There’s something about small-game hunting in February in a short-sleeve camouflage shirt that I like, but when the temperature is in the 70s, it’s the proper dress.
Obviously, I’m not talking about upstate New York, but my recent hunt while vacationing in Flagler Beach, Fla. This is my wife’s and my fourth year of wintering for a few months there, and yes, I do fish almost every day. However, this was only my second time small-game hunting.
Last year, I found a place to hunt through a fishing acquaintance I made at the local bait shop, and I took advantage of his offer.
This year, my major concentration was going to be squirrels because I wasn’t going to use my shotgun, I was going to use my Henry Frontier .22-caliber rifle. Hitting a fleeing rabbit is a bit harder than with a shotgun, but if the opportunity arose, I planned to shoot. And again this year, the landowner said he had a special recipe for squirrels.
Last year, I concentrated on the heavy brush where rabbits hide, but I didn’t plan to hunt those areas this time. I was going to hunt the 2 1⁄2 acres of hardwoods I was told held plenty of squirrels. I got to the farm about 10 a.m. and followed a tractor trail through some very heavy palmetto bushes and other tangles. And as always when I hunt in Florida, I was wearing my knee-high snake boots. I’ve hunted enough southern states to know boots like these are a must.
On my way through some of the thick brush I had to cross through to get to the hardwoods, I kicked up a rabbit, but was unable to shoulder my rifle before it disappeared in the thick vegetation. About a dozen steps later, I got a very startlingly close look at a true wild boar that busted out of the thickets no more than five feet from me on a dead run. If I had had a bigger rifle, I could have gotten at least one running shot at him. Had he stopped, I might have been tempted to dot his eye with the Henry.
I was crossing a bean field about 20 yards from the woods, when I kicked out a squirrel that ran for the trees, but for some reason stopped just 59 steps from me. I counted these steps after one shot took him down. Definitely a good start. I only needed 11 more to fill the daily limit allowed for squirrels in Florida.
I’d only gone about 50 yards when I saw three bushy tails scampering along the ground and quickly sat down in front of a tree, resting the rifle on my left knee. When I looked up, there were only two, and before I could sight in, they disappeared behind cover. Lowering the gun, I watched where they had entered the thickets and scanned the surrounding trees.
There, sitting in the crotch of one of the branches about 35 yards and 20 feet off the ground, was a squirrel that appeared to be watching me. Through the scope, I could only see its head and part of the neck, but that was enough, and No. 2 was history. My only mistake was going to pick him up, because on the way, I kicked out the two that were hiding in the brush.
What happened next was a first for me in all the years that I’ve been squirrel hunting. I’d sneaked and peeked my way another 100 yards or so before coming on a “herd” of them — eight to 10 feeding along the ground — and I was able to sit down without being busted. For a few minutes, I watched them move, stop and eat, and move again. As I got into a shooting position, I wondered how many I could get before they all spooked. My guess was only one.
Deciding to take the farthest one first, I placed the crosshairs on his head, and down he went. I quickly chambered another round. Ironically, the others paid no attention, “soooo” I took another and then another. On No. 3, the remaining squirrels disappeared. My game bag was getting heavy, and I realized I wouldn’t need to take a limit of 12.
The word must have gotten out that I was there, because for the next hour and a half, I didn’t see a squirrel, but I saw two rabbits, one on a dead run through some saplings. I missed. After that, I decided to sit down and let things get quiet, and with the heat, I needed a break and a drink.
Sitting quietly with my rifle up against a tree, my hunting vest full of squirrels lying next to me and the sunshine on my face, I was very close to a nap, when out in front of me was a squirrel heading right toward me. He was only about 15 yards from me, and any movement would have sent him running.
With my rifle leaning against a tree, I wondered if I could slip my little Smith & Wesson .380-caliber Bodyguard out of my hip holster and get a shot at Mr. Bushy Tail. I honestly didn’t think it could happen, but I was able to unholster the pistol and rest the butt on my raised knee. He stopped, but did not run, and at about 10 feet, he let me put that little red dot on him and touch off the shot. What a way to end my Florida squirrel hunt.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: