Our mission was simple: Strike out before daylight, walk for a half hour and arrive in an area of hardwoods at shooting light and start squirrel hunting. A friend of mine had seen some hog sign in this particular area back during turkey season, and I was curious to see if the rooters were still hanging around.
I was spending the day with 15-year-old Kevin Byrd, of Eatonton. Kevin is one of my Sunday School students, a Christian young man who enjoys hunting but doesn’t really have anyone to take him on a regular basis.
We got to our spot just at daylight as several squirrels were already barking in the hardwoods below us. Kevin was armed with a 20 gauge, and I toted a .22 magnum in case we did see a hog. As we tipped into the hardwoods, we could hear the remnants of hickory nuts sprinkling through the trees in several directions. I knew we wouldn’t have to wait long before Kevin would be sending lead pellets toward a squirrel.
I motioned Kevin toward a nearby hickory where I thought he could quietly maneuver to and eventually get a shot. I stood back and watched. After five minutes of patiently waiting for the gray squirrel to reveal itself, I saw Kevin’s barrel rise up and kick back.
“I got him,” he hollered, as a solid thud hit the woods floor.
I signaled for him to hold tight and pointed at the top of the tree. Kevin’s first squirrel wasn’t alone. Five minutes later, squirrel No. 2 came tumbling out of the same hickory.
It was a great start to a day that would later end in an action-packed adventure that would include more than just taking home a mess of squirrels.
As we spent the mid-October morning slipping through a quiet creek bottom, I kept reflecting on how great it was to hunt a giant piece of property without the worry of bothering someone trying to deer hunt.
Kevin and I were hunting a WMA where deer season was closed. In fact, if you open the new Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet, you’ll find a majority of WMAs will have open small-game dates in November and December and deer season will be closed. For example, look at the small-game dates for only the next month on these popular WMAs: Cohutta (Oct. 20-Nov. 26); Chattahoochee (Oct. 28-Nov. 15, Nov. 26-Dec. 3); Tuckahoe (Nov. 5-21); Oaky Woods (Oct. 20-Nov. 27); Flint River (Nov. 4-13, Nov. 18-23); Big Hammock (Oct. 28-Nov. 7, Nov. 11-21, Nov. 26-Dec. 3); Griffin Ridge (Nov. 5-13, Nov. 18-Dec. 4).
This is just a sampling from the 129 WMAs listed in this year’s hunting regulations book. Find a WMA nearby, or maybe one you’ve just always wanted to hunt, and find when their small-game season dates are open—and their deer hunts are closed.
Not only were there no deer hunters to worry about, squirrels were abundant on our morning stroll. Whether it was nuts falling from tree tops, hearing the rustling of leaves or seeing a squirrel moving across a branch, we were in squirrels most of the morning.
Before our hunt even started, we had decided to mark the truck into the GPS and cover some dirt. That decision landed us more than a mile deep in the woods. There was no hunter sign that far back, and I believe it was a factor that allowed our squirrel hunt to take on a twist of adventure.
About an hour into the morning, we moseyed up to a small, muddy hog wallow. Jackpot! Around the wallow was hog rubbings on trees and fresh rooting, which allowed for a coachable moment for Kevin. He’d never seen hog sign, but he can identify it now.
It certainly added another level of excitement knowing a hog could appear as we hunted up the creek bottom. As we progressed, the hog sign became fresher and ever-widening across the bottom. The biggest hog wallow we found (pictured on page 35) was an impressive display of the damage these critters can do.
Toward the end of our morning, as we were slipping through the shaded hardwood bottom, we caught movement 30 yards away. It was coyote.
WMA rules allow hunters to kill song dogs during small-game season.
As Kevin positioned himself for a shot, the coyote never knew we were in town. As the male dog began to trot off, it provided Kevin a 20-yard shot. He sent a load of high-brass No. 6s from the 1100 through the woods, and the result was one less yote that’ll snack on a public-land fawn!
After a power lunch at the Huddle House, it was back in the woods until dark. With hogs on the radar, we decided to go after one. I told Kevin I was pulling a trick out of the bag of my friend Glen Solomon. A GON writer, Glen is the guru on public-land hog hunting. Glen has taught me that when he finds fresh hog sign he wants to return to, he’ll mark that sign on his GPS. Then, he’ll return to the area from a different direction. So, we did just that.
We were about 8/10 of a mile in the opposite direction from the hog sign when we started down that way. With no hog sign on the ground at our starting point, we wasted little time hoofing it toward the hot area. We even passed up a few squirrels along the way, keeping things on the down-low as we moved along in hog mode.
Once we got within a half mile of the area, hog sign began to show up. Glen’s trick was working. In addition to the fresh sign, the scenery was beautiful. We were encompassed by wide-open hardwoods with nut-bearing trees all through the bottom. Even though I’ve hunted this WMA since a teenager, I’d never seen this stretch of hardwoods before. We could see more than 100 yards back up another hardwood drain. It was absolutely picturesque as the afternoon’s sunlight beamed through the leaves on its descent for the treeline.
With hog sign under our feet, we had stopped to listen and soak up God’s handiwork when a rather large stick, or tree, cracked behind us and to our right.
Kevin and I whirled around toward the commotion, and all I heard Kevin say was, “It’s a hog. It’s a hog! It’s a hog!!,” faster, louder and slightly more panicked each time.
I saw a confused hog that I believe let us walk right past him in a privet head before he got a whiff of us and was leaving town. We just happened to be in front of him when he finally smelled us. But Kevin, who may have seen a few too many episodes of American Hoggers, saw a charging hog. To be honest, it looked just like it, too. The sow was coming right at us—and fast.
All day I’d been telling Kevin if we slipped up on a hog, I’d put the .22 mag in his hands, and he could shoot it. Well, this little scene unfolded in about four seconds before the hog cut back behind us at 20 yards and was gone. There was no time to get the rifle in his hand, much less put a well-placed shot just below the ear on a hog that was leaving in a hurry. But it’s all good, because Kevin’s quick breathing told me he enjoyed that little bit of excitement from our adventure.
So it was a day that ended with 11 dead squirrels, one less coyote, a charging hog, some worn boot leather and a day full of memories and education that has encouraged me to return with a new kid. Pass it on!
There’s no excuse for not taking a youth squirrel hunting in November and December. The state is full of WMAs you can hunt. You’ll likely find them full of squirrels, and you can cover all the ground you want without worrying about interrupting a deer hunter.
Besides, you never know when your squirrel hunt will throw you a twist of adventure.