Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Something Squirelly...

First of all, whatever end-of-the-year holidays you may have celebrated, I hope all was good for you and yours, and the new year is treating you well.

I personally gave a stranger a nice Christmas present last week.  However, I didn't know about it at the time, and, unfortunately, the stranger was someone who trespassed onto 40 Acre Pines and stole my tree stand.  I found out about it in the usual way I guess, John and I had walked in on the afternoon of the Friday before Christmas for an evening sit only to find the tree barren of stand.  I'd like to say I was mad, or at least madder than I was, but I mostly just felt a profound disappointment in my fellow man.  Merry Christmas, jackass!

Anyhow, on to better things!  Today, the last of my holidays, I decided I wanted to go squirrel hunting.  Now mind you, I haven't been squirrel hunting since Duran Duran were a hot new band, so its kind of a novel idea idea for me.  I read a bit about it online to renew my faded memories.  Like every other form of hunting, people have strong feelings about which behavior is noble and pure and which will result in old southern ladies saying "Bless your heart" to your face while calling your ancestors trash behind your back.  Some are of the "if you can't nail one in the head with a .22 you don't need to hunt it" school.  Others talk of .410 or 20 gauge shotguns. 

Well, I doubt I can hit a target roughly the size of a quarter at 40 or so yards with an off-the-shoulder .22 round, even if my scope was sighted in (which it isn't).  Neither do I have a .410 or 20 gauge shotgun.  I do, however, have an good old Browning A5 12 gauge with a lot of character.  If you go looking at Remington 12-gauge #6 shot game loads, they have a picture of a squirrel right on the box!  Can't go wrong there, right?

Thanks Dad!
The next question was: Where should this hunt occur?  There are skads of squirrels in my own yard, but neither my neighbors or Gainesville PD would likely appreciate me firin' Ol' Betsy there in the city limits.  There aren't many grey squirrels at 40 Acre Pines either, and fox squirrels aren't legal game here in FLA.  I wouldn't shoot THAT fox squirrel anyhow unless I was starving, I like the the vicious little mf'er too much.  So, a WMA it is!

A quick search of the FWC website revealed that the WMA section in Etoniah Creek State Forest was hosting an open small game season.  There we go!  I was familiar with parts of that Forest from the Trailwalker program and its only about 40 minutes away.  During my previous visit I became acquainted with one of Florida's rarest native plants, the Etoniah Rosemary.  ECSF contains the only known population of these plants on public land.

Bardin and Palatka's to the east, Grandin, Florahome and Putnam Hall's to the west.  I'm sure you know the place!
Yesterday was one of those perfect, cool, sunny days we get in North Florida this time of year, right before a truly cold front comes through (its to be 22 tonight ya'll!  brrrrrr).  I arrived at the WMA about 2:30 and after a little scouting decided my hunt would be in the bottomlands next to Etoniah Creek itself.  I parked at the picnic area were West V Road crosses the creek (its on the map above).

Etoniah Creek from the West V Road bridge, with a healthy crop of eel grass.
Like many smaller streams in Florida, at some point in the distant past Etoniah Creek was dredged, and the resulting spoil piles form a now-wooded ridge that parallels the creek.  I started out to the east, keeping along the spoil piles, walking a few steps then waiting to hear something in the hardwoods around me. Occasionally I had to go down the the creek's edge to cross a small tributary flowing through a gap in the spoil ridge.

Scenic, kinda.
I didn't even see any signs at all of squirrels for probably a quarter mile, but then again that makes sense as this is a fairly accessible area that has undoubtedly seen other hunters this year.  I finally began to see a few small dreys scattered about, but it was hard to tell if they were current or not.  Finally I heard a squirrel chattering off in the oaks to the south.  I froze and listened, then slowly tried to ease closer for a look, but I heard no more.

That was the only sign of a live squirrel I heard for the entire two mile stalk.  Which is, I believe, by far the farthest I've ever walked though the woods of Florida and not seen a squirrel.  I guess I can blame hunting pressure, or the breezy conditions of the afternoon, or even my own loudish footsteps across the crispy dried leave.  I only half buy the last one, I've seen enough squirrels to feed an orca while tripping along trails, sounding like an elephant on meth.  Judging from the silence in the woods and the self-check station on the way out, nobody else was getting any meat that afternoon either.

Regardless, it was a very pleasant walk.  I returned along a woods road, hoping I'd scare up a rabbit.  Of course, that didn't happen, but I wasn't really expecting it to either.

Not super easy to hold an iPhone and an A5.
Around sunset I drove around and checked out some other areas of the state forest I hadn't been to before.  They actually have a very nice drive-up campground, no electric but a compost toilets and water from a hand pump.  I snapped this last pic going under the power lines near the back of the WMA area.  I'm a sucker for symmetry, and you can't get much more symmetrical on a large scale in FLA than under a big power line.

To infinity, and beyond!
Addendum:  Photo of Etoniah Rosemary in bloom for Vyki :)  I still heart lens flares.