Don’t let long-range mania kill your woodwork prowess

Last August, a friend of mine who is an experienced big game hunter visited Kentucky for a few days squirrel hunting. He’d killed a few squirrels before, but he’d never chased them through hickory season with a .22 rifle like a true redneck. After three days, he was so seasick that he declared the squirrel hunt the most overlooked hunt in North America.

That’s a lot of talk about such a small creature. But serious squirrel hunting requires serious hunting skills. A heavy green canopy usually prevents you from seeing a squirrel beyond 50 yards. If you crawl through the undergrowth like an armadillo, you’ll never see one. Each one bagged is the result of a process that requires knowledge, observation and secrecy.

It’s called hunting, and it’s fun. Of course, ultimately he must put a quarter-sized bullet into a squirrel’s brain, and his gun is the tool to tie the process together. But if you’re going squirrel hunting primarily to show off your custom rimfire, the redneck who wears iron sights and knows how to identify and sneak up on the sound of walnut shells spattering on the ground can probably teach you a thing or two.

That squirrel hunting has been overlooked is a huge statement about modern hunting culture. “Do you hunt squirrels?” people tell me. “That’s great. My grandfather used to hunt them.” Instead of woodsy skills, hunters today seem to value and obsess over gear, especially guns, cartridges, and optics. bullets and twist rates and custom turrets to get ready for that 400+ yard shot we’re sure we’re going to get but forgot to put our feet up and whisper on the way there. We bought choke tubes and reflex sights and model shotguns with $10 shells to be able to kill a turkey from 70 yards, but in the process, we failed to learn what a drumming turkey sounds like because we’ve never heard one that’s been completely fooled.

When you see a group of nature lovers gathered around a phone these days to look at photos of a male or bull, the question you’ll almost certainly hear is: How far was the shot? If it was a close shot, the hunter’s response is usually timid: “Oh, he walked by at 40 paces. It’s kind of hard to miss that.”

I’m sorry, but there’s something wrong with that. Getting close enough to count the hit should be the mark of a good hunter, not something to defend because it makes the shot too easy. If that’s not obvious to you, then I think you should try the most overlooked hunt in North America. And when your friends pull out their phones to compare critters, be sure to flash a photo of a squirrel cap and brag about sneaking in 20 yards for six clean headshots with your Walmart .22 and 4X scope.

Years ago, I told my high school friends about a doe that had shot him the night before. “Swear to God, guys, she went from here to the Minit Mart. Five hundred meters, easy. So she didn’t have a rangefinder to check my bs. Hunters today do, and that digital readout often becomes the focus of the hunting story. It’s easy to talk about details, like 473.2 yards, while leaving out other details, like the three bullets in the dirt, the long chase, and the final shot.

Distant screams and lies

I never told my friends that I then stepped on that shot at 294 paces. Not quite “here to the Minit Mart”. Now that I’m honest: it’s the longest shot I’ve ever done on an animal. A long-range story is fine, but I bet there would be a lot less of it if we never left out any details.