Back when I was a youngster in the heavily wooded hills of southern Ohio, there were only three animals to hunt when fall rolled around, squirrels, rabbits, and ruffed grouse, though we did bounce an occasional covey of bobwhite quail.  So, the opening of squirrel season was an eagerly awaited affair, and we hunted them in the traditional manner, easing into the timber before dawn and sitting quietly here and there in groves of pignut or shagbark hickories.

But late season when the leaves had fallen and the trees reasonably bare was our favorite time, because then we could gather up the family squirrel dog and do some fun hunting.  In those days, most of the farms along little rural roads had a squirrel dog, and nearly all were mixed bloods, usually with a little coon hound, some beagle, and maybe terrier or cur or all of the above.  My uncle’s dog was a nondescript little mongrel named Febe, and when conditions were right, he’d  call me and a couple of brothers and come good daylight we’d line out along some hillside and start walking.

No slipping in before dawn now, no silent treading, just stroll along, laugh, talk, tell stories and shoot at the occasional grouse while Febe hurried here and there until she found a fresh track.  Then she’d bark treed and watch the treetop.  If the squirrel jumped out, she moved with it, and moved again.  All we had to do was surround the last tree and look for a patch of fur on a high limb. If my uncle and I were hunting alone, the squirrel would often stay on the trunk, moving around to the opposite side as we checked the tree.  Then one of us would back off a little and wait, while the other walked around.  When the squirrel slipped around to the standers side, he was in the game pouch.  Easy hunting and productive.

Squirrel hunting with a dog is almost a vanishing sport up here, though it’s still a major activity further south in Kentucky and West Virginia clear down to Alabama and Georgia.  And I think readers would truly enjoy trying this “new” activity.  You’ll need a dog first, and the easiest way to get one is to buy it.  Any hunting dog magazine should have ads for squirrel dogs, which will be shipped to your address, and a check of the web (Google?) will turn up literally hundreds of sites for these smart little animals.

I found Squirrel Dog Central which has lots of information on such dogs and offers 38 breeds for sale from mountain curs to American squirrel dogs.  The Bayou State Squirrel Dog Association was there, and there were even books like Squirrel Dog Basics – A Guide to Hunting Squirrels With Dogs at  E-Bay had more books and videos.

Probably the most challenging way to go is to get a pup from the dog pound and train him or her yourself.  There’s general agreement that the best dogs are 30 pounds or less, and either feists or curs with a little hound or beagle blood.  You’re looking for a pup that’s alert and lively, quick to come to you and not cower at the back of the cage, something with the spark of intelligence in its eyes.  But you don’t want serious coonhounds because while these can be trained to track a squirrel and tree it, their nose is too good, and squirrels can do a lot of meandering around in a morning before you arrive.

Better to have one with limited scenting abilities that will go only after fresh tracks, and better yet if it won’t bark until it hits the tree, giving squirrels little time to reach a den.  And you want one that stays fairly close.  If you have to cross two hills to find the dog, you’ll waste a lot of hours for one kill.  It might take several pups to find a good one, but you’ll learn too, as you introduce it to squirrels, first dead and trailed on a string for him to track, then later in the woods as the animal begins to understand what you want.  Again, it’s a fun way of hunting, and squirrel dogs traditionally make fine family pets in the off season.  They’re also good training models for kids going with you to sample the sport without any need to get up early and stumble through brush.  Those are prime reasons to own one of these fine animals.

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