Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Squirrel Hunting
Nature Bulletin No. 429-A   October 16, 1971
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

"Squirrelitis" is a common contagious disease in many parts of the country. It seems to affect lazy people more than others and the only cure is to go squirrel hunting. Farmers have it during the sultry dog days of August and early September when the hired man stops whistling, the mules' ears droop, and the creek dries up almost to a trickle. In small towns the menfolks seem to catch it about the time when the leaves need raking or their wives start to nag about taking down the screens, putting up storm windows, and other foolish things.

Every fall, hunters shoot far more squirrels than pheasants, quail and doves. Only the cottontail rabbit is hunted by more people, and only the rabbits, deer and waterfowl are hunted over more of the North American continent. The squirrel is Game Species No. 2. Fried squirrel is mighty good eating and marksmanship against the wily tricks of the wary "bushytails" -- is an understandably popular pastime.

It has been a good many years since we hunted any wild animals with a gun. It is unlawful in our forest preserves but, anywhere, we prefer binoculars or a camera. Nevertheless, some of our most enjoyable experiences and most valuable lessons in nature lore occurred long ago when it was too wet to do any farm work and grandpa, right after a 5 a.m., breakfast, would take his long rifle down from its rack and head for the Crooked Creek bottomlands. He wore moccasins we went barefoot. Down in the tall timber we would squat on a log and wait, motionless and silent. It's surprising what you see thataway -- how many wild creatures decide that it is safe to go on about their business.

But if a squirrel moved, or grandpa spotted one watching us, that rifle came up very slowly, cracked, and down he tumbled -- neatly drilled through the head. Once, when a squirrel was lying flat on a horizontal limb, grandpa "barked" him in true pioneer fashion: the bullet went through the bark of the limb and, stunned by the concussion, down he came without a mark on him. A simon-pure squirrel hunter scorns to use a shotgun, which he calls a "scattergun", not only because it inflicts too many wounds on the body of the animal but because so many are cruelly crippled by pellets and crawl away to die.

Some people hunt in pairs, or singly with a dog. If one man sits motionless or, as they steal silently through the timber, "freezes" while the other man walks on, a squirrel will move around a tree and become an easy target for the sitter. A trained dog, usually a feist, will cruise through the woodland and, pick up the scent of a squirrel that has been on the ground, and bark madly at the base of the tree where it took refuge. The squirrel, watching the dog, forgets to watch the man.

We will be criticized by some nature lovers for writing this bulletin but squirrel hunting may be actually a conservation measure in some localities and certain years, Squirrel populations, like those of many other wild animals, seem to rise and fall in cycles. When they are too abundant and overcrowded, squirrels have epidemics of diseases which kill or weaken them and, if there happens to be a scarcity of nuts and acorns, many die of starvation during a severe winter. In pioneer days, when eastern North America was one vast forest, some years there were migrations, southerly or easterly, of hundreds of thousands of gray squirrels that even swam across big rivers such as the Ohio. What a sight that must have been !

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