Have you ever had a day afield, where you were less focused on hunting, and more just about enjoying a nice stroll in the woods? Well, that's the kind of day I had on my last trip out.
I grabbed my Forest Service map of the area, and picked a road I had never been down before, to explore. One of the things that interested me, was the fact that there were two game tanks in the area, that were about 600 to 700 yards apart. They can be fun to hunt around, because where there's water, many times, there is a variety of critter activity.
The area I was headed to, was a little over four miles from the pavement. The drive in was beautiful. The Gambel Oaks have changed color, and are dropping their leaves in bunches, while most of the Aspen have already shed theirs.
When I got to the area, I was going to spend the day in, I drove past the first game tank, and headed for the second one. I really liked the area. It was fairly flat with a large park/meadow in the center of it, surrounded by some nice old growth Ponderosa Pines.
I drove past the second game tank a few hundred yards, and pulled into the forest just off the road. This area is where I would spend the next four or five hours hunting a little, and hanging around a lot.
The first thing I did was to get out my folding canvas chair, sit awhile, and eat a half a sandwich. Something about fresh mountain air, sunshine, and bouncing down a 4x4 track that makes me hungry.
As I was munching on my Subway foot long, I could hear a woodpecker hard at work on a nearby tree. I decided, that after I finished my half a sandwich, that I would check it out and see what this guy was about.
As I was eating my sandwich, I was also regularly visited by big yellow hornets. They look a lot like yellow jackets, only about two and a half times bigger. Aggressive suckers too. I think they were after the meat in my foot long sub.
Well, little did I know at the time, but about twenty yards behind me, and about thirty feet up in a tree, was their hive.
First off, it took a tremendous amount of self control, to not give in to my inner twelve year old, and stick a few pellets into that thing, just to see, "WHAT WOULD HAPPEN." One of the advantages of growing older, with some of lifes experiences under your belt is, I already knew, "WHAT WOULD HAPPEN" and it ain't pretty.
Secondly, I made an executive decision to move my operation on down the road another hundred yards or so. I didn't want one of their young dummies to get some other young dummies together, and go, hey guys, what say about a thousand of us jump this guys butt and see, "WHAT HAPPENS."
Before I left though, I decided to check out what this super industrious woodpecker was up to. I headed over toward the sound, and found an old dead snag that this guy was using for his food storage locker.
I'm looking at this and thinking, "dude, use more of the existing holes, save yourself a bunch of work." It's like he only gets paid for making new holes, not filling up old ones.
I went back to my vehicle and moved on down the road aways. I got all of my hunting gear out, and strapped it on, hung it on, and/or clipped it onto my torso, and headed over to the game tank.
My intention was to hunt in a big circle, around both tanks, and back to my vehicle. Roughly 1800 yards or so. Makes for a nice walk in the woods. As I'm approaching the tank, I can see that someone has mounted a tree stand next to it. This is the second time, while I've been hunting, that I have seen this at a game tank . You could tell it had been there a long time, and the Forest Service considers this to be abandoned property. I'm surprised someone hasn't cut it down, and claimed it as their own.
After looking the tree stand over, and taking a couple of pictures, I headed into the woods to see if I could find any Abert's tree squirrels. To be honest, I wasn't super intent on the hunting part. It was a gorgeous fall day, and I was just enjoying being out there in the serenity and solitude.
Once again, I was hunting with my .22 cal FX Whisper. Nice and light, very accurate, and just a great gun to be carrying on a day like this. It wasn't too long before I saw a squirrel making tracks through the tree tops. I gave a half hearted chase, for about forty yards, and gave it up. To much like work today.
I was almost down to the first game tank, and while I was glassing a cluster of old pines for squirrels, something caught my eye on an old Gambel Oak tree trunk. It was in the deep shade, and a little hard to make out. My laser r/f said it was 77 yards away. While I'm studying it through my binoculars, I realize that it is a squirrel, partially exposed, and resting in a cutout in the side of the tree.
His head, and about two thirds of his body, were sticking out of this hole in the side of the tree. Using some other trees for cover, I was able to close the distance to right at 50 yards. The oaks have pretty much all dropped their leaves, and the wind has scattered them all over the forest floor, so there was no way my stalk was in any way particularly quiet.
When I got to the last tree, that I was using for cover, I didn't really expect the squirrel to still be there, and I wasn't wrong. I snuck a quick peek, around the side of the tree, and sure enough the hole in the side of the oak is now empty. Well crap, I hate it when that happens. So, let's take a few minutes and glass the area, you just never know.
I almost immediately see that he has left that hole, and climbed up the trunk a bit higher. He's sitting on an old broken limb, facing to the right, but the way he is positioned, I do not have a clear head shot. I much prefer head shots, but will take what I can get. I set up for a heart lung shot, knowing that there is a real good chance that he is going to bolt at pellet impact. If I can catch one, or both shoulders, it's much less likely.
In the picture below, he was sitting on the broken branch, facing to the right, just below that round knob. His head was partially hidden by that dead stub of a branch that is sticking up.
I'm sighted in at 40 yards, so hold just a bit high over his shoulder, and launch the pellet. At impact, he's off to the races. I obviously missed the shoulders. He leaps from the oak into a pine that is right next to it. I rack the bolt, to chamber another pellet, and follow his path through my scope. Using a couple of branches, he crosses over that pine and jumps onto a limb from another pine tree next to the first one. About this time the wheels start to come off.
As he's making his way along that limb, he starts to wobble, and then his back feet slip off of the branch, leaving him hanging by his front feet only. I'm just about to send another pellet on its way, when he lets go and falls to the ground DRT. When I get over to him, I can see that the pellet caught him just behind the right shoulder, coming out at almost the same location behind the left shoulder. Turns out to be a nice young male.
I think what had happened with this old oak was, decades ago, when they were logging this area, they intended to harvest this oak, but when they made the cut that would cause the tree to drop where they wanted it to, they discovered that the tree was rotten inside, and not good for lumber. Over the years, the oak tried to heal the cut, but wasn't able to close the opening, and this squirrel, along with others before him I'm sure, found it a good place to build a nest.
I dropped him into my game bag, and made the turn to start hunting my way back to my vehicle. It's interesting to me, that in life, there's almost always the one percent that don't get the word. Wildflower season has been over here for weeks now, but as I'm hunting along, I spot this little beauty squeezing out one last bloom before surrendering to winter.
It was a fantastic day, roaming around in a high elevation mountain forest, and getting the squirrel was icing on the cake. You never know what you might find, or see, and that's a big part of the fun of being out there.
Here's an image from a couple of weeks ago. One of the things I love about hunting with many small bore airguns, is the lack of a muzzle blast, that puts every critter in the area on notice that you are there.
I had taken a tree squirrel, with my FX Whisper, about fifteen minutes before slipping up on these young ladies at about 35 yards. I was down wind, and they didn't have a clue that I was even there. Airgun hunting doesn't get much better than this.