Who Said Squirrel Hunting Wasn’t Intense?

The dogs were behaving in a way that informed me that critters were about. Subtle mannerisms in their gait, noses, movements. You notice these hints when you hunt with your dogs for enough time. A language between man and dog. An ancient language.

squirrel on tree

Sure enough, a squirrel released its high and anxious call from right above us. I looked up and saw him balanced upon a lolling willow branch. He was agitated. Furious that these beasts would disturb his patch of forest. He called again. I sent a round into the chamber, pushed the safety off, then lifted the .22’s short barrel to the squirrel’s head.

He looked this way, then that way, then started hopping from branch to branch. The dogs took off in pursuit while I hurriedly took out the gun’s magazine, racked the chambered bullet free, put it back in, switched the safety on. I’ve done it enough times to be quick about it, but it was still plenty of time to give that squirrel a head start. I gripped the gun with one hand at my side and sprinted through the forest. It is rich with vines—a boreal jungle. As I ran I swatted. They grab you and tickle you like the long fingers of forest witches. Roots and puddles and the leaves that hide them covered the ground, so you must be sure-footed in your hunt.

They say never to run with a gun, and I support this advice, but I am also an avid practitioner of the philosophy, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I still hadn’t caught up with the squirrel, and at this point I’d have no idea where it was if it wasn’t for my dogs. I heard them barreling through the vines. Now and again I’d catch a glimpse of one of them prancing forward like a deer.

dog in woods

I was running. Running, running, dodging, jumping, swatting, running. The Alaskan boreal forest is so thick that that squirrel could’ve gone a thousand miles before he ran out of trees. Maybe even farther. But after about five minutes of chase he quit running and hid up in a spruce tree. All four dogs had their front paws upon the tree trunk, their long tongues dangling from their mouths.

There’s no time to catch your breath. I racked a round again and turned the safety off, lifted the .22. I saw the squirrel’s livid, bulging black eyes. I got the shaky crosshair to settle between them, for just a moment, then pulled the trigger.

man hunting

Click.

“God dammit.” I checked the safety—off. I pulled the handle back and it did not move. The bullet was jammed in there at a strange but tight angle. I fiddled with it, shook it real hard, but that bullet was jammed in there. I’d shot hundreds of rounds with my Ruger 10/22 and this was the first time I experienced a jam.

The squirrel seized the opportunity and took off again. The dogs took off, but I did not. It felt futile to pursue the squirrel with a jammed rifle. I poked a stick in there to try and break the bullet free, but all that broke was the stick. It was a bad day to have forgotten my knife.

Finally after finessing my finger in there with the right about of pressure I got that bullet out. It was now kinked and useless. I made sure the chamber was clear, then put the magazine back in and was off toward the sounds of my dogs.

dogs in woods

Running. Running. The vines scratched my face and arms. I’d lost my sunglasses at some point but hadn’t even noticed. I came to a forest of birch that was less thick with vines but its floor was entirely covered with flora. Flora with wide, green leaves. So wide there was no seeing the dirt. Easier to run. Easier to trip.

I kept running though. Running, running. The voice of Charlotte’s bay was just ahead. In that forest of seemingly never-ending birch sat one, lone spruce tree. A giant. The dogs’ front paws were once again upon the trunk. Their noses and eyes pointed toward the canopy.

I glassed that giant spruce tree with my rifle scope for I don’t know how long. Maybe an hour. My neck was raw and aching from being bent back for that long. My eyes were fatigued. I had to accept that that squirrel was hidden deep in there and I wasn’t getting it. Not today.

He got away.

The dogs were disappointed as we walked home, and so was I, but I like to think they know as well as any hunter does that this is part of the game. You’ll never get them all. We were
all tired and sweaty and covered in cuts. I did find my sunglasses though.

man with gun hunting

A lot of people think I’m strange for hunting squirrels in Alaska. It’s the land of big game, and the squirrels here are only American reds, so they’re actually rather small comparably speaking. I get hit with a judgmental, “Why do you hunt squirrels?” so often that I hardly even tell people anymore.

Here’s why I like it. Each morning, I wake up, have a cup of coffee, a piss, a smoke, another cup, another smoke, then I grab my .22 and or shotgun and head out into the woods with my dogs. It’s that simple. Squirrel season never ends here. The stakes are low but the chase can be hot and frequent. I just like being in the woods with my dogs more than anything, and you can’t really pull that off as well with big game. Of course, I don’t limit myself to squirrels. Anything that’s legal that I’d eat, I’ll take. But, in these woods, for every grouse and hare you see, you’ll see fifty squirrels. The meat’s not much but it is good. I’ve skinned so many that I could do it with my eyes closed.

They can go on thinking I’m weird. Me and my dogs have our routine and our patch of forest and we enjoy every moment and inch of it. We’re good at it too, even if we fail sometimes. You could say we enjoy the small things in life, and those small things are squirrels.

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About The Author
Joseph Sigurdson

Joseph Sigurdson is a writer, poet, and outdoorsman. His novel, Buffalo Dope, was released by Thirty West Publishing House in 2021. One of his articles on his first hunting dog won the Gabrielle Rico Challenge as well as a Pushcart Prize. He writes articles for various outdoor publications on hunting and its history. In his free time he hunts small game with his four dogs who he adopted off the street one cold winter in a remote Alaskan village. You can find him on Instagram at www.instagram.com/joesigurdson/