After a three-day rain Abbey and I went squirrel hunting.
In truth, we went into the dripping, soggy woods to scout for deer trails, scraps, and rubs. Although I slung my .22 rifle over my shoulder I had no intention to shoot a squirrel, but Abbey takes this hunting business more seriously when we have a gun.
Squirrel populations are still at a 35-year low in our woodlands (for more about this, read Squirrel Woods post). Their population decline is probably because the trees have grown from saplings to towering heights, spread their leafy canopies, and shaded out much of the understory that is much better squirrel habitat than a mature hardwood forest.
If Abbey had known that squirrels were our quarry for the day, she would have been much less enthusiastic. Unlike her French spaniel aunt Sasha who loved to hunt both fur and feather, Abbey is more of a bird-hunting specialist. Yes, she likes to dash after the chipmunks in our yard, occasionally catches a rabbit to bring me, and will track a wounded deer if I ask her, but her enthusiasm for hunting these critters is several steps down from her passion for hunting pheasants, grouse, or woodcock. Squirrels? Bah!
We did not sight, much less shoot, a “tree rat” as one member of the Over The Hill Gang calls them, but I’m not a good squirrel hunter these days. I can sit still on a log or stump only about 10 minutes, not long enough for a squirrel to get curious and come out of hiding. Abbey is even worse; three or four minutes is her limit.
She did chase a chipmunk up a tree, but that was close as we came to spotting a squirrel.
But we did get out and enjoy a walk in the woods after three rainy days of confinement in The Clubhouse. We scented but did not see an annoyed fox that must have gone to ground in one of the crevices in a limestone outcropping, and we chased a small whitetail buck out of his mid-morning bedding spot beside a fallen tree. Surprisingly for mid-September, the whitetail deer rut has already begun, as evidenced by two clumps of buckthorn that had been battered and shredded by a young buck feeling his oats. We found a large scrape, too, made by a much larger buck judging by his fresh tracks in the mud, and later visited by a doe or a smaller buck.
The stony bed of the dry run on the east side of the farm was our route home. I hoped that would minimize the clots of beggar’s tick, those tiny green burs from hell that cling to Abbey’s long-haired coat on every woodland walk, but no such luck. An hour’s hike through the brush requires at least a 30-minute clean-up with comb, brush, and scissors. She hates the de-burring but endures it.
Climbing onto the sofa in The Clubhouse, she glared at me for a half hour before she curled up and took a nap. “Are you aware,” she said, “the ruffed grouse season has opened in Minnesota? Grouse. Birds. And we wasted a whole morning hunting squirrels? Where the hell are your priorities?”
A squirrel hunt with a bird dog is not a bonding experience.
More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays and three novels, available through Amazon.com at Jerry Johnson Author Page