Bow Wow Bushytails

George Seacrist learned to hunt squirrels years ago from his dachsund. Now he’s extremely successful at the sport.

One advantage I had growing up out on the rural route was an early introduction to hunting. I was blessed with a dad who hunted and who saw the advantages of introducing his two sons to the sport not long after we were out of diapers. My first memories of the hunting experience were of following Dad through an oak glade on a chilly October morning, trying as best I could to follow his whispered instructions.

“Watch where you step. You’re making too much racket. Let’s sit on this log and see if you can keep from wiggling around so much. See that bird moving the end of that limb? That’s not a bird; it’s a squirrel.”

As I grew older, I was allowed to carry a gun and hunt alone, but the lessons I learned from my dad during those early years of watching him paid off as I was eventually able to become a successful squirrel hunter.

In reflection, the behavior of George Seacrist’s two dogs, Bailey and Rascal, reminded me a bit of those early days of learning how to squirrel hunt by watching my dad.

Bailey was a miniature dachshund; Rascal, a long-legged rat terrier. Bailey looked like anything but a squirrel dog, while Rascal had all the markings of a squirrel-treeing machine. It was Bailey, however, who taught the younger Rascal what it was all about.

“When we moved to Ruston in 1993, we got Bailey as a pet for our daughter. Then I began to notice how he would watch the squirrels at our bird feeders and how they got him excited,” said Seacrist, 51, who works as operations manager for Tellus Operating Group in the oil-and-gas industry.

“I’d take him out in the yard, and observed how he loved to chase squirrels up trees, and then a light came on in my head. I wondered if it would be possible to teach a miniature dachshund to tree squirrels. I’d leave him in the house while I dragged a squirrel tail around the yard, placing it in the fork of a tree. Then I’d let Bailey out and he’d follow the scent trail to the tree where I’d placed the squirrel tail.”

It wasn’t long before Seacrist began taking Bailey to the woods with him, and he eventually began treeing squirrels. All his work had paid off because he now had a unique little squirrel-treeing machine.

“Because her legs were so short, I’d stick her in my hunting vest when she got tired. One advantage to hunting with her was that she never ventured too far from me; her short little legs wouldn’t allow her to range too far,” Seacrist said.

With his newfound sport of hunting squirrels with a dog becoming more ingrained, Seacrist decided he needed a real squirrel dog, one that came from a good blood line with inborn squirrel treeing instincts. Thus, he found and purchased Rascal.

“I’d take the two dogs to the woods with me, and Rascal would watch Bailey, eventually learning what it was all about. I may get credit for having a good squirrel dog in Rascal, but truth to tell, he was trained by a little dachshund named Bailey.”

Tragedy struck soon after the two became bonded in the squirrel woods when Bailey was killed by a car in front of the family home. Seacrist has since installed an electronic barrier around his yard to keep his dogs from venturing into harm’s way.

“After we lost Bailey, and I was impressed with the way Rascal had learned to hunt, I decided I needed another dog of the same blood line to keep the good genes going, so I agreed to breed Rascal to another dog with squirrel hunting heritage in her blood. I was given the pick of the litter, and now have two squirrel dogs, Rascal and his daughter, Dottie,” Seacrist said.

As excited as he was to have the daughter of Rascal as a hunting companion, Seacrist became disheartened when he found out that Dottie was gun-shy.

“The first time I took her out and shot a squirrel, Dottie tucked her tail and took off,” he said. “Somebody told me that I would be better off getting rid of her because she’ll be gun-shy all her life, worthless as a squirrel dog.”

However, Seacrist knew what he had in Dottie’s blood line, and he was reluctant to give up on her.

“I was surfing the Web one day looking for ways to help gun-shy dogs, and I found a product that looked promising, so I bought it,” he said. “It consisted of a set of CDs that you play in the dog’s presence. The first one starts out with soft music and an occasional report of gunfire in the background. As you work your way through each CD, the music gradually gets softer and the gunfire louder. Dottie eventually became accustomed to the sound, and when I’d play a CD, I would pick up my shotgun and walk around Dottie so she could see it. I would place the shotgun within inches of the ‘doggie door’ where she would have to see it and smell it each time she came into the house.”

Dottie’s test under fire in the squirrel woods would come one day when Seacrist called me and asked that I accompany him and Dottie on a short squirrel hunt.

“Bring your .22 rifle,” Seacrist instructed, believing that the soft report of the .22 wouldn’t spook the pup as badly as would a shotgun.

Dottie was excited about being in the woods, and she soon smelled fresh scent of a squirrel, tracing it to a tree. Fortunately, we spotted the squirrel sticking to a limb. Seacrist fastened a leash on Dottie’s collar, and I shot the squirrel. I glanced at Dottie, and she was shaking like a leaf, until Seacrist pointed the dead squirrel out to her. Still on her leash, she ran to it, grabbed it and gave it a good shake.

“That experience with you and the .22 helped get her off to a good start,” said Seacrist. “I began taking her out with Rascal, and while she didn’t participate at first, it was obvious she was watching him.

“One day, I took my 20-gauge out with her and Rascal, and joined a friend for a hunt. Rascal treed — there were four squirrels in the tree — I shot one out with the 20-gauge, and Dottie beat Rascal to the downed squirrel. I asked my buddy to shoot one, and Dottie didn’t even flinch when the gun went off.

“Since we were near the truck, I told my buddy to just wait up while I ran to the truck, put away my 20-gauge and got my 12-gauge squirrel gun, shooting two more squirrels out. Dottie hasn’t been gun-shy since.”

