Jim Chap­man points out some sub­tle but im­por­tant hunt­ing dif­fer­ences

Jim Chap­man tells us why we need to adapt to our chal­lenges

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Isat at the base of a pe­can tree and waited for the fox squir­rels to come in and be­gan the feast. It was early morn­ing and as the sun started it’s climb, I saw the first squir­rel mov­ing through the or­chard. When he paused at 40 yards out, I laid the cross hairs on his head, squeezed the trig­ger, and watched the tree rat hit the ground. With any luck, I hoped to bag a cou­ple dozen be­fore the day ended.

I sat at the base of an oak tree and waited to am­bush a fox squir­rel as it came in to eat. It was early morn­ing, and as the sun started it’s climb, I saw a squir­rel mak­ing his ap­proach through the for­est canopy. When he paused at 40 yards out, I laid the cross hairs on his head, squeezed the trig­ger, and watched the wary bushy­tail hit the ground. With any luck I might get my limit of five be­fore the day ended.

These two scenarios rep­re­sent sim­i­lar events, with a sub­tle yet im­por­tant dif­fer­ence; in the first I am out do­ing pest con­trol at a farmer’s or­chard. In the sec­ond, I’m in the woods in pur­suit of one of our most pop­u­lar small game species, and in both cases, the species I’m af­ter is the fox squir­rel, the largest and one of the most adapt­able tree squir­rels found in North Amer­ica. So, what is the real dif­fer­ence in these en­coun­ters, be­sides a slight vari­a­tion in the set­tings?

THE DIF­FER­ENCE

I was chat­ting with a friend who is a fa­nat­i­cal deer hunter, and men­tioned that I wished deer sea­son would soon be over be­cause it in­ter­fered with my squir­rel hunts. His re­sponse was that he of­ten shot tree rats around his lit­tle hobby farm be­cause they were a pest, but couldn’t quite see them as a ‘real’ game an­i­mal wor­thy of pur­suit. It got me think­ing about how I viewed squir­rel hunt­ing, and more­over the dif­fer­ence be­tween pest con­trol and small game hunt­ing, above and beyond

le­gal con­sid­er­a­tions.

In the first ex­am­ple, the squir­rel is caus­ing fi­nan­cial dam­age to crops, and is le­gally clas­si­fied by Fish and Game ser­vices as a pest species. This means they can be taken at any time, by any means, and in any num­bers. The ob­jec­tive in the set­ting of pest con­trol is ei­ther to ex­ter­mi­nate the species, se­verely cur­tail its pop­u­la­tion, or a more tar­geted re­moval from a spe­cific ecosys­tem.

In the sec­ond sce­nario, which could take place in a for­est a mile down the road from that or­chard, the squir­rel is a na­tive species and an in­te­gral part of the ecosys­tem. Wildlife man­agers have de­ter­mined on a re­gional scale that a cer­tain per­cent­age of this pop­u­la­tion should be re­moved by hunters. As an in­dige­nous species in a nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, it is the role of hunters to en­sure that a healthy bal­ance and sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion is main­tained. There­fore, the species – squir­rels in this case – are clas­si­fied as game an­i­mals. They have a sea­son, usu­ally to give pro­tec­tion dur­ing breed­ing pe­ri­ods when they are most vul­ner­a­ble, there are lim­its in­sti­tuted to main­tain the op­ti­mal cull rate, and there are spec­i­fied meth­ods of take.

REG­U­LA­TIONS

There are other species that share this pest/small game du­al­ity; rab­bits, doves, geese, and some species such as fox and racoons, which can be clas­si­fied as pest (varmint) or furbear­ers, depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion. For the sake of our pur­poses, it’s fair to say that the reg­u­la­tory pro­tec­tions pro­vided to furbear­ers are equiv­a­lent to those of­fered small game species. As I’ve men­tioned in past ar­ti­cles, there are fed­eral reg­u­la­tions and each state – and some­times lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions – have their own reg­u­la­tions, so you need to be cog­nisant of the rel­e­vant laws.

There are caveats; in many states, if you are tak­ing a game species as a pest be­cause it is caus­ing eco­nomic dam­age, you need ei­ther to own the prop­erty, work for the prop­erty owner, or have proof that you are serv­ing in the ca­pac­ity of an agent

for the landowner. This is clearly de­fined in each state’s hunt­ing reg­u­la­tions, al­though there can be some am­bi­gu­ity. There are also mech­a­nisms in place (depre­da­tion per­mits) to al­low al­most any an­i­mal that has be­come a nui­sance species in a par­tic­u­lar area to be re­moved, re­gard­less of their game sta­tus, such as deer herds over­pop­u­lat­ing an agri­cul­tural area. As an ex­am­ple, a farmer suf­fer­ing loss due to an over­pop­u­la­tion of deer might be is­sued depre­da­tion per­mits to re­move an ex­tra 20 deer from his prop­erty, which will su­per­sede the stand­ing Fish and Game reg­u­la­tions.

