebook profile to something more recent. I don’t allow many pictures of me to be taken any more, but this one was taken by my daughter and I kind of like it.

It started up the usual smartass comments from so called friends, but then Nicholas Kriho said, “Needless to say, you didn’t do any successful deer hunting for at least a month after that photo was taken.”

I replied, “Deer are drawn to the cigar smell. The things walk up on me all the time. Or, I smell like a deer.”

I actually think about this fairly often when I’m out and about. We all know how we’re supposed to cleanse ourselves of any kind of odor when heading out deer hunting. We’re even supposed to douse ourselves with all kinds of foul smelling stuff to attract deer.

This flies in the face of what I’ve learned.

The first and only time I’ve hunted deer was out in Virginia. My back won’t allow me to go climbing around in trees, so I built myself a ground blind and then sat there, for hours. It was grueling. Of course I had to smoke a couple of cigars while sitting around doing nothing. I justified this by convincing myself the deer were all upwind of me.

Sure enough, a deer came out of nowhere, stood there giving me a clean shot, so I took it. I always thought that was odd and I know I’ve mentioned it to others when the topic of deer hunting has come up.

Over the years I’ve walked up on, and have had deer walk up on me, hundreds of times while out fishing rivers and just wandering around in the woods. I’m always smoking a cigar, can’t help myself. Recently, these four hung out waiting for me to walk by before they made a dash across the river.

Another recent venture through the woods had me eyeball to eyeball with the biggest deer I had ever seen. Had been smoking a cigar the whole time and it seemed to not care one way or the other.

This happens all the time. On islands, off wandering around in the woods, out squirrel hunting and always with me smoking a cigar. You would think the deer could smell me coming and would keep their distance or hunker down and turn invisible like deer seem to be able to do.

It was this train of thought today after the comment that Nicholas made that finally made the little bells go off in my head.

Deer are used to smelling smoke.

At least around here. They have to be, I smell smoke all the time. All the houses around me have fireplaces and all their yards have fire pits. There’s always someone burning something. I can smell smoke coming from the homes on the other side of the ravine, a good half mile away. There are always deer hanging out around the ravine.

Not far away, the farm fields start. At times I can see and smell the smoke a mile away, coming from the brush piles being burned off by some farmer some where. I see deer all the time, cruising these fields and walking along the tree lines. This time of year it’s not unusual to see and smell a smoky haze traveling down the Fox River below my house. And there are the deer wandering along the river.

I enjoy these smells of smoke, I find them comforting somehow. The deer have to think something of these smells too.

So that has to be it. The deer are used to the smoke smells. When I go wandering around in the river and through the woods smoking away on one of my cigars, they must think nothing of it. They smell it all the time.

Now I have to get the deer trained. When they smell me coming, puffing away on one of my cigars, they show up with a little keg of cognac hanging from their necks.

And I’ll promise not to shoot them.

Gone Huntin’

“What are you doing?”

Well, I was thinking that over the last 10 years I’ve got out duck and goose hunting one time. I used to like hunting for ducks and geese. Setting up the decoys, sitting in a blind all day. I’d get to watch a sunrise and a sunset while sitting on the edge of a river. Very peaceful, very relaxing.

“Noooo, what are you doing with that stick and a loaf of bread?”

Oh, that.

“You’re going to make me regret this conversation, aren’t you.”

You know how I always joke about going after all these resident waterfowl, the ones that hang around here pretty much all year, with a nine iron and a loaf of bread? I thought I’d give it a try. They’re so used to people throwing food at them, they’ll walk right up to you. Nice easy whack upside the head and you got a meal.

I did have to give up on the nine iron idea though cause I don’t have one. I tried to take my dad’s, he can’t golf anymore, but I made the mistake of telling him what I was thinking of doing with it. Besides, if I go out there walking around with a nine iron some guy will think that’s an invitation to strike up a conversation about golf. Ever have a conversation about golf? It’s worse than a conversation about baseball, hockey, football and basketball COMBINED! After a few minutes I’d be begging the guy for a couple of tee’s so I can shove them into my eardrums. It’s brutal.

“I can think of worse things… all I asked was…”

I actually learned this from watching kids. Remember I worked with the Chicago Park District’s Kid Fishin’ program years ago. Kids would bring their lunch along, kids never finish their lunch. So they would start ripping it to shreds and feeding it to the fish. Before you knew it there were ducks and geese streaming in out of nowhere to join in on the feast. They’d eat everything that hit the water or ground. They’d walk right up to your feet. That’s when I first got the idea that I should just pop one.

“That’s baiting, even I know you can’t bait birds.”

Ahhh, most hunting requires baiting. Yeah, they make this stupid law that you can’t go throwing food on the ground or in the water, but it’s all baiting. Think about it, you throw all those decoys out there in a place that you think might be inviting to waterfowl. Then you sit back and start talking to them. You have no clue what you’re saying to them. Hey man, over here, we got food. Or, hey, take a break, nice spot here. Or, hey baby, you wanna get yourself some? You have no clue what your saying to these birds, it’s all baiting.

