A Muzzleloader Squirrel
Copyright 2006 by Junior Doughty

Click thumbnails for full size photos

Black Mountain Magnum 12 ga I woke on a cold morning in February, 2006, with a hunger for fried squirrel. I could visualize my plate—chunks of batter-dipped deep fried squirrel, dark brown gravy made with the frying pan leavings, and at least two big ol' cathead biscuits for sopping the gravy. Big ol' glass of ice cold buttermilk on the side.

And I wanted not just any fried squirrel. I wanted a tender young gray squirrel. Not a tough old fox squirrel. Besides, I'm single and a big fox squirrel has more than enough meat for one person. A small gray squirrel is perfect for one person.

My winter's hunting had produced zero game—worst season ever for me in the making meat part of hunting. I had missed four chances at deer due to bad luck, bad aim, and to a phenomenon known as buck fever, an affliction which makes marksmen normally able to hit beer cans at 100 yards unable to hit 200 lb deer at 50 yards. And ducks . . . well, a bone dry summer and fall made my normally full-of-ducks river bottom land into a duck-less land. I saw only two ducks all year—while deer hunting! My Thompson-Center Black Mountain Magnum 12 ga muzzleloading shotgun, shown above, was still loaded, but cap-less, and leaning in the corner where I had placed it after the last unsuccessful duck hunt of the season.

Click for full size popup photo But I hadn't squirrel hunted at all that season. Hummmm . . . I could replace the steel shot in the barrel with lead shot and make a fried squirrel dinner. . . .

So I removed the plastic wad and the steel shot. I seated a homemade dry beer-flat wad over the powder already in the barrel, then dumped in 1 1/4 oz of #4 lead shot, then seated a lubed beer-flat wad over the shot.

The barrel contained (a) powder; (b) dry over powder beer-flat wad; (c) 1 1/4 oz lead shot; and (d) lubed over shot beer-flat wad.

Here we see my homemade quick loader with lead shot in the shot container. I replaced the extra plastic wad in the clothespin part of the quick loader with a dry beer-flat over-powder wad, and I was in the muzzleloading shotgun squirrel hunting business.

But the ol' atomic clock on the wall read 28° and I was looking for the snailmail lady to bring me a letter from a pretty girl, so I decided to lollygag around for a while. Besides, my squirrel hunting woods were only a few yards from my front door. I planned to ease along the little creek in the front of my house down to where it ran in front of my sister's house. I'd hunted along that little creek since I was barely able to hold up a shotgun.

So I waited in the warmth beside my wood stove until the snailmail ran and the temperature rose. Across the road and beyond my mailbox the pine trees were covered in frost. They sparked like green crystal in the beams of the rising sun. I'd watch for the snailmail lady through the front door window for a minute, then return quickly to the wood stove. It was a cold morning. Brrrrr. . . .

Well, the snailmail lady brought me some bills, so about 9:30 am when the atomic clock read 40° I walked across the road and eased into the woods.

I was decked out in camo from head to toe, including a camo face mask making visible only an oval around my eyes. The shotgun hung ready at my side from one of my saddle ring slings. The shotgun's plastic stock was camo, and I had added strips of camo duct tape to the barrel. I reached the hardwoods near the little creek and began slowly making my way downstream, my hands in my coat pockets for warmth and the butt of the hanging shotgun snug under my right elbow.

When I stalk game, I move from tree to tree. I lean against a tree for perhaps five minutes, and I watch and listen and remain as motionless as possible. While leaned against a tree, I find the next tree and the quietest, easiest path to it. If the path looks cluttered with noise-producing dry twigs or fallen limbs, I find another tree, always looking for one no more than 20 feet away. Reaching it, I move to the shaded side, keeping my body in shadow.

