Planning a small game hunt out of state is easier than big game, but you still need to do your homework. I enjoy the process: looking at websites, maps of parks, wild life areas and hunting preserves. After deciding on Wisconsin, I called Krista McGinley, Assistant Upland Wildlife Ecologist with the Wisconsin DNR and she hooked me up big time:
“Thanks for getting in touch with me! What an awesome goal you’ve got – I’ve heard of turkey grand slams, but never squirrel!
We’ve got squirrels all over the place, but I think your best bet would be to aim for Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. This is the area in the southwestern corner of the state that was never covered by glaciers, and the landscape is characterized by plentiful stream valleys and ridge tops. There are also plenty of the oak forests where squirrels thrive.
My favorite part of the Driftless Area is the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, located in Richland County. You’d be able to see some gorgeous country and plenty of squirrels there – I recommend checking out their website at http://kvr.state.wi.us/.
And if you’re looking for a local’s expert guidance, my boss Scott Walter lives on his 140-acre family farm in Richland County and has offered a space around his fire.”
How cool is that? Sometimes, talking to biologists can be hit or miss depending upon how technical or specific your question is. This was a big hit.
We settled in on a picturesque cabin just outside of La Farge. This quaint little town happens to be the headquarters of Organic Valley. Set in a gorgeous backdrop of corn fields and viciously steep hills, many fall activities were available to entertain my wife and boys, in addition to chasing squirrels. The cabin has a great trout stream just outside, Wifi, and is wonderfully furnished. It did not have a land line phone, but I’d have my cell so no biggie, right?
Wrong. ATT hates me and the Driftless area, and I’ve had zero service at all in the area. This would be a blessing most other times, but I needed to get in touch with Scott and get directions to his place. Of course pay phones are are now as common as telegraph machines, and I don’t know morse code.
This took some serious scheming. First, I simply returned to the convenience store where earlier I had asked about buying my license . No pay phone, but I could use her cell. (Sprint). No answer–it was just 2, so he was working.
At 5:30 I was kicking myself for not getting in touch with Scott the day before when I had service and so I settled in on Phil & Deb’s Town Tap, in hopes a stiff drink and nice tip would allow me access to their landline. It worked, but again no answer. Tried again 20 minutes later, no luck, but I left my email.
At around 8 I got an email from Scott saying to call him, and I headed back up to the bar. Another drink, another tip, and I got ahold of the him and he said he’d come over to the cabin and bring a map of his place.
Nestled amongst the hills, Scott’s the seventh generation of Walter to live on the land. He has tapped over 100 maple trees and makes his own syrup, a setup of tubes flowing downhill through forests fascinated me. He knew more than syrup, that’s for sure. He oversees upland game: turkeys, grouse, and of course my beloved squirrels.
He said squirrel hunting is relatively rare in his area, nearly all pressure coming from the Hmong community in Milwaukee. Even then, mostly on just opening weekend. He was as excited to help me on my quest, as I was to get started on my Wisconsin squirrel. Despite having a poor mast the last 4-5 years, Scott was confident I’d do well.
It was 3:00 when I started up the hill behind his house. I was concerned about the high winds, and I wasn’t totally sure where I’d find my quarry. On the top of the hill I creeped within bow range of a fat doe.
She finally winded me and took off. I eased another 50 yards and an enormous buck, a six point, nearly ran me over. No guff, it was the largest bodied deer I’ve seen.
Just after he left, a fat fox squirrel blasted full speed past me, but not fast enough.
Creeping further I came upon a sleepy raccoon, about twice the size of the ones I see normally.
I followed the first squirrel up with poor shooting and missed opportunities. Should have easily had my limit, but only managed one more.
Nonetheless, it was a solid first hunt in Wisconsin thanks to my new friends in the Wisconsin DNR. Hardworking game biologists and ecologists are often unsung heroes in the conservation game but are vital in protecting, preserving and promoting our outdoor heritage. And they can put you on the squirrels!