The black trees stretched their twisted branches into the barely perceptible dark gray sky as I slipped silently into the grove of hickories and sat expectantly.
The light increased, then two red squirrels passed by, but after 30 more minutes not a single black or gray squirrel appeared. Over the past week they had cleared away any remaining hickory nuts in this area, it seemed.
Moving through the valley, I entered a large, cathedral-like room of beautiful, ripe hemlocks and immediately saw a gray running in the treetops. Sliding from trunk to trunk, I followed him. Finally, the squirrel saw me and stopped almost straight ahead, silhouetted against the sky. I placed the sight on the squirrel and began to squeeze rapidly. Unfortunately, without warning, my back and arm suddenly twitched just as I fired and the gray disappeared. Really, that was unexpected.
Moving through the hemlocks, I reluctantly huffed and puffed my way up a nearly vertical slope, finally reaching a small bench. As he gasped for breath, a gray ran down the slope just out of effective firing range, and then another. I immediately sat down to wait.
After a few minutes, a branch of yellow leaves bent to my right as a gray jumped onto another tree about 30 yards away. I raised the rifle, the squirrel stopped, but I noticed several twigs in front of it. Ignoring them, I fired, the squirrel instantly jumping to another tree and disappearing. Damn, he knew better than that. Frustrated with my decision, I kept waiting. Twenty minutes later, another gray approached me. This time there were no intervening twigs and when the .22 magazine snapped the squirrel fell.
Admiring the beautiful bushy tail, I advanced 100 yards and sat down to clean it. I had just finished when the sound of a walnut falling on the leaves made me look up. A gray ran up a walnut tree and stopped on a branch about 35 yards away. The little rifle spat and the squirrel fell. With the shot another squirrel appeared about 60 meters away, disappearing after one or two jumps. Quickly and quietly closing off the firing range, I sat and waited, rifle at the ready.
An annoying red squirrel suddenly appeared and ran up an oak tree in front of me. The agitated gray lashed around the tree with the aggressive red in pursuit. After several turns up and down the trunk, the gray ran higher up the tree and stopped looking behind him. The sight swung, steadied, and the squirrel went down with the shot, hitting the ground hard, the thud causing an unseen black squirrel to jump up a nearby tree, upside down, chattering loudly.
Despite noticing some intervening twigs, I foolishly fired anyway. The squirrel circled the tree and disappeared; some people learn slowly.
Why did I shoot with twigs on the road when the squirrel didn’t see me? Patience is a difficult trait to learn, it seems, despite knowing better.
In the same instant the black faded, I caught a flash of movement as another squirrel darted toward a maple tree just a few trees away. I shifted slightly to look at both trees at once, determined to wait at least another half hour before moving.
As the minutes passed the sweet smell of wet fallen leaves filled my nostrils, several chipmunks ran through the nearby leaves, noisy blue jays scolded me, and a small flock of chickadees, sedges and nuthatches fluttered happily around me. . Autumn woods are endlessly busy and entertaining.
Suddenly I heard the scratch of claws on the bark and the black reappeared far above me. Leaning back and bracing the rifle against the side of a tree, I lined up the shot, pulled the trigger, and the black dropped, causing the gray to slide to my side of the tree, presenting a clear shot. Perfect. The rifle swung, steadied, and gray joined black.
Wow, when you’re squirrel hunting, things can happen fast.
Walking to a 15 foot area, I collected my three squirrels and realized that only one more busy queue would complete my limit. It takes some time to clean up and cut down three squirrels, so I was busy for a while. When I was done, I looked up the hill and spotted a distant squirrel on top of a hickory tower; closing the distance i tried to draw a bead on my raised quarry. It was at an angle, the tree swaying slightly in the wind. Eagerly I tried the hard shot and predictably missed. The squirrel jumped onto another tree, flew up the trunk, and shot down the side of the hill like a rocket.
Walking slowly forward, I spotted another squirrel, played cat and mouse with the wary black for 30 minutes, finally impatiently taking another poor shot at the constantly moving creature and missing again. Well, they’re small, elusive targets.
Moving higher up the bank, I sat down in a likely-looking area, where after a short wait a gray appeared out of nowhere just 15 yards away. Very slowly I raised the rifle and pulled the trigger…click! The magazine was empty. Feeling really silly, I wondered if I would ever catch that last squirrel.
Reloading, I went ahead and sat down again. Time passed slowly when unexpectedly and seemingly out of nowhere, a gray jumped on a log right in front of me. This time the scope settled, the rifle fired, and I finally reached my limit.
Few things give me a sense of accomplishment like harvesting a limit of squirrels with a rifle. Now it was time to go home and enjoy a delicious fried squirrel dinner, a true delicacy.