Mesmerized! That is the word best describing my first encounter with a good squirrel dog. If memory is correct, it was a feist squirrel dog, a medium-sized bundle of exhilaration that virtually exploded in the squirrel woods. This dog belonged to a friend of my uncle’s; the friend was kind enough to lend the dog for a day. Uncle was not a hunter of note, but that wasn’t the case with my dad. Masterful he was and definitely new the squirrel dog basics. So my dad and uncle hatched a plan to take this dog, which had received a great deal of praise across the county, and make a late-season hunt along a nearby river. I was allowed to join them.
Upon entering a hardwood bottom, the feist squirrel dog hit pay dirt. Only minutes passed before he was firm on tree. I had a single-barrel .410 and was judiciously watched over and coached in the finer details of safety. The squirrel was flattened on a way-up limb and near indiscernible to the novice. Dad had to point him out. I popped my first primer of the day, generating no results save putting the squirrel into a mindset that this tree was best vacated. Dad settled the hastily-planned departure with his 20-gauge pump.
And so it went for the remainder of that day. Squirrel after squirrel, the canine’s resolve never faltering. He seemed to enjoy the regimen more than I, and I was enjoying it more than I could express. It was then, perhaps 60 years ago, that I determined this was easily the most excitement one could envision. And today, after a long career of hunting various game in 18 states, four Canadian provinces and three South Africa provinces over the course of five safaris, which included Cape buffalo, I am still of the opinion that squirrel hunting here in the Southeast with a reliable dog is as good as it gets.
I left that hunt fully decided that I wanted a squirrel dog, a feist squirrel dog to be specific; I knew no other. The feist, I have since learned, was developed from various terriers brought to this country by European immigrants. It remains a favored breed by those who are enamored of squirrel hunting, but the feist is not the only breed that performs well on squirrels. Occasionally, the friendly pooch that lies under the porch or on the sofa will develop into a profitable squirrel collector. Same with various hounds. If a dog has some instinctive “hunt” in its core, that dog will likely tree squirrels. Finesse and dedication and trustworthiness may vary from dog to dog, but most possess an intrinsic curiosity and apparent dislike for squirrels; thus, they chase and tree them. These inherent desires are beneficial to the basics of squirrel dog hunting.
But this piece is not about which breed is best or how to develop a squirrel dog. It is about the abundant joy and excited action that can be had by hunting squirrels with a dog. Let’s move on to those factors.
What makes squirrel hunting with a dog so enthralling? There are many answers to that question, and most will generally be based on the individual hunter’s predisposition. If said hunter is the dog owner, the answer might revolve around pride in that dog. This is justified. If the hunter is simply a participant and has no dog in the hunt, so to speak, that one can still appreciate the expertise of the host’s dog. That participant can also enjoy what is often non-stop action. If there is someone along who is new to hunting, that individual may be so immersed in the goings on that a new hunter comes away as an active hunter. Squirrel hunting with a dog can do that to folks.
That action element simply must not be overlooked when dealing with youngsters. Children, even young adults of the culture that now surrounds, are conditioned to activity. Immediate gratification seems to dominate. Being old and somewhat cranky and certainly set in my ways, I view it all as tragic. Perhaps it is; perhaps it is not. That is not for me singularly to decide. I suppose every generation thinks the next is on a focused and brief downhill slide into uselessness. And since I can quickly count back four generations and tend to mourn most change and daily struggle to control the curmudgeon within, I am not a viable source of counsel.
That aside, action is common to the young. Even if it is glaring into some electronic device, which is both a blessing and a curse, rather than physical action, constant action is a given and it must be considered. So if it’s action you want in the hunting arena, the dog and squirrel business is like no other.
It has become fashionable to take the very young deer hunting. Okay. But what of those potentially anguished periods of nothingness? Deer hunting can offer those periods. During such times some custodians and practitioners may resort to one of those electronic devices mentioned above, perhaps even enhancing that hollow core and detachment that true and in-depth hunting is not. But is it not that very sort of thing the older would like to have the younger set aside for a few hours? If so, the squirrel dog basics will suffice. It is an on-the-go proposition, and there is very little or no time to text or tweet or otherwise fall into a glassy-eyed state of perceived but false reality. The hunting is life. And death for that matter. It is the way things really are, and it is quite grand throughout, something worth seeking.
Part of the squirrel dog hunting basics is the gear needed. It can be simple, even camo is not mandatory. Solid footwear and clothes, a hat or cap, maybe a vest/game bag. That’s it other than some type firearm. A shotgun or .22 will work. Any action type. In fact, a single shot is not far from perfect. I opt for a .32 flintlock Tennessee rifle. Sleek, lightweight, pure pleasure, a thing of beauty. But I’ve already advanced my leanings toward yesteryear, so I’ll hesitate to recommend that specific tool to anyone other than the most curious adventurer.
And the dog? For me it would be a feist squirrel dog, but whatever you have or can gain access to, either through ownership or friendship, may suffice if that dog loves to hunt squirrels. However, the better and more skilled that dog is, the better the hunting will be. And if that dog is indeed proficient, trust him or her. Don’t second guess. Let the dog do the primary work and you do the proper shooting.
I recall one hunt with a good friend and his particularly special dog. Barlow was not a feist squirrel dog, but a mountain cur hunting dog and among the top three dogs I’ve hunted. Neal and I were using our .32 flinters. Barlow treed. But this was a strange deal. He was on a broken-off and somewhat skimpy poplar that showed no promise of holding a squirrel. It was in fact so unpromising that Neal accused Barlow of confusion, or even worse – lying. Still we looked. One squirrel squirted from the trunk at the break. Neal’s .32 belched smoke and a round ball. As he set about reloading, a second squirrel eased out and showed himself. My time, this one. And just as Neal primed the pan, a third squirrel emerged and became part of the camp stew scheduled for that evening. Trusting Barlow, and the squirrel dog basics, paid off.
So, is squirrel hunting with a dog really that good? Absolutely. Should you give it a try? My opinion, I realize, is not often humble, but I say you should. Life is missing an important ingredient if you don’t. And not that it matters a great deal at this point in my life, but I never got that squirrel dog I wanted. But I did, and do, befriend those hunters who have such adroit companions and have hunted with them practically every year since that first outing. I treasure those friendships!
P. O. box 88
Carthage, MS 39051
This article first appeared in the February 2019 print issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine. For more great hunting and fishing content for the deep South, subscribe to Great Days Outdoors print and digital editions or click the image to download this issue.