No Squirrels Harmed


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). If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all and the closest thing to a success was 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!




Ambition aged 34 years

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Steve Angell with a beautiful Pope and Young pronghorn. Gross score of 74″.

The bowhunters I know have longstanding dreams afield. I do not.

I’ve been behind the riser for nearly a decade, but have always felt too new to the game to have any of my own. I’ve come a long way from “flingin’ and prayin’”, having shot several deer with my longbow, but it still feels like happenstance. Each harvest was a gift.

Not so for my more seasoned brothers. Each kill is purposeful, rehearsed, and earned. Two of my dearest friends, Steve Angell and Thom Jorgensen, are prime examples. They’ve logged more time into the pursuit of game than I have breathing. And, as if the almighty himself made it a point to reward the effort, both of them were recently very successful on an antelope hunt in Wyoming.

That is only the story’s conclusion (and a poor summary at that). I will not give you the details of their hunts, partly because I wasn’t present and because they are writers in their own regard. I’ll let them empty their quivers at the fire when they feel like doing so. Until then, I will elaborate about the dream of one of these gentlemen in particular. A dream that was 34 years in the making.

Steve Angell is one of the most dedicated bowhunters I know. He’s been at it his entire life and has wanted to take an antelope since reading about them in magazines, as a kid. Thirty-four years later – at the ripening age of 49 – he fulfilled that dream, tagging out on a 74” Pope & Young buck. It was the 34, not the 74, that flared my eyebrows when he relayed the story to me on the phone.

I turned 34 years old last December, which meant Steve had been dreaming of antelope my entire life.

I couldn’t imagine wanting something that badly. It really made me think about what I wanted to accomplish with my longbow. I thought hard about it that afternoon. I tossed and turned on it that night. One would think that knowing what he or she wants to hunt would be an easy feat for any hunter. It wasn’t for me.

It rained the next morning and I spent a lot of time indoors – journal open – wrestling with a black ink pen. I was down a pot of french roast and massaging a cramping hand by the time I finished. I read through my work and was introduced to a Nick I’d known all of my life but somehow never met.

The most intimate of truths screamed at me from the page. Things I was surprised to write, but didn’t want to read. I was ashamed of some of it, yet amidst all the self-deprecating scribbling, came true wisdom:

“You are a writer who hunts, not a hunter who writes.”

“You are never going to be the guy that organizes a hunt or knows all the answers at camp. That just isn’t you. You are there to observe, reflect, and share. In other words, you are just along for the ride.”

“You don’t care about what or where you are hunting. It is who you are hunting with that truly matters to you.”

I had never heard truer words and am thankful they were my own and not from the lips of someone I didn’t care for.

I’ve never had aspirations to hunt impala in Africa or chase grizzlies in Alaska. Not that I wouldn’t go if invited, but I haven’t laid awake in bed dreaming about the scenario. It may be because I’ve only hunted outside Michigan a handful of times. Or maybe its because I’m a bit of a pessimist blinded by the barriers in front of me. Either way, as John and Paul sang, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.”

And I will. I already have hunts in the works in Kentucky and South Carolina in fact. Maybe that is the key to unlocking the adventurous side of me. I may not have ambitions aged 34 years, but I’ve got the will to experience and record life and those I live it with, as I see them.

You need to live to do that. And I will. I’ll just need a friendly nudge from time-to-time.