My Texas friends call them “cat squirrels,” and like cats, these small gray squirrels were fast and slippery, sliding up and around branches, leaping from bough to bough, and always heading away from me. In three hours of hunting, I’d spotted a half dozen of these “cats,” and bagged a whopping one. I’d chased and chased, got close and then watched cat after cat disappear into the leaves and shadows.
Part of the problem was me insisting on hunting East Texas in October, the trees still fully leafed out. The lands I hunted near Gladewater, Texas, were a jungle of pin oak and hickory, and longleaf, shortleaf, and loblolly pines. By the time I spotted a squirrel, he was already running from branch to branch, faster than a speeding cat.
And once I started chasing around the brush and the tree trunks, trying to line up a shot, any shot, it was already too late. Little cat was gone, gone.
It seemed like a great idea weeks before. I would be in East Texas for a week of night hog hunting, and what better way to spend a few daylight hours in between than small game hunting.
I put together a first-rate, squirrel-hunting rig, too, starting with a T/CR22 rifle in .22LR made by Thompson Center and finished in Mossy Oak Break-Up Country. I topped it with a Trijicon 1-4x24 scope, a lightweight optic with glass that provides clear, sharp images. And, I added a Little Bird Suppressor made by AB Suppressor of New Century, Kansas.
For ammunition, Mini-Mag segmented hollow point 22LR’s from CCI Ammunition, the Varmint load firing a 40-grain bullet.
Camouflage? Mossy Oak Obsession. Yes, it’s the Official Camouflage pattern of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and perfect for fooling those sharp-eyed turkeys. But knowing that East Texas would be warm and green in October, it was a great choice for squirrels, too.
For footwear, I choose LaCrosse Venom snake boots done in Obsession, offering 18-inches of snake resistant protection to my legs. Good thing, too, as I saw several snakes while hunting.
At the range, I was able to peg groups of one inch and often better at 50 yards.
Then I hit the East Texas Jungle and the speedy cat squirrels.
“They don’t stop for more than heartbeat,” said Darren Jones, marketing guy for AB Suppressor and my first hunting host, after I’d been unable to get on the first couple squirrels. “You have to shoot fast.”
“At what?” I asked, flustered. “Their tails?”
Took me nearly three hours and I had one squirrel down. The sun was very warm, I needed water and the squirrels were bedding down for the mid-day.
“Let’s call it,” I said to Jones. “Brian 1, Cats 5 or 6.
“We’ll get ‘em tomorrow,” Jones promised.
Only if a tornado strips off all these leaves by the morning, I said to myself.
I shifted locations a couple days later, headed south and into even more heavily wooded country near San Augustine, Texas. I was hunting a deer lease that a good friend of mine, David Ellis, managed.
“Cat squirrels all over,” David said when I arrived. “But they don’t hold still for nothing.”
“Yeah, I heard about that,” I said, and explained my previous two hunts.
“Got just the place for you,” Ellis assured me. “Pins oaks along a creek bottom. Slide in there in the morning and sit tight. They’ll come to you.”
Well, I did that the next day, but didn’t see a single squirrel, cat or fox. Fox squirrels, Ellis told me, were here in large numbers, too.
I spent the next two days and nights chasing hogs. Successfully. Which was good but frustrating. I could bag a 275-pound East Texas feral boar, but couldn’t get my crosshairs on a couple pounds of cat or fox squirrel?
The last day of my East Texas hunt found me near a different creek on the deer lease, my back to a pin oak. I didn’t care if it was going to take all day, I was going to get some squirrels. And it took most of the day.
But about mid-afternoon I saw movement, and spotted a squirrel moving towards me, on the ground and weaving its way around the downed trees and brush. I froze. The fox squirrel made its way to a log, sat and began chewing on an acorn. I brought up the T/CR22 and let out my breath, got the Trijicon’s crosshairs on the squirrel and pulled the trigger.
The squirrel hit the ground. I didn’t move. Waited, waited, and fifteen minutes later another squirrel appeared.
Which I promptly missed, my shot sailing over the small head. But I wasn’t terribly worried. The squirrels were clearly moving now, and the Little Bird suppressor was a real help, reducing the otherwise very loud muzzle blast to a discrete “Pop!” Even with a miss, the squirrels weren’t sure where the shot came from; one I missed even ran right at me. I didn’t miss the second shot.
Three squirrels later, one of them a plump fox squirrel, I headed back to camp and to make some stew. I felt I had earned a couple bowls of it. And I would be back, chasing these cats one day.
But I’d learned my lesson. No cat squirrel hunting until colder temps and the Lone Star winds thinned out the East Texas Jungle!