Are you smarter than a squir­rel?

The Woolwich Observer - - SPORTS - STEVE GALEA OPEN COUN­TRY

A NEW SQUIR­REL HUNTER re­cently told me that he had been out­smarted by squir­rels for three days in a row. I would have called BS on this had he not added that he only started squir­rel hunt­ing three days ago. That’s par for the course.

Frankly, I have been out­smarted by squir­rels my whole life.

I started squir­rel hunt­ing when I got my first air ri­fle as a kid. Back in those days, it was ba­si­cally pest con­trol, mean­ing that my mom and dad wanted my brother and me out of the house.

I was tasked with spend­ing my sum­mer try­ing to keep squir­rels from dec­i­mat­ing my dad’s prized pear tree. To ac­com­plish this, my brother and I made a blind un­der a pic­nic ta­ble in the yard and shot any squir­rel that showed up on our side of the tree. That is to say we shot no squir­rels.

The end re­sult was that we spent the bet­ter part of a sum­mer un­der a pic­nic ta­ble – which meant mom and the squir­rels al­ways knew where we were. For a while dad thought we did a good job of pro­tect­ing his fruit trees too, right un­til he looked at each pear on the far side of the tree.

Th­ese days, I hunt squir­rels dif­fer­ently – pri­mar­ily be­cause it’s tir­ing to carry a pic­nic ta­ble through the woods. Other­wise, it’s very much the same. The squir­rels are on one side of the tree and I am on the other.

If you think about this, it’s strange: one of the an­i­mals has a well-de­vel­oped, log­i­cal brain and the other hunts squir­rels. If the

hunter in ques­tion had any sense at all, he would leave the squir­rels alone and hunt some­thing that had a com­pa­ra­ble IQ – for in­stance, mush­rooms or tree bark.

Hav­ing ac­knowl­edged that, I still en­joy hunt­ing east­ern gray squir­rels be­cause they present quite a chal­lenge and are ac­tu­ally pretty good food as far as small game goes. Also, I am hop­ing that one day I will run into a stupid one.

You do get those on oc­ca­sion – pro­vided that oc­ca­sion is right af­ter you un­loaded.

In the U.S. where squir­rel hunt­ing is ex­tremely pop­u­lar, they have spring and fall sea­sons – and, as you might imag­ine, a lot of hunters with very low self­es­teem. How cagey are they? De­spite the gen­er­ous hunt­ing sea­sons, no con­ser­va­tion group or wildlife agency has ever had to worry about their num­bers go­ing down.

In fact I once read a book on squir­rel bi­ol­ogy that sug­gested that, for ev­ery one squir­rel you see, you prob­a­bly walk by ten. Those ones are qui­etly laugh­ing at you.

De­spite this, some­times the stars align or you lap a squir­rel by chas­ing it around a tree trunk. On those days you come home with a fine small game an­i­mal that is lo­cally grown and eats good food such as nuts, seeds and fruit. If you are a fly tyer or sim­ply want to sur­prise your spouse by spruc­ing up her hat, you also get a nice tail out of the deal.

Even so, squir­rel hunters are still a rare breed in this prov­ince. I think their sense of sur­vival and skill at eva­sion is prob­a­bly the main rea­son squir­rel hunt­ing hasn’t gained pop­u­lar­ity in On­tario.

Maybe, it also had the fact that we have way too many trees.

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