Do you enjoy squirrel hunting? Are you a deer-hunting nut? What about ducks? And crows? Even rabbits? This season, hunt them all at the same time.
Last year I was fortunate to take two nice bucks by early December. With only one antler tag left for six more weeks of deer hunting, I decided to try something different for the rest of the season.
When the gun season is open, that’s all I hunt. It’s sort of an addiction, but as the season drags on, I have to admit that I start to miss stalking squirrels in Dugdemona swamp. And although I haven’t done it in decades, I sometimes want to try my hand at duck hunting.
I see tons of squirrels and ducks when deer hunting, but I never shoot at them from fear I’ll scare away any nearby buck.
But last year when the pressure was off as far as getting a deer, I decided to put up my rifle for awhile and spend some time hunting squirrels and ducks. Then I had an epiphany that has changed my whole outlook on hunting.
When I was growing up in rural Winn Parish back in the mid-1960s, there weren’t many deer. People spent most of their time in the woods hunting squirrels and “squealers” (wood ducks), but they went prepared to shoot deer as well. Back in those days, everyone hunted with shotguns, and we always carried both squirrel shot and buckshot.
While reminiscing about those good-old days, I remembered how much fun we had back then. Loaded down with buckshot, “bear balls,” and squirrel shot, we eased along creeks or down logging roads ready for anything. When carrying my dad’s 16-gauge Browning automatic, I usually had a buckshot in the chamber and squirrel shot in the magazine. My thinking was I would have to snap off a quick shot if I saw a deer but could quietly remove the buckshot if I came across a squirrel or squealer.
With two deer in the freezer, I decided I was going to relive my childhood and just hunt for the rest of the season. I’d go prepared for deer, ducks, squirrel and whatever else was legal game, but my main goal was to just have fun.
My first hunt was on Saline Bayou, where I planned to drift downstream in my pirogue with shotgun in hand ready for ducks and squirrels, and then pick up my rifle and deer hunt on the way back. To avoid getting a citation, I made sure I had only steel shot with me. I figured if steel shot can down a duck, it will also knock out a squirrel.
There was a bright full moon and the air was a frigid 26 degrees when I put the frost-covered pirogue in the water. After loading up my .444 H&R Handi Rifle and Remington 700, coffee bottle, sausage biscuits and assorted other gear, I strapped on my life jacket over a bundle of clothes and waddled down the bank to shove off right at shooting light.
Perhaps 100 yards from the landing, a cat squirrel popped out of a hole in a cypress tree and sat silhouetted against the brightening sky. It was an easy shot, but I never even took aim because he would have tumbled straight into deep water.
When I drifted around the first curve, three wood ducks were swimming downstream in the middle of the channel, and I raised my shotgun and fired just as they exploded off the water. I managed to hit one, but he began flopping around in circles and I had to engage the trolling motor to run him down in the current. While admiring the beautiful male squealer, it dawned on me that this was the first duck I had taken in more than 20 years.
A few hundred yards farther along, the creek makes a 90-degree turn to the right and there is a large pocket of water on the left that usually holds some ducks. Because of the high bank, however, you can’t see into it until you make the turn.
I raised the Remington to my shoulder as I neared the bend, and saw two woodies in the pocket as soon as it came into view. When I shot one, an entire flock I had not seen broke out of the brush along the far bank and whistled across my front. I managed one hurried shot as they passed but didn’t connect.
Over the next couple of hours, I saw some squirrels, but they were very skittish that late in the year and ran off before I could get a shot. But then, as I drifted toward another sharp bend, I noticed one young squirrel cutting cypress balls. After a quick check to make sure it would land near the bank, I fired. The squirrel plopped in some shallow water, and I eased over and picked it up.
Then I saw two more still eating in a nearby cypress tree, completely oblivious to the gunshot. I dropped one and quickly swung onto the other as he sat there motionless almost directly over my head. A large log jam under the tree should catch him, I thought, so I popped him as well.
Unfortunately, this one splashed just inches from the log jam and sank like a stone. I tried to drag him up with a landing net I brought along just for that purpose but to no avail. I hated to lose him, and afterward passed up several more shots because of the possibility the squirrel might land in the water.
By midmorning, the squirrels were becoming scarce and the ducks had moved to the flooded timber, so I lowered the trolling motor and headed back to the truck. Frequently along the way, I wedged the boat into some cypress knees to blow my grunt call and watch the woods hoping to get a shot at a deer, but none appeared.
All in all, it had been a great trip. Although I didn’t see a deer, it had been a beautiful, crisp morning, and I brought back two ducks and two squirrels for the pot. This, I thought, might become addicting.
A week or so later, my cousin Clay Scoggin joined me for a morning hunt on our lease that borders Dugdemona River. This time, we loaded our gear into my aluminum boat and put in before daybreak. I didn’t expect to see any ducks until we got some ways down the creek, so we stood on the bank and chitchatted until it was light enough for the squirrels to be out.
