The Start of a New Season
September 1st marks Vermont’s opening day of hunting for two animals at different ends of the size spectrum. On the large end is black bear and on the diminutive, gray squirrel. Normally I’d forego squirrels (as much as I love hunting and eating them, I find them fairly miserable to process) in favor of bear. Yes, getting a bear out of the woods is a far greater chore than cleaning squirrels, but there’s a lot more meat on a bear than a bushy tail. But I know Ella likes to go after squirrels from time to time and, when presented with the offer, she accepted. So Ursus Americanus was safe from me for the time being.
We headed into the woods on a section of private land half an hour after sunrise. The Green Mountain State is still pretty green at the start of September so there was no use in being in the woods at the start of legal hunting hours, half an hour before sunrise. It didn’t take long to get into squirrels. We lost out on our first opportunity after a lengthy standoff that involved a dense blow down and quarry that would not hold still long enough for me to feel comfortable with a shot. Had I been toting a shotgun it would have been simple but hunting with a .22 demands discipline. A pair of sparring squirrels we happened on a short while later offered a 30 yard shot half way up a mature maple. It was not my finest feat of marksmanship, but it got the job done.
We were heading toward a ridge of oak trees and quickly found our next prospect. It was a long shot, about 75 yards on the ground, but in the open and holding still, almost asking to get shot. There was no way I was going to come close shooting offhand, but when I dropped to sitting I couldn’t see it anymore. We moved in closer, briefly loosing sight of it. Our next glimpse was of a gray tail racing for a big oak. It corkscrewed up the trunk, never stopping to offer a shot.
We continued along the oak ridge and found a twisted old oak, missing its top but still producing plenty of mast. There were at least three squirrels in it and Ella waited very patiently, enduring a mob of mosquitoes jabbing into her hands and face the whole time. I suffered similarly, but at least I had the distraction of focusing on getting a shot. Finally I saw a long, large tail hanging off one end of a thick limb and head and shoulders peering over the other. I put crosshairs on the front end and squeezed. The pop of the shot and no real activity save for the collective barking of several squirrels confirmed a miss. I chambered another round, found my target and settled down for a second shot. I did my part this time and after a very short run along the limb our squirrel hit the ground dead.
Time and mosquito bites dictated an end to our hunt but we were happy to have had several shot opportunities and seen even more. Getting half our limit in a short morning is a fine way to start the season!