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Of squirrels, canopies and undergrowth: Savoring a Sunday mornin’ coming down; plus Stray Cast

Touches of Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Steven Rinella and Kevin Murphy dot a Sunday morning, loosely defined as squirrel hunting; plus the Stray Cast.

City squirrels, such as this one, are much more apt to pause and pose than their wilder country relatives. Credit: Dale Bowman
City squirrels, such as this one, are much more apt to pause and pose than their wilder country relatives.
Dale Bowman

BEAVERVILLE, Ill. When I asked Illinois wild-turkey project leader Luke Garver if he had any great methods for cleaning squirrels, he replied: ‘‘I was raised on the ‘tail method’ of squirrel cleaning. I’ve found this video to be a pretty great explanation of the process with good attention to detail. But I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never made it look as easy as these guys do.’’

I’ve never made it look that easy, either. In fact, difficulty cleaning squirrels is one reason I rarely hunt them.

But MeatEater’s Steven Rinella and Kevin Murphy do make it look easy. (It’s a game-cleaning video, so it’s not for the squeamish.)

On Sunday, I made a change and put in a few hours for the first time in years. More accurately, I sat and savored a summer morning coming down at Iroquois County State Wildlife Area.

Squirrel hunting in Illinois, for gray and fox squirrels only, began Aug. 1. Many public sites don’t open for squirrel hunting until September. Iroquois is a rare one to open right away.

At first, even though I was coated in 40% DEET spray, mosquitoes buzzed all available skin. As I paid less attention to the mosquitoes, I heard crows caw in the distance, gray catbirds meow (always wanted to write that), blue jays squawk, robins chirp and a couple of woodpeckers hammer away. I hoped they were red-headed ones, but I never saw any of them to confirm either way. A couple of deer, out of sight in the thick vegetation, snorted at me.

August isn’t great for squirrel hunting — too much ground vegetation and the canopy is too dense — but it was good to be out.

August is not an ideal time to hunt squirrels, too much undergrowth and too dense canopies, as shown here Sunday at Iroquois County State Wildlife Area. Credit: Dale Bowman
August is not an ideal time to hunt squirrels, too much undergrowth and too dense canopies, as shown here Sunday at Iroquois County State Wildlife Area.
Dale Bowman

I heard two squirrels messing around high in the canopy but never saw them. Birds were so active that I pulled up the Merlin bird app for its sound ID and added wood thrush, eastern screech owl (around dawn), eastern wood-pewee and eastern towhee.

All in all, it was a glorious morning.

Squirrels cross over rural and urban areas in Illinois, but country squirrels sure act wilder than their city relatives.

‘‘Statewide, both gray and fox squirrel populations are very stable in Illinois,’’ Garver emailed. ‘‘They can certainly be correlated to mast crop, but mast crop can vary widely, depending on location and species of mast producer. And in Illinois, squirrels have the added benefit of corn and soybeans that insulate them from wider swings in population than they may see otherwise.

‘‘A previous study attempted to tie squirrel harvest to mast crops in Illinois and wasn’t able to find a strong correlation because of the confounding factors of a large squirrel population, a shrinking squirrel-hunter population and a surplus of waste grain.’’

The rise of the focus on deer hunting has nearly mirrored the fall in squirrel-hunting effort.

As the morning wore on, the wind picked up, whispering, ‘‘Mary,’’ I think. That reminded me: It was time. I needed to be home in time for church.

Some other time, I again might test the magical ‘‘tail method.’’

Ike

Michael ‘‘Ike’’ Iaconelli won the Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series event Saturday on the upper Chesapeake Bay. It was his first pro kayak tournament victory and gave him a historic ‘‘win at every level of adult Bassmaster competition,’’ according to B.A.S.S.

Stray cast

Winning $10 in a big-fish pot could be a Hamilton for a Goodwin.