Relaxing with river squirrels
Enjoy Michigan's Autumn Splendor...
October 01, 2008
Fall can be an exciting but hectic time of the year for people who love the outdoors. The hunting and fishing opportunities alone in Michigan could keep an outdoor enthusiast busy 24/7. Mix in fall athletics, family, and of course work and it will seem as though life is coming at you a hundred miles an hour. It's usually about the end of October when I need to recharge my batteries. One way I do this is to go on an all day float hunt for squirrels.
You may be wondering what an all day float hunt for squirrels entails. It first requires map preparation before setting the plans into motion. It is advisable to use topographic maps, as well as Michigan Department of Natural Resources state land maps. It is paramount to locate areas of state land adjacent to any navigable river or stream. I have found many great stretches of state owned woods that are accessible by canoe. The topographic maps point out possible hotbeds of squirrel activity. The state land maps reduce the risk of trespassing on private property. A few hours of map homework coupled with preseason scouting will help a hunter become more familiar with possible state land hunting spots.
Once the area is located for your excursion you can begin preparing a plan. Decide when you will begin your trip and exactly where you will go. I suggest you recruit a family member and/or hunting buddy to join you. After you hash out a game plan begin preparing for the voyage. If you're not familiar with the area you plan on hunting, leave a map of your probable course with a family member or friend.
The vessel you commandeer should be small enough and light enough to glide gracefully through areas of low water. The ship of choice for me is a 14 to 16 foot canoe. The rhythmic paddling accompanies nature's sounds to serenade me with a relaxing outdoor melody. The canoe's aerodynamic shape allows for smooth sailing and landing in tight places. Through experience let me offer a word of advice, don't forget the paddles.
|Locate areas of state land adjacent to any navigable river or stream and spend the day. Ryan Walker photo|
If a canoe is too slow or too much work, try a small rowboat with an outboard motor attached. The outboard, in all likelihood, will scare game that is close to the riverbank. A possible alternative to an outboard is a battery operated trolling motor. No rowing or paddling and reduced noises are definitely benefits to choosing a trolling motor compared to an outboard or no motor at all. It's a good idea to know the depth and structure of the river you intend to traverse if you are going to use a motor of any kind.
When a designated area of state land is reached and the canoe is safely docked I begin to seek the elusive tree rat. Hardwood stands and ridges are the first habitats I seek. Upon finding such a place I plant myself at the base of a tree. I sit and listen for the sounds of falling acorns. The calm, cool day often causes my eyelids to close. That's all right, I am here to relax. It doesn't take long for my little piece of heaven to come alive with squirrel activity.
If no squirrels present themselves after 30 minutes or so I try calling. There are many great squirrel calls on the market today. I recently fell in love with the DS-85 Deluxe Squirrel Call by Haydel's Game Calls of Louisiana. The DS-85 is easy to operate (simply smack the bulb with the palm of your hand) and produces a shrill, lifelike sound sure to enrage the squirrels (and possibly your significant other if you practice too much in the house). A few short barks followed by a longer procession of high pitched barks mixed with thrashing leaves has proved a winning strategy time and again. When all else fails, try banging two quarters together to replicate the call of an immature bushy tail.
After observing the gatherers for awhile I begin to ease myself into position to take a few home for dinner. I prefer to use a .22 caliber long rifle on my canoe trips because it creates far less noise than a shotgun. One of my goals is to relax, and the other goal is to put some fur in the game vest. The .22 allows me to do both. I plink a squirrel or two and let nature settle down. It isn't long before the squirrels return to their work. If I choose to I can add a few more to the vest or I can simply entertain myself by watching them go about their business. Another benefit is the .22 is lighter to carry than most shotguns. This is helpful on days that require moving to find the squirrel colonies.
Even though the .22 is my first tool of choice, there are times when a shotgun is a necessity. Dense tree canopies make it difficult to see, much less shoot, squirrels. A trusty .410 or 20 gauge carrying #5's or #6's can overcome leaves more effectively than a .22 slug. Plus, when the occasional rogue grouse thunders to the sky I would much rather be holding a shotgun. My chances of hitting the mini-missile with a shotgun are low, but those chances are zero with a .22 because I would never even attempt a shot.
The final item I take with me is a backpack full of the essentials. The maps that were used to arrange the trip are tucked away in Ziploc bags. This is in case I need to check my position. I throw in a flashlight with new batteries, a small first aid kit, and an extra orange vest. These items are safety essentials that can save a woodsman some serious grief. I also pack extra .22 shells in case I lose the ones that are stored in my vest. What could be worse than getting to a beautiful, secluded section of state land along a river or stream and find you don't have any ammunition? The backpack also houses a lunch consisting of non-perishable foods such as crackers, jerky, fruit, and a candy bar. Next to the food are a couple of bottles of water to keep me hydrated. If the weather is cold I pack extra gloves and socks. The final item found in the backpack is a cell phone. In an emergency situation a cell phone can literally be a lifesaver.
Being thoroughly prepared allows me to enjoy my relaxing float hunt for squirrels. A Saturday afternoon spent leisurely seeking "bushy tails" energizes me before winter comes calling. The time well spent with family and/or friends creates memories that last a lifetime. If you are really fortunate you may come out of the excursion with meat for the pot. Whether you successfully bag game or not, one thing is for sure, you will enjoy Michigan's autumn splendor.