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Great Squirrel Massacree - Charles T Lamb


Rob DiStefano:
Great Squirrel Massacree

by Charles T Lamb

I guess if we live long enough we end up with some favorite memories. Funny how most of those memories have nothing at all to do with work!

One of my very favorites (I’ve got a pile of them) took place more years ago than I care to remember now.
I lived in the mountains of western Wyoming then and spent every spare minute I had in pursuit of some critter or the other.
Small game especially grabbed my attention when I lived out there. Heck, I had grown up in a small game hunting family. They had to be if they wanted to hunt at all. When most of my uncles and my Dad were in their formidable years there was very little large game to be hunted in the mid west. There wasn’t a lot of large game in my home state when I was growing up either.
Fortunately we had lots of rabbits in those days.

Being from the city also complicated the situation for me when I was young. There were a few situations I could take advantage of. Railroad tracks always had brushy areas I could bust through for cottontails and the local golf course had plenty of bunnies and fox squirrels in the rough areas.... I just had to avoid the greens keeper.

I escaped, whenever I could, into the pages of my favorite books.
Saxton Pope spoke glowingly of small game hunting and mentioned ground squirrels as a favorite.
Howard Hill devoted a couple of chapters of his book “Hunting the Hard Way” to hunting small game with one about ground squirrels in particular.
I just knew that some day I would have to experience ground squirrel hunting.

My first opportunity came when I was nineteen. I’d taken a summer job in Wyoming, working for the U.S. Forest Service.
I built trails in the national forest and ground squirrels were literally everywhere.
I spent many evenings alone, stalking the glades and forest edges for the prolific Franklin’s ground squirrel.
It put a hook in me for hunting them that lasts to this very day.

Years later I would move back to the mountains and continue my love affair with hunting ground squirrels.

Though I hunted them almost daily during the season when they were above ground and shot literally thousands of the little varmints, the story I’m about to relate is one of my favorite memories.

I had been off fishing with my best friend on a lovely spring day in western Wyoming. The fishing had been good and we had a mess of trout in the cooler which would provide a tasty supper that evening.
We were on our way home and had rounded a bend in the road which bordered ranch lands.
Looking out across a meadow there, we were stunned at what we saw. Ground squirrels were literally running everywhere.
Larry was a small game hunting fanatic like myself and had lived in the area even longer than I had and he had never seen anything like it.
The meadow grasses were cropped short by the hordes of gnashing incisors and it seemed like every five or ten feet there stood or ran or peeked out of a hole, a squirrel.
It so happened that Larry knew the rancher who owned the property. We were soon standing in front of him asking permission to go shoot ground squirrels.
Gaining permission wasn’t really much of a challenge. Like most other area  ranchers, this one was anxious to be rid of ALL of the little squeakers.  They not only ate a lot of grass, but they dug holes everywhere. Mostly the holes were little escape burrows no bigger than a shot glass in diameter, but each family group had a main burrow entrance that could be the size of a serving platter or larger and deep enough to trip and break the leg of valuable live stock.

We were soon out in the meadow with bows in hand. Larry’s favorite was an early Bear compound that pulled 70 pounds and only let off 30 percent.
My bow was at  the other end of the spectrum. It was a Howard Hill Big Five, with bubinga riser and bamboo limbs that took 82 pounds of force to bring to full draw.
That bow was new to me and you might say I was still learning to shoot “ longbow style”.
We were both shooting cedar arrows with plain steel blunts up front.

Since we’d had a full day of fishing already and our wives would be waiting impatiently for us at home we could only spare an hour or two for the squirrels.
We crossed the fence into the first pasture and stayed close together, trading off shot opportunities as they popped up.
It wasn’t like anything either of us had ever experienced before.  There was hardly any stalking involved in our approaches. The squirrels weren’t all that wary and in most cases we could walk within twenty yards of a squirrel before it got edgy and dove for cover.
That suited us to a T. We were both tired from a long day and weren’t THAT into it.
We found that the first pasture was bounded on one side by a row of willows and marsh land behind that, out buildings and corrals formed the other boundary. The far end had more willows and when we had shot our way to that point we found another pasture beyond. It had as many or more squirrels than the first.

