For the past three years, my wife and I have planned our month-long Florida vacation so we would arrive in time for me to hunt the last week of that state’s gray squirrel season.
This year, we arrived last Saturday, the day before the season ended. To do this required some long, non-stop shift driving. Both of us would drive for four hours, then sleep four hours. It’s really amazing sometimes what hunters will do to satisfy a desire to hunt. And in this case, it was mandatory to have a very understanding wife.
On the drive down from New York, I called the landowner whose ranch I had hunted for the past two years, to let him know my estimated arrival time and also to be sure I had permission to hunt his property again this year.
He said it would be no problem, and he also said that he had a squirrel guide for me: his son, Justin. Last year, Justin was not old enough to hunt with me. This year, he is 15, the legal hunting age in Florida, and was eagerly awaiting my arrival. His dad said he had been scouting and hunting with him all week after school and was excited about my return.
He wasn’t the only one excited.
We arrived at noon, and 30 minutes later — the time it took me to unload the car — I was back in the car, in full camo, with my gun and heading for the woods. Fortunately, the ranch was located in East Palatka, a 25-minute drive from where we were staying in Flagler Beach.
On my previous Florida squirrel hunts, I used a .22-caliber rifle, and last year a .410 shotgun, but this year, I was going to hunt these bushy tails with a double-action, five-shot, .410 revolver, the Taurus Judge. The first time that I saw, touched and shot this gun was at the Shot Show in Las Vegas last year, and I was very impressed. Even though it was presented as a personal defense gun, I was more interested in its potential as a hunting gun.
Inquisitive about why they called the model “The Judge,” I asked Bob Morrison, executive vice president of Taurus International. He said that they had learned that court judges in the high-crime areas of Miami were purchasing the revolver for personal defense in their courtrooms. And I believe some of them actually carried them under their robes. When I ordered my Judge, I had to wait several months to get it. According to Taurus, the Judge has become their No. 1-selling firearm. And after shooting mine, I can see why. If you want to see the Judge in action, visit their Web site, www.taurususa.com, and watch the videos. They’re very impressive.
What I found the most desirable about the Judge was its versatility, due to its ability to shoot a .410 shot shell and a .45 Colt regular bullet. I was going to use the shot shell for my Florida squirrel hunt. And you’ll soon read why it will find its way into the New York state squirrel and rabbit woods with me when the season opens in the fall.
To increase my accuracy and speed of target acquisition, I added a set of Crimson Trace Laser Grips. I’ve used these grips on several of my other handguns, and they definitely improve my shooting skills. With them I’ve harvested wild boar, fallow deer, a Dall ram, a Corsican ram, squirrels and rabbits. Laser Grips really add a whole new dimension of accuracy and enjoyment to small game hunting, or just punching holes in paper targets.
AT THE RANGE
The day I received the amendment to my handgun permit for the Judge, I headed for the Kayaderrosseras Fish and Game Club, where I spent hours testing a variety of name-brand shot shells in load sizes from No. 4-7 1⁄2. All shooting was from a bench rest position at distances of seven to 17 yards. I’m always amazed at how differently the same shot size from different manufacturers will shoot. I encourage anyone who’s sighting in and patterning their shotguns to try more than one brand. In my testing of four of the major brands, the best results were achieved with the Federal Premium No. 7 1⁄2 loads.
At the range, the Federal Premium again won the shoot off with its 2 1⁄2-inch Buckshot 000 Buck loads. And it wasn’t even close. This round has four pellets which leave the barrel at about 1,200 feet per second. Shooting at a turkey target at distances of 10 and 17 yards, I continuously placed three pellet holes in the kill zone of the turkey target.
The last shots I took were with Federal .45 Colt ammunition, and these. too. performed well. I was actually skeptical of how well this gun would perform with these 225-grain bullets, but their three-shot grouping, after adjusting the Laser Grips just a little, placed three shots within a 3 1⁄4-inch circle.
When I arrived at the ranch, Justin was sitting there waiting for me. He was dressed in full camo, but he didn’t have a gun. When I questioned him about it, he said that morning he and his dad had taken a half-dozen squirrels and he was just going to be my guide. He also assured me that he left plenty of squirrels for me.
In the past few years I hunted gray squirrels in Florida, I found that the best areas to locate them were very similar to where they are found in New York. Just find the mast crop and you’ll find the squirrels. And in Florida, I found the hickory trees were absolutely the number one spot.
The second spot is pine trees, where the squirrels feed on the tiny seeds in the pine cones.
The area we were going to hunt — one I had never hunted before — was a 15-acre woodlot with a series of ridges and gullies and a mix of hickory and pine trees. Justin referred to it as his “private stock,” and I would soon discover he wasn’t kidding.
We were only about 50 yards from the woodlot, when I saw several squirrels scampering around, obviously alerted by our presence. Quickly and quietly, we moved into the woods about 75 yards and set up with our backs against a large hickory tree, where Justin watched on the right and I watched on the left. I don’t think we were there more than 15 or 20 minutes when he whispered to me, “Here’s one coming right toward us.” I slowly turned and raised the Judge using my knee as a rest. At about 15 yards, the squirrel was busy rummaging through the pine cones when the Judge spoke and collected its first small-game animal.
I didn’t have much time to admire my trophy because I was immediately interrupted by three squirrels moving in and out of several brush piles about 35 yards out.
Waiting for their line of sight to me to be blocked, I quickly set the Judge on my knee and cocked the hammer. I wasn’t comfortable with that distance and waited to see if they would come in closer. About five minutes later, two of them started toward me, but before I could get a good shot, they disappeared behind another brush pile. Again I waited, but not for long. A soft whistle got one of the squirrels to peek out from behind the brush, and that was a fatal mistake for him. Those No. 71⁄2 loads did their job. Then, to my surprise, the other one stepped out and stood on his hind legs looking at me. That was No. 3.
It was time to move. This time, we traveled about 300 yards further down the ridge and set up just over the edge, where I could watch both the top of the ridge and the gully. Justin said he’d seen a number of squirrels working the area that morning, both on top and down in the gully. I estimated my shot to the bottom of the gully to be about 15 yards; no problem for the Judge. And that’s exactly where I was soon to get my next shot.
I watched the squirrel making his way up the gully and then start up the hill. He was about 40 yards from me when he turned and made his way along the top of the ridge, toward me, but for some reason, turned again and headed back down. Once on the bottom, he was in range, and I could see him making his way through the tall grass — The perfect shot for the Judge .410 and the No. 7 1⁄2 shot shells. And at about 20 yards, I added number four to my game pouch. All this excitement and this was just my first day in Florida.
Unfortunately, it rained the next and final day of the season and ended my Florida squirrel hunting adventure. But it was the perfect sit-on-the-patio day for tasty hickory-barbequed squirrel strips lightly basted with Texas BBQ sauce.