SMITHSBURG, Md. – It’s crazy to think that an area four hours from your normal hunting spot would breed different quirks in the same animal, but that seemed to be the case when scoping out squirrels in the hills of western Maryland.
There were two separate occasions that I hit the woods with Patrick Vega on his private property in Smithsburg, the first being a warm, windy early-fall day. On that day it seemed as if the wind wouldn’t stop and, when it did, we’d get a few minutes either squirrels barking at each other or complete silence.
Vega, who had never been squirrel hunting before, wanted to start in a tree stand, something uncouth to me as someone who prefers the standard hiking method, but I figured why not give it a shot. After sitting in the two-seat tree stand for about an hour I pitched the idea of scouting the ridge of the property. He obliged.
Switching gears into that preferred method, we trekked through the rocky, brier filled thicket. After stopping at the top of a small dropoff with plenty of deadfall surrounding it, I turned on an electric call. To my surprise – and dismay – a grey squirrel hopped in front of me no more than five feet away. Noticing me at the last second, it ran away into a nearby tree out of my sight. The rest of the time we walked back to our original spot, choosing to sit down on a log 25 yards from the treestand. Less than 10 minutes after firing up the call again, another large grey squirrel hopped in front of us from the left. Just before I took the shot, it b-lined down an adjacent log, and as it was about to turn I attempted to lead it. At first, I thought I hit it, but my shot was about a half-foot ahead – it, too, would escape into a burrow in a tree.
The second day of hunting was a lot less windy, but instead of seeing squirrels hopping around the treetops or scrounging for food on the ground I saw nothing but hyperactive chipmunks and birds.
We might have gone out too late, but nonetheless, we crunched through the thick leaves, deciding to split up and go to two separate spots in the waning hours of light hoping to kick up some activity. My spot was empty, but Vega saw two: One within range that got spooked and hightailed it into a nearby hole and the other that was far out of range.
Another day of being eluded was behind us, and it was time for me to hit the woods alone – Vega had work responsibilities while I was on my second day off.
The ground was inundated with the previous night’s rain, a storm that came out of nowhere to set up snow flurries across western Maryland.
The wind was screaming, too, as I walked out of the house toward the wooded path that leads into the hunting grounds.
From the start, the cards were stacked against me but I wasn’t going to let the off weather deter me from my main goal – besides, even if things don’t go my way I’ll get some exposure to cold weather so my upcoming hunts won’t be so annoying.
How things ended, however, was without a squirrel in the bag. Through six hours in the woods, I saw one squirrel – a glance of light grey fur and a bushy tail escaping into deadfall and eventually, to my suspicion, into a tree with multiple burrows. The temperature kept dropping, and as I waited and watched in multiple spots or hiked through the woods to try and flush out some squirrels all I saw was four deer and a lot of songbirds. I didn’t even see a single chipmunk, which was essentially all I saw the day prior.
For someone who’s been around the squirrel-hunting block enough to know a thing or two, I’m not entirely sure what I could have done differently. I think my luck has escaped me the last few hunts, probably coming down to the simple fact that the weather hasn’t lined up with the days I can get out. So until I pick up my Marlin .22 again, the masters of elusion remain safe.