After a couple of hours we headed back to the truck. The shooting had been unbelievable. We had each killed 45-50 squirrels and had shot a couple of doubles to boot.
We discussed the situation and decided we’d come back the next weekend with lots of arrows and the goal of shooting 100 squirrels apiece.*

The week went by slowly at work. In the evenings Larry and I were working on our arrow supply for the upcoming weekend.
I was putting together a couple dozen cedars with sage green full length dip and white fletch. Nothing fancy at all, just good shooting ammo.
By the time the weekend rolled around I’d shot a few more squirrels around home to stay loose, but hadn’t gotten after them too seriously.  
Saturday at first light found Larry and I parked in the ranch drive getting our gear squared away. Larry had cheated on me. He lowered the poundage on his Bear compound to 60 pounds peak in anticipation of a lot of shooting.
Before the day was half over I’d wish I could have lowered the weight of my bow!

The action was pretty slow at first. That’s the way it goes with ground squirrels... at least the way it goes with the variety we were hunting. They are just not early risers, but we were eager to get started.
 At first we shot along together, but soon I had shot an arrow that skipped away from the direction of Larry’s last shot and we split up.
I eased off around the remains of an old saw mill that had stood on the ranch for ages. It’s piles of old lumber and logs made perfect hiding places for the squirrels. I was doing my best not to shoot too many shots before searching for my arrows. If I didn’t watch my self I’d forget how many times I shot and leave arrows laying. It was inevitable that I lose a few that way and during the course of the day I’d find arrows laying that had been unaccounted for.
The mill was a gold mine of squirrels and I killed half a dozen around the perimeter of the old building. I wasn’t doing the best shooting that I had ever done. That was for sure. My bow was a new one and much heavier than any bow I’d ever owned before.
That coupled with the fact that it was the first longbow that I’d ever owned and I was probably lucky if I was hitting one squirrel out of every five shots.
What the rancher had here was a real problem. An infestation of ground squirrels. They are know to carry all kinds of germs and creepy crawly stuff on them and the higher the population numbers get the more prone they are to disease.
Neither Larry nor myself was that interested in handling the squirrels any more than we had to.
We had both agreed that we would save all the squirrels we shot for a picture or two when we were finished. About the only way we could do that without carrying the little beggars around with us and getting overrun with fleas, was to establish little piles of them. In other words shoot in one area for a while and throw each dead squirrel on a heap in that area before moving to the next area.
Now that would have been a good plan had it not been for the fact that this variety of ground squirrel is cannibalistic. We both found the nasty little devils raiding our stashes and dragging their dead relatives off to their burrows. It’s hard telling how many we lost that way or for that matter how many we killed as they raided the piles.

I had moved out from the mill house and was working over a small group of squirrels that were living in a huge pile of logs.
As I’d peak around the end of the pile they’d peak back at me from the other end. If I’d try to move clear of the pile to get an angle for a shot, they’d duck and work their way far under the logs.
I soon came up with an idea.
I’d made up a few arrows with HTM rubber blunts and had them in my quiver. I drew one from the leather bag and placed it on the string. As I rounded the end of the log pile, a small gray head popped up at the far end.
I squatted slightly to reduce the angle between us, aimed the arrow to hit a couple of feet in front of the squirrel and let it slip. Twang, zizzzzzzzzz, twhapp!!!! I busted him right out of there. The arrow had laid down right in the angle of the logs and funneled down to him as pretty as you please.
I worked that angle as long as I could until the squirrels in that area got too spooky and I had to move on.

