Outdoor Journal: Day in woods fills stew pot

With temperatures in the low 50s last Sunday, I chose to skip my normal bowhunting for deer and spen

With temperatures in the low 50s last Sunday, I chose to skip my normal bowhunting for deer and spent the day in the woods hunting small game.

Each year around this time, just before the opening of the deer season in the Southern Zone, Tim Guy, a retired Warren County sheriff, and I usually hunt a large patch of public land along the upper Hudson River for squirrels, rabbits and grouse. We usually take his beagle duo, Tracker and Ben, to sniff out our game.

The purpose of this hunt is to accumulate as much small game as we can for our “Do Not Ask” stew dinner the nigh before the big-game. This has been a ritual since we first built our camp in Allegany County more than 10 years ago. These spec­ies have been the main meat ingred­ients in the pot, however once in a while I know that Tim, the camp cook, may have added a few other thing. That’s why we call it “Do Not Ask” stew.

But this year, Tim, who is from Glens Falls, was unable to make this outing with me because of a surgical procedure. In all honesty, he’s a good friend and I missed him and his beagle brigade that morning when I entered the woods, especially the keen noses of the dogs that always found and routed out the game. Without them, my hunting approach would require a lot more stealth. I was going to do a lot of stalking and even more sitting, which we never have to do with the dogs.

Also different this year was the gun I was carrying. In prior years, I’ve carried everything from a .410 to a 12-gauge shotgun, but on that day, I’d chosen my Henry Frontier .22-caliber lever gun. Since I got this gun earlier this year, I’ve had quite a bit of enjoyment and success with it. Each time I pull the trigger, I’m amazed at its accuracy. The other difference in this hunt was that I decided to spend more time outside the heavy underbrush that makes up a major part of the woods, and concentrate on the hardwoods and crop fields along the wood lines.

The corn and other vegetables that grow there attract just about every animal and bird in the area.

I started my morning hunt along the edge of a cut corn field lined with hardwoods on one side and a creek on the other. When I first looked out into the field, I could see it already had several visitors munching on the corn. There were several squirrels and a small flock of tom turkeys, two of which had really nice long beards. Sneaking and peeking my way through the heavy brush was a bit tricky, but I was able to get within about 50 yards of the squirrels and turkeys who were feeding side-by-side.

I sat down and rested the Henry on my knee and placed the crosshairs on one of the tom’s big head just for fun (only shotguns are allowed for turkeys), then just below the ear on a gray squirrel who was chewing on a corn cob. That was No. 1, and I only needed five more for my legal daily limit.

The turkeys were airborne immediately at the sound of the shot and disappeared into the woods. But one of the other two squirrels that were there ran a short distance and continued to feed. A quick chambering of a live Winchester Super X .40-grain bullet led to another head shot, and I slipped two grays into my back game pouch. It was a great start.

Moving down the field to where I knew there was a small stand of hardwood trees, I spooked a rabbit, but never could get it in the scope. Quietly, at the end of the field, I slipped into the hardwoods where I then spooked a squirrel. Sitting down with my back against a big oak tree, I hoped that he and/or some of his buddies would show up. After about an hour of no activity, I was about to get up when out walked a pair of grouse within 10 yards of me, but just the turning of my head to look at them put them into flight. Shooting a grouse with a .22 caliber has to be done when the birds are on the ground.

When I finally stood up to move, I saw a gray coming down a tree about 30 yards from me, and right behind him was another. I was able to cut the distance in half without being seen and slipped in behind a fallen tree for cover. Finding an opening in the downed tree I could not find the two squirrels and assumed they saw me and ran off. It was perhaps 30 minutes later that I saw movement in the hardwoods and then the outline of a squirrel making its way toward me. I normally don’t recommend frontal shots on any game, but in the case of this squirrel, it was all I had, and at about 20 yards out, Henry placed the 40-grain projectile dead on and No. 3 was history.

For the next hour, I still-hunted and periodically sat on watch in the hardwoods, but there was no activity at all. It was about 11:30 a.m. while I was daydreaming about the next day’s bowhunt, that there, no more than 20 yards from me, was a lone grouse. I never saw it walk into the opening, I must have been napping. Not daring to move, I watched as it fed parallel to me along the ground, but luck was with me. The grouse walked behind a fallen log blocking its line of sight to me just long enough to allow me to get the .22 up, draw back the hammer and wait for it to walk out from behind the log. But it didn’t. Instead, it hopped up onto the log, and I quickly made it a tasty add­itive to our stew. Any time you get a grouse, it’s a great accomplishment, and for me, even greater because I did it with my Henry .22. And I plan on bragging about it for some time in our hunting camp and to whoever will listen.

After field-dressing the grouse, I headed to an area where we always kicked out rabbits, squirrels and grouse. It was patches of heavy cover and tall grass, but also had openings for shooting lanes. Before I started hunting, I sat down on its edge, rested the Henry against a small tree and ate my lunch. I was sitting there in one of the openings, munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, when out popped a cottontail. I don’t think he saw me, but before I could move, he was gone. Perhaps 10 or 15 minutes later, a rabbit appeared in the opening again, only this time it came from the opposite direction and was facing away from me. I slowly retrieved the Henry, cocked the hammer and centered the crosshairs on the back of its head right between the ears. Another bonus, rabbit stew.

I’d like to say that the next three squirrels came easily, but they didn’t. In fact after the rabbit, it was almost as if everything holed-up in the woods. I put on a lot of sneaking, peeking and sitting miles, literally covering almost the entire property. The fourth squirrel was at least two hours after the rabbit. I saw it at about 75 yards, and it saw me. Backtracking, I made a wide circle around him to where I thought I could sneak in from behind, but when I got there, he was gone. I sat and waited. A half-hour or so later, a squirrel came scampering down a tree, and at 45 paces, I added another to my game bag.

Squirrel No. 5 and I played peek-a-boo for a while around a big oak tree. He only ran up it about 15 feet, but he kept moving around the tree, never giving me a good shot. Fin­ally, just before leaving, I tried something I read about in Outdoor Life a long time ago. It required two hunters. One would post up on one side and the other would move around the tree, but being alone, I substituted my orange cap for the second person. I took the hat off and threw it around the tree, trying to get the squirrel to come around my side. It didn’t work, but what did work was me walking off like I was leaving and then sneaking back and waiting. Twenty minutes later, he came down and ended up in my game bag.

I shot the limit squirrel while walking down the road, two miles from my truck. I saw him cross the road and go up a tree several hundred yards ahead of me, so when I got there, I stepped into the woods and looked for him in the trees. I didn’t see him because he was on the ground, chewing acorns — his last meal.

A good day: I had six squirrels, a rabbit and a grouse. And there was one other small game animal I could have easily shot, but didn’t — a raccoon. He was feeding on the side of the road, and I got within shooting distance of him. I heard that Tim may have spiked several of our “Do Not Ask” stew meals with raccoon, but not this year.

Categories: -Sports-

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