Tag-Team Squirrels for More Action

Want to bag a few more squirrels this season -- and have even more fun doing it? Try team hunting. Our experts tell you how and why you should give it a try this year.

By Ed Harp

Most squirrel hunters live for early mornings and late evenings, when nothing is stirring in the woods - except for squirrels, that is. They relish the quiet hours sitting at the base of a tree, or the solitary hikes across hills and valleys while they search for their prey.

Squirrels can be harvested in any number of ways. Perhaps the most common is to pull on an old set of camos, leave the house or camp early in the morning and sit by your favorite hardwood tree to await the rising sun.

Once the squirrels begin moving about, a few can usually be taken in short order. Just sit tight and wait for your shot. After that, it's a matter of dressing them and then heading back for a little breakfast.

Another popular technique is to move through the woods - slowly and carefully - in a small group. Once the squirrels sense your presence they'll begin moving. After that, a shooting lane will open, and you should be able to bag a few.

Many hunters will admit, however, that both of these techniques can get a little boring. And while squirrels may not be the toughest critters to hunt in nature's universe, they're often more than up to the task of avoiding conventional sitting or stalking tactics.

TEAM UP FOR MORE ACTION

For those who want something a bit different (and often more productive), there's the team approach. Team hunting affords the opportunity to spend some time with a friend or family member and shoot a mess of squirrels to boot.

Scott Mash (svmash@earthlink. net), a lifelong squirrel hunter, began his quest for the furry critters nearly two decades ago with his brother Ron. They hunted the family farm when they were kids. And while they didn't invent team hunting, they certainly perfected some of its fundamentals through trial and error.

Photo by Ralph D. Hensley

Scott and his brother had a simple approach to the sport. After school they would walk through the woods looking for movement in one of the surrounding trees.

At this point, a word or two for those readers who have never hunted squirrels would be appropriate. Wild squirrels are very different from their brethren living in our cities. Squirrels that dwell in parks, on courthouse lawns and in grandma's back yard are quite content with human encounters. It's a part of their everyday life.

Not so with wild squirrels. They do not run down trees and look you in the eye from 15 feet away waiting for a treat. They do not sit still, in open view, and watch you with curiosity and interest. Wild squirrels are very skittish and quite adept at avoiding human encounters.

Anyway, back to the hunt. Early on, Scott and Ron would hunt by slowly moving through the woods, maybe 15 yards apart, keeping a watchful eye on the trees. They noticed the squirrels were always moving away from them, using the trees as cover. Somehow there was always a tree between them and the squirrel.

Over time - neither really knows when it first began - the brothers developed the habit of having one of them work ahead, around the tree, forcing the squirrel into the other's shooting lane. That's how their team approach started.

Eventually their technique was refined. One would remain stationary near the base of a tree as the other moved slowly around it. In short order the squirrel would forget about the stationary hunter and rotate away from the moving hunter.

As the seasons passed, they became quite adept at the technique. They learned, for instance, that after spotting a squirrel, both should remain stationary for a few minutes. This would allow the squirrel to "forget" that there were two of them. Then, when one brother moved, the squirrel would pop out into the open.

As Scott recalls the experiences and shares his knowledge, it's obvious his memories are fond ones. When the brothers swapped positions they teased, laughed, argued and occasionally fought. It was one on one - each depending upon, and complaining about, the other. A lifelong relationship developed.

That relationship continues to this day, but without the arguing, complaining and fighting. Scott and Ron now live about an hour apart. They don't get to hunt together as much as they did years ago. Family responsibilities are now most important.

And yet they still relive the experiences from time to time. Said Scott: "We don't hunt as much as we used to, but we still have a lot of fun. To tell the truth, we sometimes hunt where we know there aren't many squirrels, just for the fun of it."

That's one of the things Mash is most emphatic about. For while squirrels can be harvested in any number of ways, few of them offer the friendship, camaraderie and personal closeness of team hunting.

AFTER THE HUNT


According to Eric Thesing (www.sportsmansranch.com), squirrels are

delicious if properly prepared. He suggests the following simple, yet tasty, recipe:



Skin and quarter the animals first. Discard the spine and ribs. "There's no

meat on them anyway," he said.



After that, brown them in a skillet with just a little breading. Low to

moderate heat works best. Avoid high heat at all cost. It will make the meat tough

and tasteless.



After the squirrel parts are browned, place them in a crock pot. Add a can

of cream of mushroom soup, an onion or two, several carrots and a few green

beans with plenty of potatoes.



Add salt and pepper to taste. (You might want to try some of the newer

wild game spices on the market.)



"Let 'em cook all day on a low heat. The meat will fall off the bones,"

Thesing said.

 

THE COCHRAN WAY

Bill Cochran (www.billcochra

n.com or www.weekend-sportsman. com) is another lifelong squirrel hunter who favors using team-hunting tactics on the bushytails. He points out that the team approach offers a couple of distinct advantages.

First, it allows hunters to see more squirrels. "When a squirrel attempts its favorite trick of sliding around a tree trunk or limb to avoid detection by one hunter, it frequently exposes itself to the other hunter. Fewer of them are going to avoid detection," he said.

Second, it allows hunters to cover more ground. Rather than sit around waiting for a squirrel to appear, hunters can search them out. This allows them to eliminate unproductive woods quickly. They can concentrate their efforts in areas in which there's activity.

Cochran emphasizes that team hunting is not for the inexperienced. Safety is an important issue with this technique. Hunters must always know where their partner is located and must be experienced enough not to get excited just because there's a squirrel in the vicinity. If safety demands it, the shot must be passed up for another day.

Cochran's advice for hunting safely is clear, unambiguous and a little different from that offered by Scott Mash: "At no time do you get ahead or behind your partner. You remain parallel. One hunter moves a few steps forward while the second hunter watches; then the second hunter advances a few steps while the first watches. Shots are to be fired only at an upward angle. Never compromise safety by taking a shot that could lead to trouble. Pass it up. If you can't be safe, pass up this technique."

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON

Both Mash and his brother use shotguns to hunt their squirrels. Scott's weapon of choice is a 20 gauge with 2 3/4-inch shells. He's emphatic about the size of the shell. "A 3-inch shell will destroy the meat," he said. He also points out that the smaller shell is plenty tough enough to get through early season foliage. He prefers a No. 6 shot for the same reasons - it's tough enough for the foliage but won't destroy the meat.

He urges all hunters to consider shotguns for their team hunting. "I just don't trust rifles," he said. There's too much opportunity for accidents."

Cochran disagrees on this point. He hunts with a scoped .22 rifle. He is clear, however, that hunters should only shoot for the head and only when the shot is open and safe.

The choice of weapons may depend, to some extent, on the area being hunted. Hunters fortunate enough to live in very rural or isolated areas will find a small-caliber rifle appropriate. It shouldn't present a safety problem. For those who live in more populated areas, a rifle may not be the safest choice. Bullets travel a long way when fired at an upward angle.

Team hunting works! Give it a try this fall.



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