Big mistake. For about the first 15 minutes of shooting light, there was a steady stream of wood ducks zipping over the creek a few hundred yards away. If we had shoved off earlier, we could have taken some quick passing shots.
We might have missed our duck opportunity, but the squirrels were out in droves. We counted nine scampering along the bank before we even got out of sight of our landing spot.
Clay, a former commander of the Marine Corps Sniper School, uses a modified Ruger 10/22 for squirrel hunting. He has the patience of Job and the sharpshooter skills one would expect from a Marine sniper. Whether hunting rabbits, squirrels or deer, he always goes for the head shot. In this case, however, he quickly realized the .22 was not suited to this type of hunting.
The creek was high and the current pulled us along at a fairly good clip, and we just couldn’t stay in position long enough for him to make a good shot. Clay did knock one squirrel down, but it got away from us.
“This isn’t going to work,” he said. “I’m going to have to go to the shotgun.”
We eventually got three squirrels. I shot the first one as it sat on a log, and was sure I made a clean kill. Clay got out and looked and looked, but couldn’t find a trace of it. Suddenly, he stopped, peered closely at the ground, and called to me, “You gotta come see this!”
After I made my way up the steep bank, Clay pointed and asked, “Do you see him?” At first I didn’t see anything, but then I noticed one eyeball staring back at me from the bottom of a 6-inch hole. The squirrel had completely disappeared down the hole, and Clay would have never found him if it hadn’t been for that eerie eyeball.
Clay and I have always enjoyed crow hunting, and we decided to incorporate it into our day as well. We both were wearing leafy camouflage suits, complete with gloves and head nets, and had brought along a FoxPro varmint call. Every half mile or so (as the crow flies), we positioned the boat in a tree top or bush and turned on the call.
At each stop, the crows sailed in, and we had a few minutes of good shooting before they got wise to us and kept their distance. We wound up downing 10 over the course of the morning, and enjoyed it as much as the squirrel hunting.
The FoxPro unit is perfect to bring along on such hunts. It’s small enough to carry in a game bag and powerful enough to be heard over long distances. The call also has a remote-control feature that allows you to put it in one place while you set up nearby. Crows often circle some distance away from the unit, and if you set up right next to it you might not get a shot.
Clay told me about one memorable day when he brought along his FoxPro while hunting squirrels in a boggy strip of hardwoods near Alexandria. After shooting one squirrel, he heard some crows nearby, sat down against a big oak tree and turned on the call.
The crows immediately swarmed in.
“I waited until some landed in a nearby tree, and slowly raised my rifle and fired,” he said. “The crow tumbled down, and then I shot another and another and another. They seemed to work themselves up into a frenzy as each one dropped out of the tree.
“There was so much racket between the crows and the FoxPro that they couldn’t even hear the .22 go off. I thought they would spook when I had to reload, but they didn’t. I sat in that one spot and killed 18.”
Besides combining squirrel and crow hunting, Clay frequently carries his .22 while sitting in a deer stand on our property. There’s a corn feeder 100 yards away that regularly attracts squirrels and rabbits. He sometimes takes out rabbits with a single head shot and then resumes watching for deer.
Before the season was over, my friend and fellow Sportsman writer John Flores came up to make a float trip with me. We launched on Dugdemona well before daylight, and positioned the boat behind some brush in an area where I had previously seen wood ducks fly through.
Right at shooting light, two ducks came in from my left, and I fired both barrels of my Spartan side by side but didn’t touch a feather. Almost immediately afterward, a single came in from behind John, and he dropped it with one shot. A few more flew by over the next 15 minutes but we were unable to get a shot.
While sitting there admiring the creek, John made a suggestion that has since paid off for me.
“Wood ducks are early birds,” he said. “They fly real well the first few minutes of shooting light, but then spend the rest of the day on the water. You ought to look into investing in a half-dozen decoys and set them up before daylight in places like this where you know they fly over. Then you could sit in your pirogue and get in some good shooting for 15 or 20 minutes before starting your drift downstream to hunt squirrels and deer.”
John and I floated down the creek, shooting four squirrels, downing a few crows and knocking some feathers out of a couple of ducks we jumped.
That afternoon, we drifted down Saline Bayou, and again got a couple of squirrels and crows and a few shots at ducks. We also saw two deer run off into the woods, but deer season wasn’t open.
I had never really considered hunting over decoys, but I took John’s advice and bought a half-dozen wood-duck dekes. There wasn’t much season left, but I did make a couple of set ups, and it worked just like John said.
A new hunting season begins this month, and I don’t plan to spend all my time hunkered down in a deer blind. With my decoys and pirogue, I’m going to keep after the ducks, deer and squirrels.
Why limit myself to one quarry when I can hunt them all at the same time? Just like the good-old days.
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