Feeling Squirrely

Okay, a day off at last. Deer in the freezer already so what’s next?? Well it is squirrel season in Oregon now so off I go to try my luck.
You didn’t think I would waste a day off indoors did you? Bad weather is coming soon enough. So I grab a rifle or two out of the collection, find my camo clothes and load up.

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I am not really all that familiar with the area I am off to today, so I am exploring as much as anything. As usual I bring more gear than I could possibly use, and load the truck down with snacks, drinks and warm clothes enough for several people, An air rifle of appropriate power, a backup air rifle and all the associated support gear. Then after all that I am off.

Oregon is pretty restrictive when it comes to squirrel hunting on the east side of the mountains, so there are only a couple of areas that are even open to the taking of squirrels. Now I’m not talking ground squirrels which are open year round with no restrictions, I am talking big beautiful western grey squirrels. I have seen these things as big as a cat and covered in thick light grey fur with a white belly. Yep, that’s what a squirrel is supposed to look like.

Now most of what I hunt lives on the ground. Rabbits, ground squirrels, sage rats, marmots, so walking around looking up in the trees is a new thing for me. Add that to the fact that I am hunting an entirely new area and I probably looked pretty comical wandering around aimlessly in camo, spinning in circles as I went.

So after driving around way too much and doing all the wrong things, I finally found some cuttings on a log and just parked the car, walked out a ways, and sat down for a while. Well what do you know after a short time something started moving in the trees. I saw several Douglas fir squirrels, and a couple chipmunks and lots of birds (mostly robins and woodpeckers) but no greys. At least I have a strategy now.

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The next spot I try pretty much the same way. A stand of pines with pinecones littered about on the ground. Find a spot to wait comfortably and 10 mins later, action.  First another dark brown Douglas squirrel, then there it was the holy grail (at least for this trip) a grey. 25yrds away and moving through the trees like a ninja. Man who knew they could move like that? I was up in a flash and in pursuit. I follow him from tree to tree trying to line up a good shot, only to have him move just as I start to squeeze the trigger. This goes on for about a hundred yards before I can line up a good kill shot with the Benjamin Discovery air rifle .22, but then it happens he stops on a branch about 20yrds away and just sits there looking at me.

That’s one in the bag and two to go. The limit for grey squirrels is 3 per day / 6 in possession on the east side of the state.

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I continue to stalk through the woods, stopping every now and then to let the woods settle, then moving off to the next likely looking spot. I see several more squirrels, but none of the big grey ones I am after.

I do come across a covey of ruffed grouse along a small trickle of a creek. There are 8 or 10 of them, it’s hard to tell for sure due to the low thick brush along the creek, but they are moving around all over the place. I can see 4 of them in one group near a large rock, and two more along the water.
One is standing on a stump bobbing up and down, while another is holding perfectly still in the middle of what was once a loggers drag trail.

I line up a shot at the one on the trail and squeeze the trigger sending the pellet cleanly over his head and prompting him to move into the bushes to his left before I can get the Discovery reloaded. I line up on one of the 4 by the rock and,,,,, damn!!! another miss. Reload, check, they are still there. I guess they were just closer than I thought. I kneel down and aim again, then they move out of sight just as I am starting to squeeze the trigger.

I remember shooting grouse to be much easier than this in the past…

I survey the area and find the one on the stump is still there, still bobbing up and down. Okay, last chance, I aim nice and low on the neck hoping this will give me some vertical grace. It is hard to time the shot right with all that bobbing. Just my luck I get a grouse with ADHD who can’t sit still even for a moment. squeeze the trigger and,,,, Grouse for dinner, yeah!!!

I field dress the grouse and bag it up, then back to hunting greys. I move along the little creek and find some cuttings on a stump here and there, but no greys. Making my way back to the truck I spot several more chipmunks, and even a douglas fir squirrel or two but the big ones are proving hard to find here.

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Back at the truck now and putting away the gear, taking care of my catch and getting loaded up for the drive home.

I did manage to find and bag one western grey squirrel and a small ruffed grouse, and I got to explore some new territory. I will definitely be back here soon to continue the chase, and continue my exploration of the area, but for now it is time to head home and make dinner.

