Updated: Mar 17
12:45pm December 26th 2020.. I walk out to my truck in the parking lot of my office and send a picture of the lone squirrel from this morning's hunt to my coworkers. I'm extra careful to include a little blood and an old dingy hunting knife. "That oughta get them riled up" I think to myself as I press send. They always give me a hard time for hunting "rodents" and for not understanding that I can buy a steak anywhere. So, I generally find every excuse to send them something to remind them that if the grocery store were to close, they would probably die within a week and I would go on as normal. All in good fun, of course.
Christmas 2020 was one that I'll never forget. My fiancé, Bailey, and I were unable to join in any of the family gatherings this year... thanks to the big scary Covid..
She had tested positive just one week prior, and while I tested negative, the health department still banished me to house arrest for up to 10 days. The week leading up to and through Christmas found me checking off past due honey dos, organizing, cleaning and battling the world's worst internet connection in order to try and get a little bit of work done from home. The week went by quickly and without any Christmas plans I awoke to just another day before it really sank in that it was in fact, Christmas Day! Bailey and I shared a few gifts, some banquet microwaved turkey and sat down to enjoy a few overplayed Christmas movies. As we watched, I sank into the couch, realizing I had just spent the last week quarantined and had yet to get out and enjoy the timber. I quickly picked up a book I've been reading, "That Wild Country", and proceeded to put myself into Mark Kenyon's shoes as he journeyed through our nations wild wonders. He was trekking in the footsteps of President Roosevelt, and recounting all of the inspiration and effort used to secure these treasured lands for us and our future generations. After reading a few chapters I made the decision that I needed to get out and enjoy the grandeur of our nation's public lands as well.. and in the morning I would head out to a piece of public paradise and pursue wild game.. and to sleep I went.
6am.. I awake to soft light creeping through the blinds on our east facing bedroom window.. I hop out of bed, ready to embark on my public land journey. After 30 minutes of running back and forth to retrieve forgotten items, I hit the road. About 40 minutes after that I reach my destination, The magnificent Jim Edgar Panther Creek SFWA. I laugh to myself as I load up my old, beat to death 20 gauge and start walking into some government groomed crp grass.. this isn't quite the adventures of Lewis and Clark but it'll sure do!
It's December and all upland game is in season. Squirrel, rabbit, quail, woodcock.. they all sound like lunch to me. The ground is hard with frost and with no breeze every step echoes through the draw I'm walking into. I don't make it very far before I hear the classic sound of squirrels chasing each other. To a deer hunter, pure nuisance.. but today I'm a squirrel hunter. Good news. I sneak up closer to the sounds and find a giant fallen red oak to climb onto. As I get onto the log I hear a sound that I couldn't quite decipher. A raking sound in the leaves, over and over. "Too heavy to be a squirrel", I think to myself. "Raking too long to be a deer, too".. finally it hits me that the sound I'm hearing is turkeys scratching for food on the hillside. Turkeys are rare where I usually hunt so I never expected to happen upon them. I don't see them but I decide to sit still in case they come closer. I'd at least like to lay eyes on them and maybe get some pictures. Eventually, the raking stops and I can hear the gentle purring of calm birds.. a welcome sound. As I'm peering into the brush trying to get my eyes on the birds I hear the hopping sound of a squirrel to my left. I turn around and there is a big ol' fox squirrel at 20 yards.. BOOM.. the old trusty 20 gauge drops him to the ground.
I turn back around to see if the turkeys flew and they hadn't, however the purrs were now light putts and sure enough they started to slowly walk the opposite direction, their movement catching my eye. Finally, they wandered off and I went to retrieve my hard earned game.. I smiled as I walked up to him. A feeling of success that never gets old... the very basics of hunting and the outdoors.
A squirrel hunt, in crowded Illinois public land, with the echo of pheasant loads ringing through every inch of it.. and I was just as content as I've ever been. No, I'm not setting aside national forests like Teddy Roosevelt. No, I'm not writing books and creating a research masterpiece of our public lands like Mark Kenyon... but hell yes, I'm hunting squirrels.
HERE IS A LINK TO MARK'S BOOK IF INTERESTED. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT AND WILL BE POSTING A FULL BOOK REVIEW IN THE NEAR FUTURE.
ORDERING THROUGH THIS LINK SUPPORTS THE SITE!
PHOTO GEAR USED ON THIS TRIP-