Morning Hunt

Morning Hunt

I think as hunters we like to do the type of hunting that best fits our personalities.

I’m restless and can’t sit still, so I’m drawn to upland game and squirrel hunting.

I’ve tried quite a few other things.

I hunted deer in Virginia years ago. Had to do it from a ground blind because of back issues that tell me I can go sit in a deer stand as long as I don’t mind sitting up there forever after my back goes out on me. I did get a deer, but I’m sure I would have had even more success if I didn’t keep getting up, walking back and forth and overall making enough of a commotion that let every deer within a hundred yards of me know exactly where I was.

I’ve gone waterfowl hunting in blinds out on the Kankakee and the Fox Rivers, as well as a place whose name I can no longer recall. The blind on the Fox is out on a pretty good sized island and I now know the look and feel of just about every square yard of that island. It seemed like every 15 minutes I had to get the hell out of the blind. It doesn’t help being slightly claustrophobic. I also found out that other hunters in the area don’t appreciate it when you blast out songs on a duck call. I didn’t know they can do that. I liked the sound.

I learned a good part of an island out on the Kankakee River years ago. Most of my time on the trips to the Kank were spent constantly rearranging the goose and duck decoys for better photo opportunities.

Some look pretty darn good.

At the place where I can no longer recall the name, I do remember being chastised for whining as bad as the bored Lab that was off in the corner of the blind.

From the Duck Blind

From the Duck Blind

I got to try dove hunting years ago, which opens on September 1st. Both times I went the temperature was in the 80s. I can’t think of anything more boring than sitting on the edge of a field in a sweltering sun for an off chance to shoot at a dove. During a break on one of the dove hunts, I wandered off to do some squirrel hunting, which was also open then. That’s how I found out that I don’t like hunting in the woods when it’s over 80 degrees and the trees and underbrush are thick and dense. I did manage to get a couple of squirrels by sheer luck. When I got them back to the car, the squirrels had started to cool down and the fleas were abandoning them like a sinking ship. Another reason why I don’t hunt them that time of year.

I also got to do some turkey hunting out in Virginia. I never have tried it in Illinois. In Illinois you’re pretty much limited to using shotguns for the bulk of your hunting opportunities. In Virginia, you can use a rifle for just about anything. To this end, my friend Tom Chamberlain let me use his old Savage Anschutz bolt action, .22 magnum with a 5 round clip. It also had a very nice scope. I got very good at shooting it.

For some reason, sitting still to wait for the turkey didn’t bother me as much. I was out in the open on a nice cool day, not confined to a small room with a hole in it.

When the turkey finally showed, I lined up a perfect head shot and squeezed the trigger. The gun didn’t go off, but the bolt shot out and hit me in the face. The turkey didn’t notice, so I quickly put the gun back together, lined up another shot and pulled the trigger again. I never expected the same end result as the first try, which was a wrong assumption to make. The bolt jumped out and hit me in the face again. I now appreciate the merits of keeping a gun clean much more than I did back then.

I did learn one important thing out in Virginia, don’t hunt squirrels at close range with a .22 magnum if you actually want to have squirrel for dinner.

Sunrise

Sunrise

The first weekend in November marks the beginning of the upland game season here in Illinois. By that time, we’ve had a couple of hard frosts, a lot of the bugs have started to die off, the leaves are almost all off the trees and the temperature at best will be around 50 degrees. There are a number of species you can start hunting on that day, but the two I prefer are pheasant and rabbit. For me, the start of the upland game season is also the start of the squirrel hunting season. I’ve given up on the earlier, warmer months.

Hunting for pheasant and rabbit suits me perfectly. Constantly walking, crisscrossing back and forth across fields and through woods and never really stopping for very long. I do almost the same thing for squirrels. I wander slowly through the woods, but I will stop now and then, usually for no more than 20 minutes. By then, if a squirrel is around there’s a good chance it will show itself. When I do get a chance to get off a shot, odds are I’ll hit the squirrel and not trim all the leaves off a tree.

The place I go to hunt supposedly has all three of these creatures, but in almost 10 years of hunting here I’ve seen two rabbits and I’ve heard rumors of a couple of pheasant. The coyotes rule these woods and I think that unless it could fly or climb trees, it’s pretty much dinner for the coyotes. I keep hoping I’ll randomly stumble upon a bunny or a bird, but I have a feeling I’ll pass on the shot.

What if they’re the last ones?

For squirrel hunting, you can’t beat this area. The terrain is just rugged enough to offer a challenge to your legs, you’ll soon find out how in shape you really are. Woods seem to go on forever and there are plenty of walnut trees, oak trees and squirrel nests that continuously raise your hopes in spotting a squirrel. A nameless creek meanders through steep ravines and the squirrels seem to like to hang out within easy reach of something to drink. You have no choice but to follow prey down to the floor of the ravine, most times against your better judgement.

On sunny days, it’s easy to keep your bearings and know which directions to head while wandering the woods. On those cloudy overcast days, I’ve trudged through the snow endlessly only to come upon another set of footprints. Poor lost mope, is what went through my head. Then I lifted my foot to look at my sole, it was me. I was hopelessly lost and walking in circles. You would think I might have learned to carry a compass after that experience, but I don’t.

I stopped going out fishing at sunrise a few years ago when I noticed it didn’t matter. Either the fish were there or they weren’t, no different than any other time of the day. I learned the same thing about squirrels a few years ago. Yet, for some reason, I still feel the need to be out at sunrise to go for a squirrel hunt. I think the main reason for being out there so early is for the sunrises.

It’s definitely not for the squirrels. They’re lazy, they get up and about when they feel like it. On this hunt I timed them. I saw three, the first at 9 AM, the second at 11:15 AM and the last was at 12:15 PM.

Hardly worth being out there so early, except, of course, for the sunrise.

Ken Gortowski

Ken Gortowski

 

Author - Ken fishes, hunts and wanders within easy reach of Chicago. He fishes mainly rivers, primarily the Fox River, and the writing is less about the “how” and more about the “why” of being out there. The same goes for the hunting, while the wandering sometimes gets him lost. But then, that’s part of the fun. You can follow along with him on his blog Waterdog Journal