Next time I am feeling squirrely I will know where to go….

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Not this time…

The alarm went off at 4am, and I was already awake. It’s the first morning of elk hunting season this year. I put the coffee on, and I was dressed and loading the truck by the time it was done.

I always look forward to the elk season even though there are very few elk here in the area I hunt. The elk were run off to the north by fire years ago, and found refuge and good pastures on the private lands there. I guess they just never came back.

I hunt the area of national forest along it’s border with the private ranches, not because the elk moved over there, but because that is where the water is, and it can reach 90+ degrees during the elk season here in Oregon.

 

So off I go an hour and a half before sunrise. I want to be in the area when the time is right and that means leaving early. I arrive at the canyon I scouted about 6:30am and it is light enough to take a shot, but the sun has yet to rise above the canyon walls. Perfect!

 

I make my way slowly along an old drag road made by loggers years before and long since overgrown. Walking quietly, taking a step or two, looking around then a few more steps. I often spot animals laying under trees, or in the grass this way and prefer this method of hunting.

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After approx. a quarter mile I find a recent scrape at the base of a fallen tree. I can smell the musk so I set up a hide just up the hill from this scrape. I am 25 yards from the scrape and slightly uphill with a good view of the trail in both directions.

 

I wait a few minutes to let the forest quiet down from my movements, Then in the distance a familiar sound. An elk is bugling. I have never heard an elk sound like this before, and I have been around many elk during my time with the Washington State dept. of Game.

I assumed it was a squirrel, or another hunter. But then it let out a proper bugle and I knew it was an elk. Not a large herd bull, but a smaller subordinate bull. Like a spike. The tag I have with me is for a spike or antlerless so this is perfect.

 

I respond with a subdued cow call and immediately get a response from the bull. After a few moments I repeat the call and I can hear the bull moving around just out of sight and out of  range.

 

This goes on for another half an hour with me calling and him responding but not coming any closer. Frustrated, I decide to try a full on challenge bugle. This will either draw him in to fight or send him running. Well something has to happen, I can’t just continue this all day so here goes.

 

I let out a mighty bugle and wait to see what will happen. Then I hear the bull. He is farther away this time, DAMN!

I try a few desperate cow calls, but no luck I have spooked him away.

 

I break cover to see if perhaps I can close the gap with him and reengage, or maybe get within range of a cow that might be around.

 

I stalk further up the canyon, pausing now and then to look and listen. I find some bear scat that is probably only a day old or so, lots more elk scat and a few beds, but no animals.

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I am working my way back down the canyon toward my truck now checking beds and signs trying to decide if this elk being here is just a fluke or if there are indeed elk in the area. Like I said before elk here a very scarce.

 

Then I hear a sound that freezes me in my tracks. A bull, not a spike but a “Holy crap that’s a big SOB” bull. The bugle cuts right through me and grabs my by the spine. WOW, that made the whole trip worth while.

 

I know this is the herd bull I am hearing now and this time of year (early Sept.) he should be surrounded by cows. They are bedded on top of the south hill of the canyon I am in. Now I have a choice. It is later in the morning now and the sun is fully up and making it warm. I could climb the hill and after catching my breath (which could take a while) I could try to creep up on them in their beds without being spotted. The odds of this happening are extremely low. Or I could quietly leave the area and come back later when conditions are more in my favor.

 

Option two is the obvious winner, so I start my quiet walk out still looking for deer or perhaps a stray cow elk.

 

I make my way along much as I did coming into the canyon, stopping frequently to look under the trees and along the grassy hillside for anything out of place. I see what looks like a grouse on a rock about 30 yards from me so I stop to check it out. After a few minutes I determine it is just an end of a log propped up on the rock from the back side. I take two more steps and a grouse takes flight from a bush along the creek approx 10 feet to my right. Once my heart starts beating again, I resume making my way out.

 

I see a couple elk beds on the way out but no more animals. Back at the truck now and I put away my stuff and prepare to drive home. I did not bag an animal today, but I think the trip was a success none the less. I had some excitement. I heard several elk at fairly close range. I almost stepped on a ruffled grouse and didn’t have to change clothes. Yep, all in all a pretty good morning.

 

Sometimes the elk win, and that’s okay.