So from tree to tree, I slipped through the woods and down the little creek. As the rising sun warmed the morning, melted frost dripped from the limbs above me and plopped around me and on me. The morning breeze began, chilling me, making me wish I was home and beside my wood stove. But the HeatMax chemical hand warmers in my coat pockets made those pockets little oases of warmth, removing the chill from my hands and fingers, the warmers in my boots doing the same to my toes. I continued my stalk, trying to forget the cold. It was late winter and, as most of the acorns had fallen from the oaks around me, my eyes watched the ground ahead, just occasionally glancing toward the tree tops. I saw nothing but birds.

I reached a stump at the edge of the creek and upon which I had sat many times. I sat on it again. I dug a cookie from the snack pocket of my camo cargo pants and ate it, then sipped water from my soft drink bottle canteen. Just across the creek stood a huge pine from which a fox squirrel had escaped me two years before. Just down and on my side of the creek stood a sweet gum tree in which a fox squirrel hid a few hours before it became squirrel n’ gravy.

My mind replayed those events as I sat and watched and listened. Finally, I grew tired of sitting, so I got up and resumed my slow stalk from tree to tree along the edge of the creek. About halfway between a lean-on tree and a prospective lean-on tree, I saw movement ahead and to my right. The movement became a deer. Then more movement became two more deer. They were about 75 yards away and slipping through the woods toward me.

I froze in place, like a camo statue standing in a little opening in the woods. Slowly they came closer and closer. Three does, I could easily see. On they came, silently. I suddenly remembered my camera inside a bag hanging at my left side. No way could I reach it without them seeing the movement. Damn!

Nose to tail like a three deer train, they came within 15 feet of me. They still had not seen me, like I was invisible. Then the lead doe smelled me and jumped backwards, instantaneously followed by the other two. About 20 yards away they skidded to a stop and nervously searched for me, their noses wrinkling as they sniffed the air. Their eyes looked not at me but off to my left toward the woods on the other side of the creek.

Then, they trotted away in the same direction from which they originally came. At almost the same spot where I first saw them, they stopped and turned toward me, looking, sniffing. The lead doe snorted and stomped the ground. Then again. So I snorted back at her and stomped the ground too.

Finally seeing me because of my sudden movement, they jumped backwards and ran, three white flags up and flashing. Then they stopped. Barely visible to me now through the bushes and further away, the lead doe stopped and snorted and stomped at me again. I snorted and stomped back at her. Back and forth we snorted and stomped. Finally, not alarmed at all and like making a detour around some strange thing they had seen and smelled in the woods, they strolled to my left and across my line of sight, hopped over the creek, then walked into a thicket on the other side and disappeared.

I stood there in awe of the encounter with Nature I had just experienced. Then I heard a noise to my right and turned my head. Down through the thicket between the creek and my sister's house came her big black mongrel dog. A mean looking thing, he was harmless. On he came, oblivious to my presence. When he reached the spot about 15 feet away where the deer had stopped, he sniffed around for a moment. I observed that one dog made far more noise in the dry leaves than did three deer.

He eventually stopped sniffing and tromping in leaves and continued on past me to the creek. Reaching the creek, he took several noisy gulps of water, then turned and started retracing his path home. And he suddenly saw me, and in one incredibly fast motion he jumped upwards, backwards, and sideways. Whoof, whoof, he barked at me when he recovered his senses.

Whoof, I answered, and he tucked tail and raced through the thicket toward home and safety.

I couldn't help but laugh out loud as he sped away. My laughing plus the barking had alerted every squirrel within 100 yards, so I eased over to a log and made myself comfortable while the woods returned to normal. I munched another cookie. I sipped some more water. I ate a package of cheese crackers. Sipped some more water. Maybe 10 minutes passed.

Suddenly I saw movement, off to my left and across the creek. The movement became the twitching tail of a gray squirrel on the side of a tree. Dinner!

Then the little squirrel hopped to the ground and scampered down a log and out of sight. I got to my feet and, shotgun at the ready, stalked after it. When I reached the log down which it had scampered I stopped and tried to become invisible again.

