Squirrel Hunt '10

The tradition of Eastern gray squirrel hunting, like most hunting traditions, most likely arose out of necessity. Also, it seems, it arose out of frustration. According an Appalachian history blog I stumbled upon, two men camped in Dickenson County, VA to hunt big game, but had no luck so they went after squirrels. They mockingly named the area "Squirrel Camp," a name which it is still referred to this day.

In these modern times, hunting for sustenance has largely been replaced for hunting for a trophy such as antlers. Additionally, not hunting out of necessity has help lead to the rise of the ethical sportsman. The ethical sportsman sees hunting as a way to connect and as a to establish a relationship with the land. The ethical sportsman is not hunting just for food. Indeed, if one is hunting to fulfill such a basic need as survival, one would probably, in this desperate state, resort to tactics we could not consider ethical. For me, the main qualifier of an ethical sportsman is a sincere attempt to understand and respect the interconnected wilderness where he hunts. The ethical sportsman researches his prey, and by doing so, sees the beauty in the animal. The ethical sportsman is essentially an amateur biologist, exploring and questioning what he sees around him.

Since squirrels do not make good trophies, I propose that, for the most part, it takes an ethical sportsman to hunt this noble rodent. (Really, I think that the previous paragraph was a way to justify why I went Eastern gray squirrel hunting up in the North Georgia mountains. At least it helps me feel better.)

Also, it's pretty dang fun! My buddy has a Parnell's Carolina cur, which is a breed of dog from the mountains of North Carolina that has squirrel hunting in his blood, and I have never seen a dog with more energy than ol' Blaze. Even when this dog is asleep you can see him experiencing REM in which his large eyes search back and forth underneath his eyelids, and periodically his body tenses up as he lets out a low growl at the undoubtedly terrified imaginary rodent.

The basic strategy is simple. Let Blaze loose (equipped with a radio collar in case you have trouble relocating him) within a legal hunting area, such as a national forest, and when you hear him talking,  hurry to that tree and look for a squirrel. Unfortunately, the day I went, the weather was poor, the squirrels weren't moving, there was some bad alignment of the planets, and we saw no squirrels. Blaze treed a couple times, and I know that his nose was not lying. I blame our poor human senses to the inability to find our prey, and I know it pissed Blaze off.

I know that some folks will laugh at our inability to find this common creature that populates most neighborhoods and college campuses is unnervingly large numbers, and I laugh with them, but have they ever tried it? It's not as easy as it sounds. Trekking up and down steep hillsides trying to keep up with Blaze was exhausting, but it was a fun experience, and I hope to do it again.

Plus, I got to see Hutch's Museum of Natural History, which is what I have decided to call his impressive display of specimens including a wood duck, fox squirrels, and a woodcock in his small, smokey apartment.

He also owns a variety of beautifully handcrafted handmade turkey calls, one of which is engraved with a Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  This type of call is a wing bone call.  The larger bone of the call is the humerus of a turkey hen, and the smaller bone is made from the ulna.  There are different variations, and one of Hutch's wing bone calls actually uses a deer antler as partial replacement for the humerus.  Another replacement could be the hollowed out brass tube from a shotgun shell.

The other calls include a box call and a friction call.  The box call is a wooden box with a pivoting lid on top. When the wood of the lid rubs against the rest of the box, it produces the noise of a hen.  The friction call, which may be the most common, consists of a round pad made from slate, aluminum, or even glass where one rubs it with a "striker."  Each of these calls are used to imitate a hen for the purpose of luring in a gobbler (male turkey) within range.

All in all it was a great weekend trip, and probably the last hunting trip I make until Turkey season, so those of you who think my blog is becoming too redneck can rest assured that I will be returning to birding posts soon enough.

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