December 2008
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

I have made a decision. As my dear father used to teach us, you may get mad at me for making a wrong decision, but you’ll never get mad at me for not making a decision. As I have mentioned before, since getting into turkey hunting, my enthusiasm for deer hunting has waned a little bit. As I have said, I have taken plenty of deer; I’ve taken a big wall hanger of a buck, and I’ve taken deer with a rifle, a shotgun and a muzzleloader. I have been able to go deer hunting twice in Texas (got nothing) where I met some great people and had great times. I haven’t harvested a deer with a bow and quite frankly probably never will. My deer-hunting career is not over but it has been satisfying.

I still want to go out West and hunt the big game animals I dreamed about in my youth, but I fear my 49-year-old, overweight body will fail me if I ever get the chance. I also want to go and hunt pheasant and relive some memories of hunting with dad when I was a kid.

I don’t plan to stop deer hunting; after all I still have a 13-year-old daughter who has a long way to go and many things to hunt.

I was looking around for a "low impact" kind of hunting. I was looking for the type of hunting that is a lot of fun but doesn’t cost a fortune. I must admit that I still have new gun fever but I own two center fire rifles, a muzzleloader, two shotguns (one of which is a guaranteed 40-yard turkey slayer) and an old rim fire .22. So I couldn’t really see the need to buy a new gun.

As I went through my gun inventory, something dawned on me. I started checking the prices and types of .22 caliber rifles and my decision was made.

I decided to return to my youth and some of the best times I had hunting squirrels.

When I look at all of the options, add up all of the pluses and minuses it looks even better.

The weapons are cheaper, the bullets are cheaper; all you need is oak, pecan or pine trees. When you are out squirrel hunting, you get to move around. You don’t have to wait for the game to come to you, you get to go and find it.

It takes me about 20 minutes to clean and skin a deer and then extra time to either take it to a processor or butcher it myself. You can clean a mess of squirrels in about ten minutes. You can probably fit a half-dozen into one freezer bag. You can tote out a limit of squirrels in your pocket but you need a lot of either horsepower or muscle power to get a deer out of the woods.

Many years ago, I used to "tune up" for deer season by doing a lot of squirrel hunting prior to deer season. It got me back into the habit of looking for animals in the thick brush, quickly acquiring them in the scope and making the first shot count. I am convinced to this day that squirrel hunting made me a better shot, a better woodsman and, in short, a better hunter.

One thing I want to do is to try hunting bushy tails with a muzzleloader. My brother has a .32 caliber muzzleloader I am going to do my best to borrow one season. It just looks like fun.

I am trying to pump up my daughter’s enthusiasm for squirrel hunting, but I’m not having much luck; she has the deer hunting bug bad, but that’s ok.

As I have been formulating my plan, I have been reminiscing a lot about when I was a kid and my old squirrel hunting days.

My first gun was a single shot .410 shotgun. I remember on the same Christmas I got it, my brother got a .22 pistol. We set up some empty cans to try them out. I had the bigger gun, so I had to wait while my brother plinked at the cans. Growing impatient, I told him to hurry up because I wanted to shoot my shotgun. I was told to wait. I grew even more impatient and when my dear brother stopped to re-load the clip on his gun, I said, excuse me, my turn. I took out all 12 cans with one shot. (I got yet another Christmas Day whupping for that one).

I remember when my dad let me use the 12 gauge shot gun I now use for turkey hunting, to shoot squirrels. To me it felt like using a thermonuclear bomb to kill a roach. I knocked down my first squirrel of the morning and didn’t kill it outright. As I prepared to use the butt end of the gun to release the squirrel from his misery, he decided to go down fighting. There still is a chunk missing from the recoil pad where that little booger took it on. Needless to say he lost the fight, but I have to admit it is the only time I have been charged while hunting a North American game animal (if you don’t count wasps in a shooting house) and it was frightening.

I cut my teeth with my dad’s Winchester single shot he had received when he was a child. (The same one that got me in trouble when I was six years old). I remember him counting out to me how many shells I could have and telling me to come home with either the shells or a squirrel for each missing one. Knowing how well he could use a peach limb, I took only guaranteed shots.

I must have walked miles in the pursuit of those little animals. Some I managed to shoot from the front porch. We had a creek (called Keller Creek) right near the house that fed into the Bon Secour River in South Baldwin County. On the banks of this creek was a big old blackgum tree. In the fall it was loaded with berries and it seemed like the squirrels would travel for miles around. My grandmother lived on the top of the hill from us and dad was very concerned (rightly so) that I not shoot her house. I had already had the lesson to be aware of what is behind my target and there was one spot where, if I pulled the trigger, the bullet would go right into her living room window. I must brag on the fact that in all the years I lived there, I never shot her house.

Anyway, I would sit on the front porch and wait for them to come to the blackgum tree. They had to come from some woods behind our house and I could get them coming or going, but knocking them out of the tree was the best spot, there they wouldn’t drop in the creek nor would the bullet hit my grandmother’s house.

So, my mind is made up and I’m in the market for a new .22 rifle. If I can’t find one, I’ll drag out the old Marlin with the 4X scope, clean it, sight it in and get started. I know plenty of people who would like a mess of squirrels, especially if I clean them, and when they’ve got enough, I’ve got to starve my family down to the point where they will eat them.

Wish me luck.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.