I recently headed south to combine hunting my favorite game — squirrels — and with my favorite guns — flint lock muzzle loaders.
I arrived at a mountain top cabin in the Arkansas Ozarks after dark, but in time to join the crew for story telling around a bonfire. I heard about the seven-foot rattle snake that had recently slithered past the fire. I also heard how the copperheads like to warm themselves on the sunny side of the rocks. After the coyotes completed their nightly howl, we turned in.
Since I had never hunted this area before, I let the sun come up before heading out to scout the mountainside and hope for a lucky encounter with a deer. Though I did not see any deer, I learned a lot about the environment.
The woods were all hard woods with lots of red and white oak (including the Chinquapin Oak), hickory, (including Shag Bark Hickory, which is a predominate tree on this land), Beech, and a threatened tree known as the Ozark Chinquapin. The Paw Paw tree also lives here, and rumor has it Paw Paws make a good brandy in home stills. The only coniferous tree was the occasional clump of cedars.
The Ozarks are the remnants of an ancient mountain range. The plateau of this range is slowly eroding into a plain. The broken terrain, numerous rocks and out cropping are a result of the erosion and millennia of geologic upheaval.
This was the perfect habitat for squirrels, and they were everywhere. I have never seen this many squirrels in one place. As I sat on the shady side of a rock, I counted 10 squirrels in just three trees. As evening was approaching, I traded my flint lock rife deer for a flint lock rifle squirrel. I harvested one squirrel for supper. It was delicious.
The next morning, I was up well before first light and headed into the woods. I used a flashlight to guide me to a spot I had picked out while scouting. I used the flashlight to avoid stepping on any timber rattlers. I sat in my chosen spot and after two hours of watching numerous squirrels chasing nuts, I spotted a deer walking towards me.
It was spike buck and it was walking right down the path I had guessed the deer would use. All I had to do was wait for the buck to get to the shooting lane and I would be dining on Ozark venison.
When the buck went behind a clump of trees, I raised the rifle. It stepped into the shooting lane and I pulled the trigger. The buck instantly spun around and ran about 10 feet before stopping behind some brush. It then looked around trying to figure out what the heck that noise was all about, then sneaked off down the hill.
I stared in disbelief as the buck disappeared. I guess everyone misses easy shots once in a while. Oh well, no time to get dispirited; I still had several more days of hunting ahead of me. Another hunter was joining me that evening, so I brought two squirrels back to the shack for supper. We had squirrel with dirty rice.
After sitting at my lucky spot and not seeing any deer in the morning, I decided to roam the mountainside. I traversed the mountainside, looking for deer and found none. Whenever I stepped over a dead-fallen tree, I remembered to look on both sides of the tree for snakes before stepping over it. The highlight of the day was seeing an armadillo.
Eventually, I made my way down the mountain and back to the cabin. As dusk was approaching, I was sitting on the back deck enjoying the view when a buck climbed up a cliff and passed within 200 yards of me. He was way too far for a shot, but it was fun to watch.
The deer in the Ozarks are much smaller than in Wisconsin. This buck had an 8-point rack and topped maybe 130 pounds. Most of the does in this area run in the 70 to 90-pound range. The deer are abundant though, I myself had tags to harvest five. We again had fresh squirrel for supper, this time with a side of red rice and beans.
I had one more day to hunt after the muzzle loader deer season ended so I charged up my flint lock squirrel rifle and set out. The limit on squirrels was eight per day and I wanted to bring my limit back to Wisconsin.
Somebody must have tipped them off because all the squirrels that did not care that I was under their tree when I was deer hunting, made themselves very scarce when I had the squirrel rifle.
After a long morning, I managed to bag two squirrels. As I was sitting on a rock waiting for more squirrels to appear, I noticed a strange black thing about 10 feet away. As I watched, it began to move and I saw a head pop up. The black thing turned out to be a 5-foot-long king snake. It left me alone and crawled under a rock to escape the cold weather.
A five day all game, big game hunting license in Arkansas costs $180. Besides squirrels and deer, waterfowl, alligators, elk and rabbits are possible target species. The muzzle loader deer season occurs in the last half of October. The gun deer season generally starts in early November and ends in mid-December. Wild boars are considered a nuisance and can be shot on sight without a license. There is also a spring turkey season, but no fall season. Arkansas is a great state for outdoor adventures.