Black trees stretched their gnarled limbs toward the barely discernible, dark gray sky as I silently stole into the hickory grove and sat expectantly.
The light grew, then two red squirrels dashed by, but after 30 more minutes not a single black or gray appeared. During the last week they’d cleaned up the remaining hickory nuts in this area, it appeared.
Moving across the valley I entered a large, cathedral-like room of beautiful, mature hemlocks and immediately spied a gray running in the treetops. Slipping from trunk to trunk I followed. Finally, the squirrel spotted me and stopped almost straight above, silhouetted against the sky. I placed the crosshairs on the squirrel and started a quick squeeze. Unfortunately, without warning, my back and arm suddenly twitched just as I shot and the gray vanished. Really, that was unexpected.
Moving through the hemlocks I next reluctantly huffed and puffed my way up a near vertical hillside, finally reaching a small bench. As I gasped for breath a gray scurried across the hillside just out of effective shooting range, and then another. I immediately sat down to wait.
After a few minutes a yellow-leafed limb bent to my right as a gray jumped to another tree some 30 yards away. I raised the rifle, the squirrel paused, but I noticed several twigs in front of her. Ignoring them, I fired, the squirrel instantly leaping to another tree and vanishing. Darn, I knew better than that. Frustrated with my decision-making I continued waiting. Twenty minutes later another gray fed right up to me. No intervening twigs this time and when the .22 mag cracked the squirrel dropped.
Admiring the handsome bushy tail, I moved on 100 yards and sat down to clean him. I’d just finished when the plop of a nut dropping on the leaves made me look up. A gray scurried down a hickory, stopping on a limb about 35 yards away. The little rifle spat and the squirrel dropped. At the shot another squirrel appeared some 60 yards away, vanishing after a jump or two. Quickly and quietly closing the range I sat and waited, rifle at the ready.
A pesky red squirrel suddenly appeared and darted up an oak in front of me. The agitated gray whipped around the tree with the aggressive red chasing him. After several up and down circuits of the trunk, the gray ran further up the tree and stopped looking behind him. The crosshairs wavered, steadied and the squirrel fell at the shot, hitting the ground hard, the thud causing an unseen black squirrel to jump up on a nearby tree, upside down, chattering loudly.
Despite noticing some intervening twigs, I foolishly shot anyway. The squirrel spun around the tree and disappeared; some people are slow learners.
Why did I shoot with twigs in the way when the squirrel didn’t see me? Patience is a difficult trait to learn, it appears, despite knowing better.
The same instant the black vanished I glimpsed a flash of motion as yet another squirrel shot up a maple only a few trees on. I shifted slightly to watch both trees at once, determined to wait at least another half hour before moving.
As the minutes passed the sweet odor of wet fallen leaves filled my nostrils, several chipmunks ran through the leaves nearby, noisy blue jays scolded and a small flock of chickadees, juncos and nuthatches flitted happily around me. The fall woods are endlessly busy and entertaining.
Suddenly, I heard the scratch of claws on bark and the black reappeared high above me. Leaning back and resting the rifle on the side of a tree I lined up the shot, squeezed the trigger and the black dropped causing the gray to slide to my side of the tree, presenting a clear shot. Perfect. The rifle swung, steadied and the gray joined the black.
Wow, when you’re hunting squirrels, things can happen fast.
Walking up to a 15-foot area I picked up my three squirrels and realized just one more busy tail would complete my limit. It takes some time to clean and cut up three squirrels so I was busy for a while. Finishing, I happened to glance uphill and spied a distant squirrel high in the top of a towering hickory; closing the distance I attempted to draw a bead on my lofty quarry. He was angled away, the tree swaying slightly in the wind. Impatiently I tried the difficult shot and not surprisingly missed. The squirrel leaped to another tree, flew down the trunk and shot down the hill side like a rocket.
Walking slowly forward, I spotted another squirrel, played cat and mouse with the cagey black for 30 minutes, finally, impatiently, taking another poor shot at the constantly moving critter and missed again. Well, they are small, elusive targets.
Moving further up the bench I sat down in a likely looking area, where after a short wait a gray appeared out of nowhere at only 15 yards. Ever so slowly I raised the rifle and squeezed the trigger … click! The magazine was empty. Feeling really foolish I wondered if I would ever bag that last squirrel.
Reloading, I moved on and sat again. Time slowly passed when unexpectedly and seemingly out of nowhere a gray jumped up on a log right in front of me. This time the crosshairs settled, the rifle cracked and I’d completed my limit at last.
Few things give me the feeling of accomplishment that harvesting a limit of squirrels with a rifle does. Now it was time to head home and look forward to a mouthwatering dinner of fried squirrel, a real delicacy.