2007 hunting preview: The squirrel will show you the way

  • Article by: RON SCHARA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2007 - 7:27 PM

Stepping into hunting requires so much — or so little. Please, learn the laws, understand the traditions and responsibilities. And then let that one tiny animal teach all the rest you'll need to know.

So you'd like to go hunting? Be a hunter, maybe? You've never gone hunting but it looks like something you'd like to try?

Well, good. Hunting is a lifetime pursuit with many personal rewards, the least of which is shooting something.

As a hunter, you'll join an ancient ritual of the human race. And you'll belong to one of America's most distinguished wildlife conservation fraternities, with a record of wildlife achievements unmatched over the past century.

There's only one problem: Becoming a hunter these days is more difficult and demanding than at any time in America's history. For example, there are more hunting laws to know and fewer places to hunt.

But you can be a hunter — if you want. This is America.

First steps? Learn and practice firearm safety. Take the DNR's firearms safety training course.

Know the rules of hunting, the written laws and the unwritten ones. Being a hunter is more than simply buying a license and carrying a firearm. A hunter is also responsible for the birds or animals being hunted. If you kill a bird or animal, it is your responsibility to not waste its life. This means you must be willing to field dress your downed game.

Field dress is a nice word for gutting or butchering the carcass and caring for the meat until it reaches the table.

If you're not going to eat it, don't shoot it. That was one of my father's rules when I was a teenager wanting to be a hunter.

I am a hunter today because my father was. Hunting traditionally was passed on from generation to generation by parents or relatives or family friends.

If you have someone who will be your hunting mentor, it's the best path to becoming a hunter.

Don't know anybody?

OK, we'll take a different path. You'll begin as a squirrel hunter.

Minnesota has an abundance of public woodlands open to hunting and full of fox and gray squirrels.

You already know gun safety, you know when the squirrel season opens, you've found a state forest to hunt and you've read about skinning squirrels and caring for the meat (it tastes like chicken, really).

Shortly after sunrise, you will quietly enter the woods, walking a trail, perhaps. You are armed with a .22 rifle and you've practiced your marksmanship. Your goal is to hunt for squirrels with your eyes and ears and to stalk close enough (less than 30 yards or so) to take a shot. Your aim is at the squirrel's head or upper body. You owe it to yourself and the squirrel to get a quick, clean kill.

Sounds easy? Yes and no. Squirrels are great teachers. The greatest lessons you'll learn include both humility and jubilation. You'll also discover something else called anticipation. It happens when you enter the woods.

It happens again when you see or hear a squirrel and anticipate the stalk. And your heart will begin to stir like the hearts of hunters through the ages.

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