‘Travel light’ says Jim Chap­man, and ad­vises on how to do just that

Air Gunner - - Contents -

As I’ve men­tioned to Air Gun­ner read­ers in the past, that grey squir­rel pest in the UK is a small game an­i­mal in most of the USA. Squir­rel hunt­ing on this side of the pond was his­tor­i­cally the gate­way to hunt­ing, for young out­doors­men on their way to big­ger quarry. More­over, un­til the ‘60s and ‘70s, deer and turkey pop­u­la­tions were rel­a­tively low across the coun­try, and squir­rels of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to hunters at a time when not too many op­tions were avail­able, but with the abun­dance of deer and turkey to­day, many hunters leapfrog di­rectly into big- game hunt­ing. With each suc­ces­sive year, fewer squir­rel hunters hit the field in the more deer- rich states. In Min­nesota where I live, the num­ber of squir­rel hunters has dropped from an av­er­age of 60,000 to 40,000 per year. At the same time, there has been an ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in the num­ber of big- game hunters af­ter deer, turkey, bear, and preda­tors. In my view, this is a tremen­dous waste of hunt­ing op­por­tu­nity.

Even though I spend many days in the field af­ter big game ev­ery year, I look forward to the open­ing of squir­rel sea­son with keen an­tic­i­pa­tion! I find the time in the woods chas­ing bushy­tails with an air ri­fle just as re­ward­ing and chal­leng­ing as when out for big game be­cause there are ad­van­tages with small game species; gen­er­ous daily lim­its, long sea­sons, and vir­tu­ally

“the state for­est I’m hunt­ing next week is 49,000 acres of woods and marshes”

un­lim­ited places to hunt. I of­ten hunt on pri­vate prop­er­ties these days, hav­ing cul­ti­vated many per­mis­sions over the years. This al­lows me to hunt in un­pres­sured ar­eas to which a lot of hunters don’t have ac­cess . One of the most com­mon ques­tions I’m asked is where and how to hunt when one does not have ac­cess to pri­vate prop­er­ties. This year, I’ve de­cided to hunt pub­lic lands as much as pos­si­ble, and along the way ex­plain how I use In­ter­net ac­cess, state wildlife re­sources, and Google maps for vir­tual ex­plo­ration of new hunt­ing ar­eas be­fore I put boots on the ground. I found an iso­lated place up north us­ing these tech­niques, and last week, I took the three­hour drive to a remote State For­est to scout the woods in ad­vance of open­ing day.


Mov­ing from smaller pri­vate prop­er­ties to these large tracts of pub­lic land has re­quired adap­ta­tion, not only in tech­nique, but also in the gear that goes into my back­pack. When hunt­ing on a lo­cal farm, I pack light – in an area of a cou­ple hun­dred acres of for­est, dot­ted with trails and fences, the truck or a farm­house is never too far away, but the state for­est I’m hunt­ing next week is 49,000 acres of woods and marshes. It would be pos­si­ble to get lost for an ex­tended pe­riod of time in these dense woods, and with change­able early fall weather, that could end up be­ing quite un­com­fort­able. An­other fac­tor to con­sider is that hik­ing these large ar­eas means I won’t get back to the ve­hi­cle at fre­quent in­ter­vals, so what­ever equip­ment might be needed must be packed in. On the other hand, this is only a day hunt for squir­rels, so you don’t want to be loaded down like you’re head­ing off on a week- long elk hunt, ei­ther. It’s a bal­ance to an­tic­i­pate what might be needed with­out car­ry­ing a back- break­ing load. So, let’s look at the con­tents of my pack. Some of it is ubiq­ui­tous and al­ways car­ried re­gard­less of what, when and where I’m hunt­ing, but some of it is more spe­cific for more remote hunts.


I opted for a larger 2200 cu inch Field and Stream camo back­pack, rather than the much smaller mes­sen­ger bags I usu­ally carry when squir­rel hunt­ing. This pack has sev­eral ac­ces­si­ble pock­ets, ex­ter­nal pouches, and strate­gi­cally po­si­tion straps and tie- downs. I found spe­cific pock­ets for each bit of gear based on fit, weight dis­tri­bu­tion and how of­ten and quickly I might need to ac­cess it. My binoc­u­lars went into a front pocket that can be reached with­out dis­mount­ing the pack, al­though I also have a strap that can be used when on the move. The rangefinder is in a small side pocket that is a bit less eas­ily reached, my ra­tio­nale be­ing that I will gen­er­ally be sta­tion­ary when it comes into use. Shoot­ing sticks ride in an open side pouch on the side of the pack, strapped in place, and can be ac­cessed and de­ployed quite quickly as I drop the pack and get ready to shoot.