I had gotten to the point that I handled the dead squirrels pretty roughly. I’d skewer one with a well placed shot, pick up the arrow by the fletching and shake him off ,on or near my latest pile. That would leave me with a rather “gooey” arrow. At first I’d just take it to the nearest sage bush and wipe the shaft down with a hand full of sage leaves. But as the shooting got faster and opportunities were presenting themselves almost faster than I could react I got to the point that I just stuck the arrow shaft between my legs and drew it through the denim material to clean it.
By lunch time I was a smelly mess.
As it turned out, Larry had been doing the same and we smiled sheepishly at each other when we met down by the river to eat our sandwiches.
Comparing notes we found that each of us had killed squirrels that we had even been shooting at. The arrows upon missing the intended target animal would skip off across the hard flat ground and often smack a different one.
On top of that, we had each taken several doubles... two squirrels with one shot, and I had killed a triple. Three little ones had popped up out of a hole to look at me, one behind the other. My rubber blunt scattered them like tiny bowling pins.**

We stretched lunch into an hour and even thought about snoozing for a while. The music coming from that little crystal clear stream was about half rock and roll and half lullaby. The spot we’d picked to sit and eat still gave us a clear view of the meadow and the temptation to be up and back at the diggers was just too much. We sat there on the bank
cleaning arrows in the little creek. It didn’t take long in the arid air for the feathers to dry so they could be slipped back in our quivers.
Larry was ahead of me by a good dozen squirrels and I knew I was gonna have to hustle to even think about finishing with the hundred we set as our goal.
When a squirrel ran out in the grass not ten yards from us, lunch was over. All of a sudden!
I slid an arrow across the bow as I rose to one knee. The heavy bow came back to anchor with only slight complaint from my now aching shoulders and I let the shot slip when everything was lined up.
The arrow skipped off the squirrels head and left him twitching his last in the grass. I looked at Larry and smiled as if it was all just that easy and the hunt was back on.

Truth be known, I was more than a little sore after our brief rest and I didn‘t hit another shot for at least the next six attempts.
Each shot was becoming more of an effort to reach full draw and stretch back into the shot.
A hot spot had developed on the palm of my left hand just down from the web. The rough leather of the grip was wearing a blister there and it was beginning to hurt..
The bowstring, which couldn’t have been over a couple of weeks old, was showing signs of extreme wear just below the center serving.
The arrows that hung over my shoulder at my right ear were for the most part not near as neat and pretty as they should be for being so new. By now they all showed matted, stained fletch from the carnage. Whether they had been involved in any killing or not, enough gore had been transferred from one to another that I couldn’t find an arrow that didn’t give me a whiff of squirrel as the fletch came back under my nose at full draw. It was starting to get to me.
By mid afternoon Larry and I got the feeling that we were approaching our goal. We gathered up squirrels from the different piles and brought them to a more central location, getting an accurate count as we went.
As close as we could figure, we were about even and still a little shy of the goal number.
The hot spot on my palm a few hours before had long ago turned into a dime sized blister then broke and rubbed more till a bloodstained spot showed on the bow’s grip. (and still does to this day) The string had given up two strands to the chafing of my armguard and I’d cut them free with my pocket knife.
My pants reeked and my quiver reeked, my fingers were sore and altogether this had turned into some kind of obscene chore. Driven by something that I no longer understood, if in fact I ever really had. But I was intent on finishing this thing, whatever it was and I would stay until I did.
I remember it taking a lot longer than it should have to kill that last half dozen squirrels. A few times I let the string slip away before I was really ready because of the painful blister or because I was just tired or because the smell on the fletching now was making me want to hurl.
My shots went high and left and right. Seldom missing low, which might have skipped and given me a hit. No the last ones weren’t coming easy at all.
Finally, when I was sure I’d done it, when I just knew I had killed one hundred of the little diggers I went ahead and shot two more.

We got our final tally for the day. Larry had taken 120 with his compound and I had 102 with my longbow. Pictures were taken for the record and because we took pictures of everything in those days and we policed up the pile of little bodies.
We deposited them off in the brush away from the pastures that held stock and away from the road. It was obvious that they wouldn’t last long. The coyotes and skunks and buzzards would feast on them for a day or two and in the end no record of our deed would exist, except the pictures and the memories.

It took a while to shoot up all of the arrows that survived that days shooting. My jeans washed up ok and the blister on my palm eventually healed, but I didn’t shoot another ground squirrel that summer and never again would I encounter them in the numbers that we had found on that ranch.
It was obvious that we had put a dent in the rodent population there and we had free run on that ranch from that day on.
I think about that day a lot. Think about my youth and how my perspective on hunting has changed. I think about the friend who went on to become a Baptist missionary far up the Amazon River and I smile because it’s all good.


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