So how can you tell if your dog has an interest in hunting squirrels?

“I think that if a dog has a good bloodline, even if it’s a breed like a dachshund, they have potential,” Seacrist said. “The key is to watch the dog’s body language and see if even as a puppy they show interest in birds and squirrels in the yard. Once you determine your dog is alert to creatures in the yard, you have to make up your mind to begin working with and patiently training the dog.

“I used squirrel tails on a string dragged around the yard as an important part of the training of all three of my dogs.

“Notice too that dogs have body English; they’re always telling you something if you observe closely. For example, I’ve learned that when you take your dog to the woods and he barks, his bark is directed to you because he can’t see you. He’s telling you he has a squirrel treed and wants you to come shoot it out.

“I’ve noticed that when Rascal trees close to me, he’ll look at me and not bark. If I step behind a tree where he can’t see me, he’ll bark. I have learned to read Rascal and know if he’s messing around or if he’s on the trail of a squirrel. It’s something you learn after spending lots of time with your dog.”

According to Seacrist, the perfect time to take your dogs to the woods after squirrels is a cool, sunny day with best results occurring from late December until the season ends in late February because foliage is mostly gone from the trees.

“I like the temperature to be cool, not cold, around 50 degrees, and I like a sunny day,” Seacrist said. “You can spot a squirrel sticking tight to a tree much better when it’s bright and sunny than when it’s cloudy and gray. I don’t want to hit the woods too early in the day; I like to give them time to leave the trees and move around the ground looking for acorns and thereby leaving their scent.

“Squirrel hunting with a dog is a fun sport. You can take as many friends as you want, can wear what you want, make as much noise as you want without affecting the hunt. It’s an ideal sport for kids since they don’t have to be so quiet and particular about making noise and watching their step.”

One of the tricks of the trade in squirrel hunting with dogs, according to Seacrist, is to utilize vines that grow in most of the mature trees where he hunts.

“Once the dog trees a squirrel, I’ll have other hunters with me stationed around the tree so that if a squirrel moves, somebody will see it,” he said. “Then I’ll pull a vine running up the tree to make the squirrel move.

“I’ve also learned something about vine pulling that will give you a better chance at the squirrel. If you approach the tree, grab the vine and pull it with all your might, you’ll move the squirrel alright, but it’s likely to scoot out of the tree in a gray blur, making it very hard to hit. I’ve found that if you pull the vine just enough to make it move a little up in the tree, the squirrel is likely to move a foot or two, just enough for an alert hunter to spot it.

“I was hunting with Bailey once when he treed. I had two other hunters with me, and I instructed them to get ready. I pulled the vine gently, a squirrel moved and somebody shot it. I did it again and another moved. I knew if there were any more squirrels in the tree, they’d start getting nervous, so I yanked down hard on the vine, and three more took off; we got them all. It was a sight watching that little short-legged dog trying to decide which squirrel to retrieve first.”

Seacrist likes to hunt mature hardwoods, but finds that he has better success hunting woods that are not so open.

“My dogs will usually locate squirrels along the edges of the hardwoods where they meet pines; it seems that squirrels tend to tree in these marginal areas. It also helps to know the woods where you hunt. For example, I went over to Mississippi last year to hunt with friends for a couple of days. The woods were pretty but unfamiliar to me. Although the dog treed several, we didn’t kill a single squirrel.

“I returned home and made a quick hunt on land I was familiar with, and got a limit in two hours.”

Seacrist has an unwritten policy that he follows in hunting on land he has access to. He doesn’t go “back to the well” too often.

“Our hunting club, which has lots of squirrels, consists of about 2,000 acres, and I’ve divided it into four segments, and I keep records as to how many squirrels I get on each hunt,” he said. “I’ll try not to hunt the same segment more than twice a season. That’s only eight hunts I can make on our club for that year. However, word gets out that you have a good squirrel dog, and you’ll get invited to hunt someone else’s land, which gives me plenty of chances to hunt.

“If you hunt the same woods too often, the squirrels become too wary, and your success will really decline. It’s also not a good idea to hunt your dogs too often or you can wear them out. I used to hunt Rascal four or five days a week, and by week’s end, he wasn’t nearly as effective because he was exhausted. Now that I have two dogs, I’ll alternate using them, which keeps me behind a fresh dog when I go out.”

Seacrist keeps detailed records of his hunts with his dogs, including the number of squirrels taken on each trip.

“Last year, I hunted 16 times on hunts averaging about two hours each, and my hunting partners and I bagged 264 squirrels. I’ve kept records for the past four years since Rascal has become a serious hunter, and the average has been over 250 a year for those four years.”

What does a hunter do with that many squirrels? Seacrist shares them with hunting partners and uses the rest himself, often cooking gallons of squirrel mulligan in one afternoon. He divides what he cooks into meal-sized portions, freezes them and has squirrel to eat throughout the year.

I shared one of my favorite squirrel recipes with Seacrist several years ago, and he has taken this recipe for two or three squirrels and multiplied into a recipe using 50 or more squirrels. See sidebar.

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About Glynn Harris 445 Articles
Glynn Harris is a long-time outdoor writer from Ruston. He writes weekly outdoor columns for several north Louisiana newspapers, has magazine credits in a number of state and national magazines and broadcasts four outdoor radio broadcasts each week. He has won more than 50 writing and broadcasting awards during his 47 year career.

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