Black-Powder Bushytails

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

The hunter blinked awake and lifted his chin slowly from his homespun-clad chest. The hollow where he sat had been black as the inside of a powder flask when he nodded off. Now it was light enough to see his hands cradling a rifle with an octagonal barrel. He checked the curved hammer and found it was still clamped tightly on a leather patch, sealing the powder charge against moisture.

In his sleep, the hunter had dreamed of gentle rain. It wasn't raining, but he could still hear a gentle patter from the treetops. As day dawned, so did the realization that nutshell fragments were raining down from the treetops. The grove was alive with feeding squirrels.

Behind him, he heard the staccato rattle of a squirrel bounding through dry leaves. The sound was coming nearer. The hunter cringed as he heard the squirrel's claws on the tree bark behind him, then relaxed as he heard it scramble straight up the trunk.

The squirrel took up a sentinel perch a scant 15 yards from the hunter and began stripping away a hickory nut's green hull. The hunter already had his rifle up, and before the squirrel had the first quarter of hull off, the rifle barked two distinct syllables, "pah-wham!" Out of the blue smoke fell a limp squirrel. The hunter reached for his ramrod to reload, then thought better of it and rose to pick up the squirrel. After hefting it, he decided one was enough and headed home for breakfast.

It sounds like a scene from Missouri's frontier days, but this played out in October 1995 at Painted Rock Conservation Area in Osage County. The hunter was me. I had found a way to do the impossible -- make squirrel hunting even more fun.

Squirrels have always been among my favorite game animals. They are universally available, challenging to hunt with a rifle and good on the table. The precision of the sport appeals to me, too. Given a well-tuned .22 with a 4X scope, I can drop a squirrel with a shot through the head at 50 yards. No shotgun blast and shower of falling leaves to disturb the forest calm, no damaged meat. Occasionally a clean miss; wounding is rare with a rifle.

I never lost my love of squirrel hunting, but I did get a bit complacent about it. Darned few squirrels that let me get

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