Well, it was fun while it lasted. If you remember, spring got off to a late start. June and July were a blur. Now we start the slow decline into autumn. But with August the door swings open for the beginning of our hunting seasons. Last Wednesday marked the opening of this year’s squirrel hunting. This is the most liberal of the hunting seasons running from August 15 to January 31 with a limit of five per day.
For Max Roberts squirrel season is his favorite. As he has done for over four decades, he takes his place on a stump in his favorite woods. Leaves rustle high in the hickory tree. The rustling stops then pieces of hickory nuts begin dropping to the forest floor, “ticking” as they hit last year’s dry leaf litter.
Throughout the year this goes unnoticed, but not today. He slowly stands, takes one small step, stops then shoulders his .22 rifle. The single “crack” is followed by more rustling then a dull thump. Roberts has just nabbed his first squirrel dinner of the season.
Although it may not gather the fanfare or excitement as some of the more popular A-list hunting seasons, the little bushytails do have a following all their own. It’s something Roberts, a 64-year-old Army veteran, has been doing since he was a child.
“When I was young I’d use an old 20-gauge shotgun because I didn’t want to miss them” he explained. Since those earlier days he has long since switched to his .22 rifle. “I don’t have to worry about picking out the buckshot,” he added, rubbing the well-worn wooden stock.
Roberts usually collects upwards of 50 squirrels per season. “I could get a lot more if my wife didn’t have so many chores for me to do,” he mused. “I really don’t mind him hunting,” added Karla, his companion of 41 years. “But he would go every single day if I’d let him.”
Roberts usually hunts alone or with his grandsons on the properties of his friends in northern Howard and southern Cass Counties. “Sometimes I’ll go to Mississinewa or Salamonie for a change of pace,” he added.
Larry Blake is another who relishes Indiana’s squirrel hunting season. At 71 years old, he has hunted squirrels for well over half a century.
“Sure, I’ve hunted for other game as well, but those squirrels are by far my favorite,” he said. “I look forward to it.”
Over the past several years, Blake sometimes finds himself trading his rifle for a .22 handgun. “It’s easier to carry and a little more challenging,” he explained.
In Indiana there are basically only four types of tree squirrels. The most predominate is the fox squirrel, which is also the largest of the four species. The others are the gray squirrel, red squirrel (often called piney) and the southern flying squirrel.
In contrast with the gray squirrel, the fox squirrel is brawnier, less nervous and adjusts well in all types of environments. It is basically these two sought after by hunters.
As morning fades to lunchtime, the occasional gunshots fade because squirrels have eaten their mornings nuts and climb to the trees to rest. Several hours before dark, they come out to feed again, a routine knowledgeable hunters use to their advantage.
“It’s always good to know the routine of the game you’re after,” said Roberts, who usually has his limit of five squirrels within the first several hours of daylight.
Just like many longtime hunters, Roberts has a deep respect for the land and the animals he hunts. He shoots solely for food and not for pure enjoyment of the kill. “They were put on this earth to eat,” he explained. “But anyone who hunts should respect not just squirrels, but all animals and the environment.”
After each trip to the woodlots, Roberts brings the squirrels back to his home where they are dressed and skinned. They then go into a salt water bath where they will stay overnight. From there they are put in the freezer or cooked into gravy, fried or baked. “You’ve never had anything so good as Karla’s squirrel gravy over homemade biscuits,” he said rubbing his belly. “She also makes squirrel cutlets which are really good too,” he added.
Roberts and Blake prefer hunting squirrels over any other type of game. “Hunting rabbits requires too much brush busting,” Roberts continued. “And for deer, well they are just too much work getting out of the woods by myself,” he continued. “But squirrels I can hunt at my own pace, on my own time and they’re easy to carry out.”
As far as what other people think, “It really doesn’t matter to me,” said Roberts. “It’s part of who I am, part of my heritage and I’ll proudly do it as long as I am able.”