2016-10-15 / Outdoors

Wolf Tracks

Outdoor Columnist
Dave Wolf

Good dogs love to hunt. It’s something that is in their blood.

When you’re with them, they spur you on. In time, they learn what you expect of them, and you come to understand the behavior they exhibit while on the trail of your quarry.

We’re now a dog-less couple, but over the years have owned many breeds, from beagles to setters and labs.

With the advent of small game season, there is still a minor itch to own a dog but it quickly passes.

My dad loved to hunt squirrels. I suspect it was because he could sit and watch in the wooded area near our home. When I went with him, he didn’t even have to observe, because I did. Dad was a hard-working man and often took a “snooze” in the squirrel woods. In fact, I recall having to pelt him with acorns when a squirrel finally did appear.

I was always told not to shoot the first squirrel I saw. “That first squirrel is a confidence-builder,” he would say. “When a few come out, more will follow.”


Hunting with a dog is very rewarding, especially when each of you comes to understand the other’s habits and expectations. With or without a canine, hunting opportunities abound in mid-October. 
Photo by Dave Wolf Hunting with a dog is very rewarding, especially when each of you comes to understand the other’s habits and expectations. With or without a canine, hunting opportunities abound in mid-October. Photo by Dave Wolf He was right most of the time. It was a rare day when we didn’t take home a handful of squirrels. Then I was stuck skinning them late into the night.

With a good beagle, we could hunt cottontail rabbits all day long. I can still recall those frost-bitten mornings, listening to her “song” as she was in hot pursuit of that clever rabbit.

I was fortunate enough to hunt cottontails with both my father and grandfather, long before housing developments claimed the prime habitat. Each was an expert marksman; I never knew my grandfather to miss.

Cottontails were much easier to skin than squirrels. Along with my grandmother’s rice pudding, they provided delicious fare for our table.

And then there were the pheasants, those gaudy birds that flaunt their beauty and make cackling sounds while flying. They still catch me by surprise when they flush at my feet.

After thousands of flushes during my lifetime, the first one of the year is always startling. Those noises they make are a good indicator of where they are located, as they fly from one destination to another.

Although I’m not a big fan of stocked pheasants, the Game Commission has been doing a good job of raising birds that fly well. There was time when they pretty much resembled barnyard chickens. Today, they fly nearly as well as those wild birds of yesteryear.

If one considers that a pheasant can fly 45 miles per hour for short distances, and can run faster than humans, they do become a bird worthy of pursuit. And, yes, I have skinned many a pheasant in my day. If cooked properly, they make an exceptional meal.

No small game summary would be complete without paying tribute to our state bird, the ruffed grouse. It is perhaps the most challenging of all game birds. Grouse are not as fast as some think. The bird’s top speed is only 25 mph, but it has a keen ability to explode from its hiding place and swerve in and out of trees.

A word about safety -- other than during rifle season for deer, mid-October will host the most hunters of the year. Wearing more than the minimum amount of blaze orange is a smart choice.

Despite human encroachment and shortsighted land use practices, there is still room enough in the great outdoors for those who wish to pursue their own adventures. So get out there and enjoy the fall foliage, but be conscious of your surroundings.

(Dave Wolf may be reached by email at wolfang418@msn.com.)

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