In my social circle of “avid” traditionalists, the phrase “small game hunting” should be amended to “small game trying”. Though many would question the accuracy of that statement, as well.
Every year, as the sun sets on deer season, empty promises are belched over the roar of the campfire and into the woods beyond for every squirrel, hare, and partridge to hear, remember, and immediately forget.
“Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do more of…squirrel hunting. I was covered up in them this year!”
“Me too. Portly blacks and noisy reds mostly. I even had a wirey old gray rummaging through my daypack yesterday. Tried to eat my damn Snickers bar!”
“Had several opportunities, myself! Squirrels the size of house cats no further apart than you and I. Too lazy to shoot.”
“You’ve gotta shoot those! Squirrel cacciatore!”
“Catch them? Why would I want to do that?”
I’ve heard statements like this repeated year-after-year with very little follow up. Michigan tends to go dark from late December to early April. Archers are too busy joining indoor leagues, tying flies, ice fishing, tuning turkey calls, or dodging potholes to brave the elements for a bagful of rodents. The one exception, as far as my band of stick-flinging cronies is concerned, is the annual small game competition at Whitneyville Bible Church in early February.
This particular gathering has been a blessing in disguise for the longbow-toting, winter weary Michigander. While the bulk of its contestants are parishioners with beagles and .22 caliber rifles, a handful of foolhardy outsiders have made it a point to brave the elements with blunted arrows and the hopes that we’ll run over several with the truck on the way there.
That never happens (in case you’re wondering). The only luck we’ve had is the bad kind, and the closest we’ve come to success is convincing an old, stressed out gray to leap to his death from atop a maple by pestering him with our arrows. Even then, he survived the endeavor, and cursed us all to a lifetime of poor shooting afield.
We’ve had few encounters since and would love nothing more than to blame our lack of opportunities on squirrel sorcery. But I am a realist and positive our ineptitude has more to do with bad hunting than luck. The following outline of a typical Whitneyville hunt should illustrate my point.
Disclaimer: This timeline probably isn’t historically accurate but I can assure you that all of the events are 100% factual.
7 a.m. – We meet at a pre-determined place and the hunt officially starts.
7:30 a.m. – We examine each other’s new gear acquisitions.
8 a.m. – We finish our coffee, string our bows, and toss movie quotes at each other while laughing like idiots.
8:30 a.m. – We don our orange and start walking.
9 a.m. – We take a break to talk about things that irritate us — and bourbon.
10 a.m. – We get back to “hunting”.
10:30 a.m. – We take another break to complain about the weather, the rising coyote population, and why we aren’t seeing anything to shoot at.
11:00 a.m. – We get bored and decide to shoot stumps.
Noon – We run out of stumps but empty our quivers into an open field “just to see how far the arrows go”.
1 p.m. – We collect our arrows and argue about Michigan hunting regulations — and beer.
2 p.m. – We get back to the truck and realize the hunt is over, which is fine because we are hungry anyway and know the church provides chili dogs at the weigh-in.
2:30 p.m. – We fill our faces and hope to win the door prize, while everyone everyone else gives thanks for the woodland bounty adorning their truck beds.
Now, I should clarify a thing or two, less you judge us too harshly. If subjected to heavy questioning, every bowmen in the party would confess this is not the way you harvest a snowshoe hare or Michigan squirrel. However, those same folks would testify to it being the perfect formula for a good time.
And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.
I would personally like to thank MLA members Sheri and Matt Stoutjesdyk for inviting us to this event every year and the fantastic folks at Whitneyville Bible Church for having us. We’ll keep coming as long as we are tolerated!