My enthusiasm waned as my garage opened to reveal steady rain. The October air permeated my sawdusted surroundings, chilling my bones and my hopes. All night I barely slept through the anticipation of the day’s squirrel hunt, but there I was, at 5:00 AM, lamenting Mother Nature’s victory over my plans.
I considered my darkened Osage selfbow lying next to a few blunt-tipped Port Orford arrows. Its polyurethane finish suddenly seemed dull. How long ago had I applied the finish? Did I apply two, three, or seven coats? Was the wood was still water-resistant? And when had I last waxed the string?
As I contemplated accepting defeat and returning to my warm bed, an idea pierced my disappointment. I checked my phone and there it was – a recently downloaded Traditional Bowhunting and Wilderness podcast titled Taking Advantage of Rainy Days During Hunting Season. Within seconds of the podcast’s opening I heard my rally cry:
“…the number one thing, in my opinion, to do on a rainy day is to hunt. Period. Be out in the woods and start hunting.”
With my enthusiasm returned threefold, I loaded into my truck and headed to the woods.
Rain drummed through bare branches and obscured the sound of my squishing boot steps along the trail. Invisible rabbits fled from the bushes within yards of me, reminding me that I was still a novice stalker. But I was content letting the rabbits go; I already knew my destination and was racing the sunrise to reach it.
Large, concrete platforms were raised throughout the swamp in an abandoned effort to construct a pipeline many years before. During my last hunt I noted that one of these structures was shaped like an open-walled hut – four pillars, six feet apart, arranged in a square, and holding a platform five feet in the air. It was a perfect, dry vantage point observing a dead tupelo tree in a reed-choked wash 20 yards to the southwest. Judging by the hog tracks I knelt over, I wasn’t the only creature aware of the opportune shelter.
Twenty minutes into my silent watch I heard it. Dead branches brushed together to the south. The ruckus grew louder and closer, then the chittering and the barking began. Soon three squirrels were just beyond the clearing, and I happily beheld the spectacle of their foraging, wrestling and playing. Their show lasted another twenty minutes before one made its way east and another around me to the north. The third squirrel was chased through branches weaving above the wash and up the tupelo tree by another squirrel that materialized from beyond the clearing. I decided to use their distraction to my advantage.
With great deliberation I abandoned my shelter and approached the water, thankful for the noisy rain that threatened my hunt just hours before.
18 yards to go. The squirrels whizzed in and out of sight as they ran circles around the tree.
16 yards. I entered the wash as one of the squirrels sought shelter in a hole high in the ancient tree.
14 yards. Water threatened to overcome my rubber boots as I proceeded deeper into the swamp.
13 yards. The remaining squirrel returned to eye level on the tree trunk, then disappeared to the other side.
12 yards, 11…
Caught! My quarry finally distinguished me from my surroundings and bristled on the trunk, barking and swishing its tail in a show of defiance. Hours seem to pass as I stretched my bow to full draw, careful to move slowly lest I send my prey fleeing. Finger anchored on cheek, and at 53lb and 27” I let fly my arrow. The Judo found its exact mark… and ricocheted off the stoic tupelo, leaving but a small scuff on its trunk! Seconds later the escaped squirrel called raucously from a branch overhead, laughing at the bewildered “predator” below. As the squirrel joined its companion in the safety of its hole high in the tree, I realized this was my first experience with string jump. With a congratulatory chuckle to the victor, I retrieved my arrow and headed to higher ground.
I pondered how the squirrel escaped during the hike back to my truck. What startled the squirrel? The noise of the string? The swoosh of fletchings aboard a shaft too sluggish? Although blaming my homemade equipment for the miss was still placing the burden of failure on my own skill, I also wondered if I even perceived the situation correctly.
Perhaps I simply missed.