Thursday, February 11, 2010

Next Steps

I called the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife the other day. Squirrels, I said to the guy, I want me some squirrels.

Seattle is overrun by thuggish non-native Eastern gray squirrels that strut about as if they own the place—and they're making life tough on the threatened Western gray squirrel. At a party before Christmas I talked to a friend who knew a bit about blowguns of all things. The gears started turning. My boy is crazy for poison dart frogs, which we check out at the zoo whenever we're there. I would get some poison dart frogs (from where I hadn't yet figured out) and...and make an extract from said amphibians! Then tag a few of our oh-so-cocky grays. But after a while that idea somehow lost steam and I was onto the notion of a slingshot. Yeah, knock 'em right off our fence as they prance about.

So I called WDFW. The game warden was understanding. He'd like to see a few of those fat Eastern grays in a nice gumbo too. But city laws trump anything WDFW has to say, and virtually every city of any size in Puget Sound—which is where the Eastern grays gangbang—has ordinances that prohibit projectiles of any sort. "You can't even throw a rock at them according to the law," he said to me sadly.

What's a squirrel gumbo fancier to do?

After that I started looking at Hav-a-Hart traps. But squirrels are notoriously hard to kill and the thought of trying to drown one—the humane option as sanctioned by WDFW—seemed like too much of an ordeal. The upshot is I plan to hunt squirrels the old-fashioned way—with guns—when I visit my brother-in-law in Arkansas.

In the meantime I've hooked up with the bass player of The Tallboys, a local old-timey music outfit, who's a couple years ahead of me on the hunting learning curve. For small game John uses a Savage Model 24, a combo .22 rifle and 20-gauge shotgun that collapses into a packable size. The other day we got an early start (see the sunrise over Lake Washington above) to scout some possible rabbitat near North Bend. The rabbits weren't a-hoppin', though we did flush a couple ruffed grouse and noted those locations for fall when the bird season opens. In a few weeks I take a Hunter Education class, four evenings of instruction capped by a visit to a shooting range.

The odyssey has begun.


klahmers said...

Congrats! Let me know if you ever need to harvest the bounty of the east side of the state.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Cook, very much enjoyed your book. I hope you got a chance to purchase a hancock pass this year--my buddy and I did nearly 150 miles one day all on gravel and dirt! there's some incredible mushroom spots too. Hope to see you out there--keep your eyes peeled for a dodge with a couple AR's in the rack.

Hubert Hubert said...

I was sorry to read that you've been in the wars with your back of late. I'm glad that you're on the mend and that it hasn't stymied your enthusiasm for harvesting the edible flora & fauna of the 'out there' world.

I applaud you for taking this step into hunting (though, to be frank a stew of tree-frog-venom poisoned squirrels isn't likely to appear on my wish-list any time soon & I'm glad you're thinking towards shooting irons instead!).

You're heading into a controversial area too now, with hunting, since it raises questions for people that, these days - with the drift towards a version of Western Buddhist ethics becoming the dominant one among an urban generation - a lot of people can now only approach by way of understanding it as straightforwardly prohibited.

I look forward to you writing more about hunting. So best wishes for this and for a full and speedy recovery also!

murphyfish said...

Hello Langdon,
The very best of luck with your excursions into the world of hunting, but as Hubert says trying to justify it to cellophane protected consumers with “Western Buddhist ethics” may well prove difficult. I’m enjoying your scribing and I look forward to hearing more of your adventures.

Jeff said...

My Dad used to eat squirrels in SC growing up. He would parboil them first to make them less tough. Back in those days, he could literally bring his .22 into school and lean it up against the wall in the coat closet without alarm. On the way home he would shoot a few squirrels for the pot.

One thing to consider--do not eat the brains or other nervous system bits! There have been documented cases of hunters contracting Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease from eating squirrel brains (think "Mad Squirrel Disease").

As far as hunting squirrels, don't discount a good air rifle. While top shelf airguns can cost significantly more than a .22 rifle, the ammo is cheap and they are quiet.