PRI­MARY OB­JEC­TIVE

What I find in­ter­est­ing is the sub­tle shift in mind­set be­tween pest con­trol and small game hunt­ing. I’ve no­ticed in hunt­ing lit­er­a­ture that the squir­rel is some­times de­picted as a vile lit­tle tree- dwelling rat, whilst at other times it is el­e­vated to the level of a no­ble, ar­bo­real stag, that is a wary and wor­thy quarry. Per­son­ally, I think of squir­rel hunt­ing as be­ing more akin to deer hunt­ing, than to shoot­ing rats at a lo­cal dairy farm, and there are mul­ti­ple rea­sons for this; I know that when hunt­ing the small game squir­rel, I will be in a more nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment in the role of a preda­tor. I know that my field work must be on point, and that it will prob­a­bly be harder to get a shot op­por­tu­nity. Fur­ther I un­der­stand that there is an ex­pec­ta­tion that the an­i­mal be har­vested and utilised – wast­ing a game an­i­mal is il­le­gal in most states. It is my be­lief that when an an­i­mal is killed, pro­cessed, and con­sumed, it im­parts a value that is ab­sent or ob­scured when the an­i­mal is sim­ply killed and dis­carded.

When hunt­ing a pest species, the sole ob­jec­tive is to erad­i­cate or se­verely re­duce the num­ber of a ‘prob­lem’ species. When shoot­ing squir­rels that have truly be­come a prob­lem, I will take a chest shot know­ing that it will kill the an­i­mal, but per­haps not an im­me­di­ate kill. This is be­cause the kill is the whole point of this ex­er­cise, and the re­sult of not culling it through shoot­ing is to set traps or lay poi­sons, nei­ther of which pro­vides a cleaner ter­mi­na­tion. There is no de­sire to in­flict un­nec­es­sary pain on any an­i­mal, but when viewed in con­text, the re­moval of the pest an­i­mal is the pri­mary ob­jec­tive. How­ever, if in the woods on a small game hunt, I might well pass on the shot if ev­ery­thing does not fall into place.

FIELD SKILL

The rea­son I pre­fer small game hunt­ing over a pest con­trol shoot is that when go­ing af­ter squir­rel as a pest species on a farm or in­dus­trial area, it has a more mun­dane feel to it. Even if essen­tially the same ac­tiv­ity, head­ing into the woods on a small game hunt has more the feel of an out­door ad­ven­ture. Pack­ing gear for an overnight trip or in case I get stuck in the woods longer than an­tic­i­pated, plan­ning out a route and mak­ing sure there is enough food and wa­ter to see me through, makes it more of the out­door ex­pe­ri­ence I want.

This is the rea­son I get as ex­cited about a small game hunt for squir­rel or rab­bit as when go­ing af­ter big game; the an­i­mal be­ing hunted is only one part of the equa­tion. Trekking through the woods on snow­shoes to hunt and set­ting up a camp along the way, for ex­am­ple, is the foun­da­tion of the ad­ven­ture for me. Scout­ing the area for game sign, pat­tern­ing the an­i­mal to de­ter­mine where it feeds, wa­ters, or beds down, is the test of field skill. Spot­ting the prey be­fore it spots me, clos­ing the dis­tance, set­ting up the shot, and hold­ing down the adrenalin rush to place the shot is the essence of the hunt. My sense of the ‘right way’ to hunt small game is that I go on foot and con­cern my­self with the stalk rather than the out­come. For pest con­trol on the other hand, I’ll use any tool or method that gets re­sults – shoot­ing out of a ve­hi­cle, for in­stance.

So, get­ting back to the orig­i­nal ques­tion, how do I see the dif­fer­ence be­tween pest con­trol and small game hunt­ing? The an­swer I’ve ar­rived at is that in pest con­trol, the ob­jec­tive is to cull as many of the tar­geted species as pos­si­ble and in do­ing so pro­vid­ing a ser­vice to the landowner – re­sults are crit­i­cally im­por­tant. For small game, it’s about the ex­pe­ri­ence; hav­ing a small ad­ven­ture, test­ing field skills that don’t get used enough, pick­ing the per­fect shot, not to men­tion adding some meat to the larder, but the ac­tual kill is less im­por­tant than the hunt. As a rule, I find the small game hunt more dif­fi­cult be­cause it takes place in ar­eas where squir­rel pop­u­la­tions are lower, the ter­rain more dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate, and where the an­i­mals that are not ha­bit­u­ated to the prox­im­ity of man. At the same time, by de­fo­cus­ing on the re­sult, it makes the hunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence more en­joy­able and more sat­is­fy­ing.

MAIN: Pest con­trol takes place where you can eas­ily get back to the truck

IN­SET: A fox squir­rel can quickly ac­cli­ma­tise to hu­mans, but in the woods they are very wary

LEFT: A sim­ple squir­rel and ra­men soup in the field turns a small game hunt into an ad­ven­ture!

ABOVE: The gear I al­ways carry in­cludes bi­nos, a rangefinder, pel­lets, and a call

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