A qual­ity sheath knife can go on a belt, but I don’t use it all that of­ten and pre­fer to leave it in a side pocket. A small sharp­en­ing rod is also car­ried so that I can hone the edge when it comes time to process the kill. My pre­ferred means of car­ry­ing squir­rels is us­ing a slip- noose game car­rier orig­i­nally

de­signed for bird hunters, but I find it’s great for small mam­malian game as well. The car­rier is clipped to a tie- down strap with a cara­bi­neer when on the move.

A squir­rel call of­ten goes into the pack, but not al­ways. Call­ing is one of those tech­niques: of­ten it’s of no demon­stra­ble use, but at other times it is a game changer. Early in the sea­son, when there is an abun­dance of young squir­rels, call­ing can bring squir­rels into range or bring them out of hid­ing. I use a bel­lows- style call that can be made to chat­ter or bark, or if blown into, gen­er­ates a baby squir­rel dis­tress call. Us­ing the dis­tress squeal whilst brush­ing the ground with a leafy branch can drive adult squir­rels wild at times.


I don’t typ­i­cally carry a sidearm with me when small- game hunt­ing, but tim­ber wolves and bears in­habit this par­tic­u­lar for­est; these an­i­mals are most of­ten no threat, but both can be, and since I am on my own, I pre­fer to err on the side of cau­tion. I take my four- inch .38 loaded with + P am­mu­ni­tion. If noth­ing else I can use it for a two- shot dis­tress call if things head south. I keep this lit­tle re­volver loaded and hol­stered on my belt for fast ac­cess – it will prob­a­bly never be needed, but if it is, the sit­u­a­tion will prob­a­bly be time- sen­si­tive.

An­other bit of gear not fre­quently car­ried is a Garmin Etrex 20x GPS. When you hike deep into these Mid­west woods, the land­scape is flat and the fo­liage thick. Af­ter hik­ing a cou­ple miles in and hav­ing been fo­cused on fol­low­ing the sounds of squir­rels cut­ting high up in the trees, it’s al­ways a bit dis­heart­en­ing to dis­cover that ev­ery di­rec­tion looks the same and you can’t see the sky, or 40 feet ahead. I’ve never been lost, but have been se­ri­ously con­fused for a few hours at a time. This lit­tle elec­tronic gizmo is a great back- up to my com­pass. In all my years of hunt­ing, fish­ing, and back­pack­ing I’ve only been stuck out overnight a hand­ful of times, but it’s never fun when forced on you, and if this even­tu­al­ity should arise, I’m pre­pared with both a down jacket and emer­gency kit deep in the main com­part­ment of the pack. The jacket is feath­er­weight and crushes down to al­most noth­ing in size, but it keeps me warm even when it’s snow­ing. The emer­gency kit is a gal­lon zip- lock bag with three smaller zip- lock bags in­side; one con­tains food, one has fire- starters, weath­er­proof matches, a space blan­ket, plas­tic tarp’, and one has toi­letries. A cou­ple of wa­ter bot­tles slip into a side pocket, but there are streams here and I have a pu­ri­fier straw in the kit.

I fig­ure that this load- out con­tains all that is re­quired to be suc­cess­ful on the hunt, and sup­port me if/ when things go wrong. I didn’t men­tion it pre­vi­ously, but to ac­cess this for­est area and max­imise time for both hunt­ing and scout­ing, I’ll be camp­ing out for the week­end. In next month’s ar­ti­cle, I’ll tell you how it all worked out.

“I’ve only been stuck out overnight a hand­ful of times, but it’s never fun when forced on you”

Car­ry­ing a light com­pact ri­fle like the Bro­cock Com­patto, helps to off­set the added weight in my hunt­ing pack

BE­LOW: Ev­ery item has a pocket and goes into the same pocket ev­ery­time. This al­lows me to ac­cess gear quickly, even in the dark

ABOVE: I like a head­lamp when on the move but a high in­ten­sity flash­light gives more range

ABOVE: An emer­gency kit will keep me fed, hy­drated, warm, and clean if I get stuck out longer than an­tic­i­pated

BE­LOW: Shoot­ing sticks, a call, and a game car­rier help me get the game back to camp

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