I don't have much love for the invasive Eastern grey squirrels as they have pushed our native squirrels out of their habitat. They also eat baby songbirds.

Hubert Hubert said...

I second the air rifle suggestion of course - particularly since you folk in the States aren't limited, like we are over here in the UK, to 12ftlbs rifles which reduce the effective accurate range you can fire at to a rather cozy 30 yards. I was going to add that with a silencer fitted they are not merely quiet but almost silent - but I remembered that, while US law allows you an air gun that'll shoot through steel doors, it doesn't allow you one that'll do it quietly.

Jeff said...

You can get a Theoben Rapid MkII with a vortex can here. They get around the suppressor laws by fixing the can to the barrel permanently. There are quieter cans for sure, but the vortex does lower the report.

Sherry said...

Good luck with the squirrel hunting! Another reason to be out in the woods. They are great in a shepherds pie or stew.

foragedandfoundedibles said...

any time you want to eat some squirrels just let me know lang. i get them all the time, hazelnut fed down south. huge nut year so they should be really fat, have not gone down there to hunt yet, but now that nettles are up should be this coming week or so.

Langdon Cook said...

klahmers - Will do. I expect our paths to cross at some point.

Anonymous - My explorations of Hancock have been fairly limited. Would you say the pass is well worth it? I'd like to check out some of their trout lakes too.

Hubert Hubert - So far the local food community seems supportive of a move into the hunting realm; I have less of a feel for the thoughts of the enviro community. I welcome all points of view and make my own decisions based on the available info. I realize hunting is an emotional issue (and I'm sure I'll experience a spectrum of emotions as I go forward); it's also an issue that deserves hard rational consideration, and I plan to devote plenty of time thinking about it. BTW, can you elaborate on what you mean by a Western Buddhist Ethics?

Murphyfish - No doubt a whole raft of difficulties awaits. Part of the fun, right? ;)

Jeff - Thanks for the heads-up on squirrel brains. You make a compelling case for air rifles.

Sherry - Now you've made me hungry--love shepherd's pie!

Jeremy - Thanks for the offer, hazelnut-fed squirrel sounds like just the ticket.

Anonymous said...

LC- "Would you say the pass is well worth it?"

If you burn wood, the 5 cord allowance with the pass is fantastic. since it's my first year hunting the land, it's pretty hard to gauge. I've seen lots of does and fawns, a few grouse...but seems that if there are any critters are still holed up. The land is certainly not managed to optimize the game population.

foraging wise should be incredible for mushrooms. lots of 25+ year 2nd growth plots.

fishing? I've heard legends from little birdies that the restricted access watersheds have some monster bows in them. otherwise, the land is riddled with many smallish ponds that seem stagnant and I never saw any fish rise in them. (wont stop me from trying this spring though).

good luck, hope to see you out there.

Also, I heard they sold out of passes for 2010 at the end of January.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

An air rifle and a large back yard will do you just fine. No one will know -- just drop them in YOUR yard, not someone else's. Didn't get into any squirrels this year because of my achilles injury. Sigh. There's always next year...

I don't necessarily recommend that byrid gun, though. Hybrids in general are good at neither thing they try to do. Best to get a shotgun first and learn to shoot it. You will want both barrels shooting those ruffed grouse!

Josh said...

Great post! I'm excited to see you take off for hunting.

I found you from Hank Shaw's blog - I'm a fellow forager and such.

We in Sacramento have the same problem with Eastern greys, so much that I've decided to pull my entire walnut harvest green this year, and make a bunch of nocino, chutney, and ketchup, instead. Those vile squirrels...

Anonymous said...

My method is simply trap them with a have-a-hart trap, then dispatch with an air gun pellet (Crossman 2100) to the head. Very discrete.

PSFam said...

Another option in capturing the squirrels is snaring. Easily set-up and effective. Also you avoid the whole prohibition against projectiles because you can just dispatch them with a sharp rap on the head with a stick.

As an aside. poison dart frogs only produce the toxins on the skin as a side effect of eating certain species of insect found in the amazon. So any dart frogs you get here would be poison free. Though they do make interesting pets, have kept several of them over the years.