Want a recipe for some fun on a late winter day?
Take two young boys who love the outdoors, mix in a few adults who can provide transportation and supervise things, add a couple of high-energy little dogs and mix well in an eastern North Carolina woodlot where gray squirrels are known to reside.
Don’t even think about putting a lid on the operation and letting it simmer because the chances are good that, as soon as the collective ingredients hit the field, things will start happening.
Such a dish was cooked up on a recent Saturday morning. Steve Banks, who has access to some prime squirrel woods through his family and friends, invited Jimmy Wright of Wilmington to bring his two young sons and their petite squirrel dog, Emma, to Jones County for a hunt. The season ends on February 28 so the opportunities to get out and after them when everyone’s schedules and the weather were agreeable were limited.
The Wrights were accompanied by a friend of theirs, Capt. Bruce Trujillo and his four-legged hunting partner, Poncho. Another local fellow, Dennis Riggs, came along as a back-up gunner and to watch the action.
They were nice enough to let me tag along to take some photos and observe as the dogs and boys did their thing.
It was a larger-than-usual crowd for squirrel hunting. Like a lot of sportsmen who grew up in this neck of the woods, I did a lot of squirrel hunting in my younger days. It was almost always still hunting, though – slipping through the woods, from tree to tree, scanning the limbs for “tree rats” who might be out feeding and going about their daily routine. Or, if there were plenty of mast trees and not much wind, I might just ease into a promising spot at first light, find a comfortable seat next to a big tree and sit for a half-hour or more, waiting for my quarry to reveal themselves.
If none did and my butt started getting numb, I would move to another vantage point as stealthily as possible and repeat the process.
There was no sitting around on our recent hunt, however. As soon as Emma and Poncho hit the woods, they were off – running through the leaves, sniffing and snuffling, scanning the tree tops for anything that might move and trigger their redatory instincts. They were both bred for what they were about and, obviously, relished doing it.
Both dogs are Parnell Carolina Curs, a breed type that originated in South Carolina. Emma, about a year old, is still a rookie but Poncho, her half brother, is an old hand at six. Capt. Trujillo said the little black and white dog has accounted for around 400 squirrels being harvested thus far in his career, about 80 just this year.
There are actually between 30 and 40 different types of squirrel dogs, each of which has a healthy number of admirers. There are various feists, curs, hounds and a number of others. They are referred to as “types” because, through judicious breeding and careful record-keeping, specific lines have been developed that display traits different hunters desire. For example, there is a common tendency among many curs to trail using their nose and to range farther ahead of hunters than some others. Feists, on the other hand, have a tremendous drive and speed but usually stay a little closer.
The Parnell Carolina Curs generally display the scenting ability of Mountain Curs but more of the range of Treeing Feists.
Regardless of their pedigrees, the compact (20-30 lb.), high-energy dogs are squirrel hunting machines. Ranging through mixed timber on a mild, humid day Emma and Poncho searched relentlessly with their noses and eyes for their bushy-tailed quarry. In short order, Poncho cut loose with a high-pitched, choppy bark and the race was on, literally. After a brief run, he began circling a large sweet gum, jumping for all he was worth and trying to climb its scaly bark. He almost did the latter, gaining four or five feet before losing his grip and falling back to earth.
Throughout it all, he announced as loudly as he could, “There he is, there he is!” The human hunters moved carefully around the tree, a short distance out, peering into the high limbs. After a few moments, Capt. Trujillo announced, “I see him – on that biggest limb, next to the trunk.” Nine year-old Colin Wright had the best angle and, taking careful aim with his 20 gauge pump, squeezed off a shot that brought a gray form tumbling downward. In a flash, Poncho was on the squirrel and, after a few healthy shakes of the head, delivered it to his boss.
Emma, took it all in, learning her specialized craft from the older, experienced dog.
As the morning wore on, a couple of other squirrels were taken in that section of woods and then the crew loaded up and drove to another tract known as Cat Island. Mature hardwoods, mixed with pines formed a beautiful glen that just had to hold game. Looks weren’t deceiving; shortly after crossing a small bridge and scampering through the more open stand, both dogs opened up. An hour or so later, more bushytails rested in the hunters’ game pouches and another, jumped and treed by Emma, figured out how to make his way into a hollow in a tree and thus escape.
Colin and his older brother, James (12) accounted for several while Riggs, who Banks called “The Sniper,” was called on to dispatch one that had made its way into the upper reaches of an old oak. The squirrel was sneaky, but not as slick as Riggs’ .17 cal. rifle.
Time was called at around noon but everyone agreed that was alright. Seven squirrels were in the bag, a good number for a half-day hunt and enough to form the basis for a traditional Brunswick stew. Even though Emma and Poncho were still raring to go, some of the older hunters were ready for a sit-down break and James had to get back to Wilmington for an afternoon basketball game.
Most important, as an old friend would have said, “A large time was had by one and all.” We had harvested some of the bounty The Almighty blessed us with and enjoyed time in the outdoors with some good folks (including those with four legs.) It was a wonderful way to spend a late-winter morning.
Ed Wall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com