Squirrel calls, same thing, you’re baiting them with promises of something. Rotating wings on dove decoys, those stupid flapping flag like things waterfowl hunters wave around. Take a look at hunting in cornfields for waterfowl. You set up in a corn field after it’s been harvested and there’s corn everywhere. Brings in the birds by the hundreds. Oh sure, you can argue you didn’t put the corn there, but somebody did. It’s baiting.

Then, how about those idiots that go out deer hunting? There’s actually a product out there called #69 (like deer even know what that is) Doe-in-Rut Buck Lure. The graphic on the front, the one that’s supposed to entice you to buy this product, is an image of a big buck with his nose up the ass of a doe.

Really?

“Can I go now…”

That’s the ultimate in baiting. I know guys that would gladly give up food for sex. All I know is that if you’re dumb enough to put this stuff on then go out wandering around in the woods, I wouldn’t spend too much time bent over doing anything. You get what you deserve at that point.

“You really aren’t going to go do this, are you?”

There’s a score to be paid, remember. All I wanted to do was go out fishing and the geese picked the one spot I had to walk past that didn’t involve swimming in the creek. They honked and hissed, I tried to settle them down. Talked nice to them. Tried to hush them a bit, I’m heading on my way… and what do they do? They try to kill me.

Fun With Wildlife

It’s payback time.

But first, a decision needs to be made… white or wheat?

Last Squirrel Hunt of the Season

I’ve been going out to Marseilles State Fish and Wildlife Area to hunt squirrels for around eight years. It’s just shy of four square miles and the hunter fact sheet does a pretty good job of describing what you will be up against if you choose to hunt here:

This site occupies 2,515 acres, approximately 2,239 acres are huntable. The site is predominately wooded and the terrain is fairly rugged. There is no interior vehicle access for the public. Hunters who use this area should be ready for strenuous walking if they hunt the interior.

The interior is where I go and the description of strenuous walking is an understatement. Brutally hard would be a good way to describe the interior. Leg burning climbs up and down heavily wooded steep ravines are to be expected and if you lose your breath walking up a set of stairs, don’t go here.

The north side borders the flood plain of the Illinois River. The bluff that runs along here has to be over 100 feet tall. There are a number of ravines joining a no name creek that runs through the whole thing. One hundred feet doesn’t sound that tall till you stand on the edge of one of the ravines and you’re looking straight out at the tops of trees.

There’s one stretch in particular that borders the creek that drops almost like a sheer bluff. I’ve yet to even attempt to go down in there, but it does look inviting in a suicidal kind of way. I can get to the creek in another area not far downstream. Next year I may have to walk up stream into this steep sided ravine. I have a feeling few have done this.

You never see that many people out here. Deer hunters do come out, but I noticed they stay in the upper regions, the flatter lands, while I go down into the ravines looking for squirrels. In all the times I’ve been out here, only once have I seen a deer in the flatter lands. All of the other deer seen have been down in the ravines. This is one of the reasons I’ll probably never hunt deer here. I’d never be able to get it out. My back would barely be able to tolerate dragging a deer for a mile on a sled over the flat lands. Forget about getting it up one of these steep slopes.

Marseilles closes for the season in a few days. I was expecting quite a few hunters out here taking advantage of the last weekend. None of the parking lots on the way in had cars in them. At the check in station, not another car. I was going to have the whole place to myself. The site manager was surprised at this too. About 20 hunters had come out on Saturday, he expected the same today.

I liked the idea of having nearly four square miles to myself.

The hike in takes you down a gravel road. The road runs through massive fields that I hear hold a few pheasant, but in all these years I’ve only heard of two being taken. I’ve never seen any sign of them at all. Normally by now the ground is all frozen and there’s snow on the ground. I’ve been here a few times when the snow cover was fresh. No pheasant tracks anywhere. The predominant tracks I’ve tracked are squirrels and lots of coyotes.

That would explain the lack of pheasant. And rabbits.

The initial hike in heads almost due east, directly into the rising sun.

There’s a bend in the road with wood a fence protecting you from plummeting down a near 50 foot sheer drop. On each post is a reflector which is basically useless if you’re like me and never carry a flash light.

But they apparently make good targets.

A left turn off the gravel road puts you on an overgrown road that I assume is used for, well, I have no clue really. It follows the top edge of a bluff that looks down on the nameless creek. A great spot to slow down and watch the sun rise.

As the sun comes up, it’s blocked by the bluff to the east. The gold rays start lighting up the trees at the very tops and the gold slowly descends down through the trees and onto the forest floor. With no snow on the ground, everything lit up in warm golds and browns.

I’m not sure at this point I was even paying much attention to the possibility of squirrels in the area. I had seen a couple jumping from tree to tree as I wandered along, but by the time I got to where I thought they were, they had disappeared. Or so they thought. I could still see them sitting still on branches high up in the canopy. The sharp light also lit up their red brown fur and I let them believe they were invisible for awhile as I leaned up against a tree to admire the changing light.

I’ve been playing around with the images I’ve been taking, but their small size here is not doing them justice. I’ll have to start linking to higher resolution versions to give a better feel for what I’m doing to the photos.

The last time I was here I made the mistake of bringing my 20 gauge shotgun. Then the squirrels were all just a few feet out of my comfort range. I don’t like taking shots that wound critters. This time I brought my old Stevens 12 gauge single shot. A friend had given it to me years ago.

I fondly call it my pipe on a stick. It’s somewhere between 60 and 70 years old and was made at a time when there was no thought given to recoil. When you pull the trigger, you get the full force of it back into your shoulder. My friend says that when he pulled the trigger on it for the first time when he was 12 years old, he cried. I’ve had my daughter use it. Every time she pulled the trigger and got to hear the thunderous report, immediately afterward you heard her say “owww.”

I love the thing. After a shot you break it open and hear a heavy metallic clank, followed by a deep thunk as it ejects the shell well over your shoulder. Nothing fancy here, just something that’s built to reach out and touch whatever is in range.

It was a nice day to play the waiting game out there. Because nothing is frozen or covered in white, I kept getting wafts of smells coming off the creek in the bottom of the ravine. More smells were coming from the soft ground and layers of leaves lying on the forest floor. I want to call it fresh air, but there’s also that little bit of a smell from all the decaying matter. I found it all very refreshing.

The hike through the woods along the creek had me a good eight feet above the water. I could have hiked down the middle of the creek, but there were enough small deep pools, deep being relative to the height of my boots, that dry land was the better option. The creek had seen worse days. Even this high up I was coming across piles of debris pushed up against trees. I have this fascination with wanting to be near water when it’s raging out of control. Within a safe distance of course.

I want to not only see it pushing massive trees down stream, but want to hear the rush of water, the sound of all these trees stacking up against other trees. At this point I was out in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed. Yet civilization creeps in as a reminder of it’s close proximity.

Some of this land was once inhabited. I went over the map with the site manager where he pointed out former homesteads. He says they’re now virtually impossible to find, it’s been so long and nature has reclaimed the sites.

A few years ago, along another ravine further up the creek, I stumbled down a steep incline. More like slid, ran, tripped and skidded to a halt at the bottom as gravity had it’s way with me. Off to my right was a bathtub. It was half buried into the slope and green with algae. I could see that it was one of those old cast iron enamel coated tubs. I looked up the slope, knowing that’s where it came from. Mature trees grew all along the slope. I also knew that at the top of this slope was nothing but woods. I was just up there and there was no sign of a road or anything resembling civilization.

By now I was a good mile and a half from my car. A lone squirrel was tucked into my vest resting against the small of my back. My boots were suddenly three times heavier than when I had put them on this morning. My calf muscles were burning.

I initially started out on the gravel road, but the high grass on the other side of a thin line of trees looked too promising. I was going that way anyway, may as well try to kick up a rabbit or pheasant that hadn’t become a meal for the coyotes. Back on the road at the end of the tree line, my legs below the knees had turned into burning cramps. The last few hundred yards were tough.

Back at the car I methodically stripped out of the heavier hunting clothes, my feet and legs were happy to be free of the boots. The gate of the SUV was up and there was enough space in the back to fit my butt between the piles of hunting and fishing junk that reside there throughout the year. I sucked down the better part of a quart of water as I stared out over the terrain in front of me. Long fields of tall grasses sloped gently down to thick woods. Off in the distance, specks that were squirrels were moving in the tree tops, jumping from one tree to the next.

I had never hunted for them down in that area.

If I had the time, I’d be there tomorrow, leg cramps or not.

Squirrel Hunting in my Front Yard

I spent over 5 hours this morning wandering through the woods.

I covered over two miles, half of which is made up of some of the toughest terrain I’ve ever hiked.

I got to see my limit of 5 squirrels, but only one within shooting range.

Lots of time spent propped up against trees trying to be invisible.

Got home, was cleaning the lone squirrel out on the side of the house when I heard a huge racket coming from out in front of the house.

Running around the tree in my front yard, a tree that sits 25 feet from my front door, are 10 squirrels.

It’s squirrel rut time. I’m assuming the females were the ones out on the very tip of flimsy branches refusing to turn their backs to all the bickering and fighting going on.

If I didn’t live within the town limits, I would have done a bit of culling.

You never really appreciate how squirrels can hang upside down from trees, until you’ve had the opportunity to examine the almost surgical precision of their claws close up.

After you remove them from being embedded in your hand.