Outdoor Journal: Black squirrel chase is over

When does persistence turn into obsession? This is going to sound crazy, but ever since I shot my fi

When does persistence turn into obsession? This is going to sound crazy, but ever since I shot my first squirrel many years ago, I have wanted to shoot a black squirrel.

Over the years, I’ve shot many grey squirrels, but until last week, I had never seen a black one in any of the woodlots I hunted. I’ve seen them in towns like Lake Placid and Alexandria Bay, and on the Syr­acuse University campus, obviously all non-hunting areas.

The black squirrel is a melanistic subgroup of the eastern grey squirrel that is common in midwestern America and throughout Ontario, Canada. According to biologists, nationwide about one of every 10,000 gray squirrels is the black mutant. And, in case you didn’t notice, on page 40 of this year’s hunting regulations book, black squirrels are included for small-game hunting.

It all started quite innocently when a friend invited me to join him for an afternoon deer hunt on a northern Saratoga County farm.

It was a beautiful day with the sun shining brightly when I stepped into the woods and immediately found deer signs, tracks, a rub and a small scrape. Picking a spot under a huge oak tree, I set up my chair blind on a knoll overlooking open hardwood trees bordered by a small swamp.

It was about 2:30 p.m. when the gray squirrel population in the neighborhood began to rummage around on the ground for acorns, and within a few minutes there were three of them feeding.

Perhaps a half-hour later, I saw a small black animal moving in the swamp, and at first I thought it was a skunk. But when it stepped out of the grass, there was my black squirrel. I watched him until sundown feeding with the other squirrels, and by then I knew that I would be back the next day, only this time I would not be carrying a .30-06 high-powered rifle.

That evening I planned my morning black squirrel hunt for the next afternoon. To insure I would go undetected, I would be in full camo complete with a mesh face mask and in a chair blind.

Normally, I don’t go to this length squirrel hunting, but this one was very special. My problem was the choice of guns. Should it be a rimfire rifle or a smaller gauge shotgun? My choices were a scoped Remington .22 bolt action rifle or a 20 gauge Ithaca Featherlight shotgun. I chose the .22.

The wind was gusting up to 35 mph when I set up my chair blind exactly where I had been the night before. Just as when I first saw him, the black squirrel followed the greys into the acorns at about the same time as the skies opened up and it poured. I carefully slid the barrel out the window, shouldered the gun and waited for the squirrel to move out from behind the brush about 45 yards from me. An hour went by and although I could see pieces of him he never gave me a clear shot. (Should’ve taken the 20-gauge).

It was about 4 p.m. when he finally moved out into the open and just as quickly moved behind a tree, then less than 20 yards away.

Looking through the scope, I waited. When I saw his head, I clicked off the safety and was thinking about how he would look mounted on my office bookcase. But before he ever exposed any more of his body he whirled and disappeared. I had no idea what scared him, but soon found out when a coyote trotted into the hardwoods after him.

One well-placed .22 long rifle solid point, and I had my first coyote of the season. I later found out from the landowner that it was probably the coyote that had been helping himself to the man’s chickens and also several of the kittens recently born in the barn.

The next evening when I returned, the weather was much dryer and less windy. Again, I set up in the same area about 2 p.m. and had plenty of gray company, but the black never showed up. I guess that close call with the coyote must have really scared him. However, tomorrow would be another day, and I would be back — but this time to try a morning hunt.

To insure that I got set up without being seen, I entered the woods well before sunup and sat there at least 40 minutes in the dark awaiting legal shooting time. At first light, a doe hurried by me and just as I thought, behind her, with his head to the ground was a nice four-pointer. Both passed withing 15 yards of my blind. The .30-06 would have been quite handy. The squirrels arrived around 8 a.m., and with them was the black.

Again, he put the brush between himself and me and I waited. But he was getting farther and farther away, and I decided to try and pick a hole in the brush and take the shot. This wasn’t really a good idea because I don’t think the bullet ever reached him. But it did send him off heading for the tallest tree.

That evening, when relating the story to several of my friends, I received quite a bit a ribbing, not only for spending this much time on a squirrel, but also for not having the .30-06 when the deer walked in. And several questioned my sanity. But I was determined to get this squirrel.

Day 3 was another morning hunt and this time the Ithaca 20-gauge shotgun was my choice. If I’d had the shotgun the day before, I’m sure the hunt would’ve been over. It was a very mild late afternoon, and just before sunset I caught a glimpse of the black squirrel moving through the open hardwoods about 60 yards from me, too far for the 20-gauge but not for the .22 — had I brought it along. But that’s hunting, and all I could do was watch him rummage for acorns.

At daybreak the fourth day, I had two grouse get too close to where I was sitting and I finally had something for my game bag. I wasn’t sure if the shots would affect the squirrels and about an hour later, I found out they didn’t. Grays were again scampering around well within range, but the black never came across the swamp that afternoon. It was just as if he knew I was there.

I was now beginning to question my sanity, but just could not give up. I was determined to get this black squirrel and was willing to hunt him every day until the season closed Feb. 28, if need be. I was obsessed.

The morning on Day 5 was very cold when I huddled down in front of a fallen tree that would get me a bit closer to where the black squirrel usually ranged. As the sun came up, the temperatures seemed to go down and it was a bit uncomfortable. For three hours, all I saw or heard were Canada geese and crows, not a squirrel in sight. At 8:30 a.m., I decided to give it 10 more minutes, then leave. It was a wise choice because five minutes later, the squirrel parade began across the small swamp. One by one, they came into my woods. First one, then two and then three, but they were all grays. One of the grays was only about 20 feet from me when I saw the black fur moving through the leaves across the swamp, headed my way.

Waiting motionlessly until the gray near me moved off, I quickly shouldered the Ithaca and rested the action on my knee with my head down on the stock. He was coming, but taking his time and the long route. The other gray was now in front of me, and I didn’t dare move. Behind him about 40 yards was my target, zig-zagging his way toward me. He was behind a tree about 20 yards out in front of me when I clicked the safety off. When he came out in the open, I sent the load of low-base No. 7 shot his way.

Before retrieving him, I just sat there, leaned back against the tree and reviewed in my mind the five days and the 15-plus hours I’d spent in the woods hunting this rodent. It’s something I laugh about every time I think of it.

But there was one more incident that day I did not laugh about. After taking photos of the black squirrel in the woods, I stood up and heard a wheezing sound. There standing less than 20 yards and staring at me was a magnificent eight-point buck. We looked at each other for about a minute and then I slowly bent over picked up my empty shotgun and aimed it at him and said, “bang, bang.”

He never moved. I then picked up the squirrel and slowly headed out of the woods, talking to myself. I looked back several times and he was still standing there watching me. Will I ever see him again? I’ll let you know if I do, hopefully in the form of a buck tale.

To see a photo of my black squirrel, go to www.noonanpics.blogspot.com.

Categories: Sports

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