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For hunters, squirrels offer nice challenge


Monday's dawn found me moving very slowly through a favorite wood lot separating two cornfields -- one standing in its autumn splendor, the other resting from recent harvest.

A lot of leaves had turned over the weekend in my neck of the woods and, so, I was enjoying the luxury of being exactly where I wanted to be and doing exactly what I wanted to do on this early October morning.

Squirrel hunting is an important piece of my puzzle and these crisp October morning and late afternoon hunts are my special ** times.

At one time, I recall reading, 7 out of 10 hunters said that squirrels were the first game animal they hunted. In the 1950s and '60s, the best hunters in the neighborhood weren't deer hunters; they were the fellows who consistently bagged a limit of squirrels. Deer, in fact, were still pretty scarce and the hunting emphasis was on small game animals and upland birds. Anyone around my neighborhood who bagged a whitetail was considered lucky, not a particularly good hunter.

Pound for pound, I believe that a squirrel is the most difficult of all game animals to bag.

They have superb eyesight and hearing. Also, they are very territorial and know who does and who does not belong in their section of the wood lot. During these early weeks of the generous Oct. 5-Jan. 31 season, hunters must contend with heavy tree foliage that effectively conceals the animal's tree-top movements. Once the leaves fall, it's nearly impossible to stalk within shotgun range.

Right now, stalking is probably the most productive method of bagging a limit of six squirrels. The idea is to move a few steps, lean against a tree and listen for tree or ground movement as the busy animals go about reaping the fruits of an excellent nut crop.

Once you have a squirrel's location pinpointed, move slowly, quietly, yet speedily to get within range of your shotgun or .22 rifle. Later, when a thick carpet of leaves cover the ground, confine stalking to drizzly, wet mornings.

It took me nearly an hour to move about 100 yards into the wood lot that I hunted on Monday, but my patience rewarded me with three plump gray squirrels.

My ultimate destination was a large oak tree that I know from past experiences serves as a local magnet to this wood lot's gray squirrel population.

Stump sitting is especially productive throughout the season. Locate a den tree or a grove of acorn-producing trees, find a comfortable seat and you are in business -- provided you have patience and the ability to sit quietly and still.

Another hour passed and two more squirrels were added to my now heavy bag.

I had to make a business appointment at 1 p.m., so around 8:30 I quickly cut through the wood lot and then slowly worked my way back in the direction of my car by keeping to the edge along the cut cornfield.

I have had good luck finding squirrels along wood lot and cornfield edges over the years and, sure enough, No. 6 was found and added to the bag with a shot from my scoped .22 autoloader.

Area squirrel hunters have always been about evenly divided between shotgun and rifle users. Many superb squirrel hotspots throughout Anne Arundel County and the adjoining areas will allow a safety-minded hunter to use a .22 rifle, while a modified or full-choked shotgun in any of the usual gauges is the best choice for more densely populated areas. I've always favored No. 6 shot in the shotgun and hollowpoints in my .22 squirrel rifles.

Mid-Bay fishing is best

Our middle Bay area remains the best choice for striped bass. Chummers and trollers are still doing exceptionally well in the areas of the Diamonds, the Stone Rock and the Hill.

Some super bluefish action is available throughout the same areas. I enjoyed more than an hour of superb top-water striper and bluefish action while fishing with Dick Broden, Rich Gonsman and Broden's father, Richard, just off the main channel, in line with the Hill earlier in the week. I understand that similar excitement is growing common in the area of the mouth of the Choptank.

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