After a wait, I saw movement about 40 yards away near the top of a small pine tree. The movement became a big red fox squirrel performing maintenance on its nest. I eased closer, within shotgun range. I considered changing the dinner menu to fox squirrel simmered in gravy instead of fried gray squirrel. But, no, by golly, I wanted fried gray squirrel.

Keeping the fox squirrel to my left, I eased maybe 20 feet down the creek and, hopefully, another chance at the elusive gray squirrel. That dang varmint was right there somewhere, I knew.

The fox squirrel hopped out on a vacant limb and started chattering away at something, his beautiful red tail popping back and forth with every chatter. I thought he was cussing the three deer who had crossed the creek at almost that exact spot. I stood there and watched the thicket beyond the creek for another glimpse of the deer. Nothing. The fox squirrel continued chattering away. It was sure mad at something! Hey, maybe it's the gray squirrel!

I looked in the direction the fox squirrel looked. There on a limb about two trees away from the fox squirrel sat the gray squirrel, merrily munching on something and ignoring the fox squirrel. I judged the distance at 35 yards, past the sure kill range. I eased closer, the fox squirrel chattering and the gray squirrel munching. I liked being invisible.

As I reached firing range and prepared to raise the shotgun, the gray squirrel jumped onto the tree trunk and disappeared. As I silently cursed my bad luck and alternated between (1) wishing I had taken the 35 yard shot and (2) kissing my fried squirrel dinner goodbye, the gray squirrel jumped back onto the limb—thereby saving the fox squirrel from a pot of gravy. The gray squirrel went back to munching and, I swear, taunting the fox squirrel on purpose.

I raised the shotgun, and, aiming slightly above the gray squirrel so most of the pellets would miss it because I was actually too close, I squeezed the trigger. The shotgun fired with a loud BOOM and unexpected shoulder-jarring recoil. Through a huge cloud of smoke, I saw the squirrel fall and heard it hit the dry leaves on the ground.

Click for full size popup photo My shoulder aching, I watched the squirrel for movement. It was dead. My thoughts went from squirrel to recoil. The shot container on my homemade quick loader held 1 1/4 oz of lead shot, but it was meant to be filled with much lighter steel shot for duck hunting. I should have filled it about 2/3 to 3/4 full of lead shot for squirrel hunting. Full of lead shot, it was like shooting a projectile weighing 547 grs.

Here we see the shotgun and the squirrel in the spot on which it fell.

In case an anti-hunting person reads this and condemns my killing of a beautiful wild animal and my eating of its flesh, that person should know the fate of most gray squirrels in my woods—owl food. And owls usually eat just the intestines. And the squirrels are often alive when it happens. . . .

Click for full size popup photo So I fried the little gray squirrel, and I ate its flesh and sopped my biscuits in the dark brown gravy it provided. That night, I slept the sleep of the righteous and the holy and of those who touch Nature and come away the better for it.

The next day I tacked its bushy gray tail onto my front porch—my only trophy from Hunting Season, 2005 - 2006. Many years ago my brothers and I tacked our squirrel tails along the front of the garage off to the right of this photo. At the end of the season, there wouldn't be room on the front of the garage for even one more tail. Our mother wouldn't let us tack them on this very porch.

You know . . . the pretty girl I mentioned . . . if she lived with me she probably wouldn't want squirrel tails tacked on the porch. She'd probably make me get rid of the rusty old refrigerator, too. Heck, that's where I keep my dog food. I think I should quit looking for letters from pretty girls. . . .

NOTE: my Black Mountain Magnum 12 ga muzzleloading shotgun weighs exactly 5 lbs 15.6 oz empty. The 1 1/4 oz shot load has a recoil energy of 46 ft/lbs. That's 340 Weatherby Magnum recoil level.

The Black Mountain Magnum is rated for up to 1 3/8 oz of shot and 100 grs of FF powder. You couldn't pay me $100 to shoot it with that load.

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