The ghost squirrels of Montana
I went squirrel hunting today, for the first time in many years. I did this for two reasons.
First, I’m starting to get a bit bored with backpacking and the paradigm of knowledge associated with it. This is predictable. With most things in my life I either get interested/obsessed immediately or not, follow the learning process to a point with which I’m content, then move on to something else. This happened with climbing, canyoneering, and mountain biking. I still enjoy all three, and still follow them with varying degrees of dedication, but I could die happy without knowing more about them, or without having done more in them. Mountain biking has proven more enduring than climbing, and canyoneering is a situational thing, and while there’s a lot I still want from backpacking the opportunities for revelation are quickly becoming more narrow. That’s the sweet spot I crave, short of mastery but deep enough in to really see new things. In climbing it was getting up one 5.13. In canyoneering doing some of the bigger canyons and a few first descents. In mountain biking a number of endurance races and some of the technical stuff I rode in early 2008 (descending the east side of Moore Fun with three dabs is good enough). In backpacking, it was (apparently) the Classic this year and last, as well as all the routes in Glacier this summer. Next.
Secondly, the proverbial move away from Montana is always lingering. Maybe it will never happen, but if it does having one honest deer/elk season in the backcountry is a goal, and to make that happen next year I need to develop my shooting to a place it has never been. Stalking squirrels gets the job done.
Montana squirrels are a different creature than the fat midwestern rodents I hunted in my youth. In three hours out today I heard their shrill admonitions dozens of times, actually saw the little buggers twice, and got one opportunity to shoot. The rolling fog banks and just-not freezing drizzle completed the atmosphere. As I was slowly following the calls of one squirrel the gentlerodent above made a bit of noise scampering out a larch limb off to my left. I circled around and under, 20 horizontal feet away, and 50-60 feet above me he stuck his head out to my side. In a wonderful moment of precise forgetfulness, all my fretted shooting at stumps earlier went away, the Ruger went up, the safety went off, and I put a bullet through its throat and out its skull. An easy shot for many, but I was very pleased with myself.
You have to eat what you kill, and squirrel is renowned for being tough. Pressure cookers and pot pies are typically the order of the day. I slow-roasted it in a pot with sage, honey, sea salt, alder cider vinegar, a dash of beer, a whole white onion, and three small tart red apples.
After ~2 hours at 225 it was as close to falling off the bone as these lean, muscley critters will ever get. I should have pulled the lid off and finished with 10 minutes on broil to flash off more vinegar and make the apples a bit crisp. Hunting wouldn’t be what it is without equal parts joy and sadness, but eating what you shot or caught is pure satisfaction.