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Squirrels once favorite of October hunters

Many people who read my column know that October is my birthday month and that I try very hard to do nothing in October except those things that I want to do. October is surely one of the prettiest months of the year and the weather is usually about as perfect as it will ever be.

October is also squirrel month in our locale of northwest Mississippi and most of the squirrel hunting still done by hunters is done during this time.

Not altogether understandable is that the popularity of squirrel hunting, especially in the Delta, has sunk to an all-time low. To be frank, very few club members hunt squirrels at all. That's a shame since there are plenty of the fine-eating little rodents.

You can learn more about hunting deer and turkey by hunting squirrels than you do by hunting anything else. A successful squirrel hunter learns the art of patience — until he does learn this, he never becomes a real hunter.

The good squirrel hunter must learn the art of moving silently through the woods. If he becomes a good hunter, he also learns to be a very close observer and to pick out parts of a very small animal well-hidden in foliage.

There is no doubt in my mind that I learned more about the fine art of turkey and deer hunting by hunting squirrels than I ever learned any other way.

Not so many years ago, the groups of hunters in my area who hunted anything at all looked forward to the opening of squirrel season with great interest and impatience.

There were groups that put on lengthy and elaborate squirrel camps. My group went so far as to have our camp cook, Emmett, available. We would have an open camp for at least a week. It was great fun, almost as fine as turkey camps and deer camps, and it is a pity that they have gone with the wind.

Back in more lawless times, I remember, a group camped a week or 10 days over in the Tallahatchie River bottom and had as many as a dozen hunters. One particular group used to take along a notorious poacher, who was also the finest squirrel hunter in the Delta. It is said that he would leave the group a mile or so before reaching the camp site and hunt all the way to camp.

A man whose word I trust told me that this fellow once bagged over 90 squirrels in one day. This fellow was also a turkey hunter, hunting them at any time of year. He told me that he once bagged 14 young turkeys one day in early fall!

A few people like him could easily prevent the increase of turkeys. One of the reasons that turkeys made such a comeback is that real sportsmen finally got this type out of the woods, in many cases permanently by continuing to catch them and taking their hunting privileges away. It got so tough that they finally gave up.

It seems that in my area, the only really rabid squirrel hunters left are the very few who are hooked on hunting them with dogs. My close friend, Don Shipp, is one of them. He buys and raises dogs, mostly feists. After the leaves fall, Don hunts some almost every day.

Hunters in this somewhat exclusive group are much more interested in dog work than they are in bagging squirrels. For them, the squirrel is like money in a poker game; it makes it possible for them to play. Without the dogs, people like Don very likely would never go squirrel hunting at all.

I asked him a few days ago if he had been out. He quickly replied that he had not and would not until most of the leaves had fallen and conditions for decent dog hunting arrived.

It's a shame that more people don't hunt the wily bushy-tails. It would teach them to be good woodsmen and give them a fine way to spend a beautiful October day. And they could bag a member of the wildlife family that is very tasty — especially if you are lucky enough to bag a mess of young ones that you can fry like chickens.

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