"How do you know which one is the fox squirrel?" John said, looking up at me.
"The fox squirrel has the deep, raspy bark," I said. "He doesn't whine at the end of his barking like a gray squirrel.
"Listen as I call to them again, and point in the direction where you think the fox squirrel is barking."
I whipped the ground with a small leafy branch and blew the distress call a second time. The three squirrels barked, and my son immediately pointed in the direction of the fox squirrel.
"Okay, son, do you want to take the fox squirrel or the gray squirrels?" I said.
"I'll go after the fox squirrel, Daddy," he said. "You can hunt those two gray squirrels."
We experienced a productive morning of squirrel hunting and both came close to taking our limit of squirrels.
I guess I share an interest with Dr. Dolittle because I enjoy talking to the animals. I like the way a grunt call sometimes can make a buck come to you.
It's also enjoyable to use a turkey call to try to fool a wise old woods wizard. Men who can talk waterfowl down from the sky with their duck and goose calls also draw admiration.
But I most enjoy the productivity of squirrel calling as do many South Carolinians. With squirrel season opening Thanksgiving Day and continuing through March 1, 2007, Palmetto State hunters have plenty of time to enjoy hunting squirrels and talking to them.
Years ago a package arrived in the mail and it included a round, hollow piece of metal about the size of a bottle cap. Each end had a hole, and the packaging read: Mr. Squirrel – the Ultimate Squirrel Call.
Glancing over the directions on the front of the package, I decided I had to blow this whistle to make squirrels come running. But after taking the whistle into the woods during two or three squirrel hunts and blowing through the holes to produce what seemed to be an odd sound, nothing happened.
A year later, the phone rang one day. At the other end was an unknown voice.
"Mr. Phillips, I'm Shannon Talkington," the gentleman said. "I'm the fellow who invented the Mr. Squirrel whistle. I sent you one and asked you to try it. Did you have an opportunity to test it yet?"
"Yes, I did," I said cautiously.
"What did you think about it?" Talkington said with an excited voice.
"It didn't work," I said, after pausing a moment.
Talkington couldn't believe his squirrel whistle didn't work.
"If I can prove to you that it works, would you write about the whistle in your newspaper column?" he said.
"If you can tune that whistle to make a squirrel come to you, I'll put you in a national magazine," I said.
We set a date for our squirrel hunt, and my son John accompanied me.
Talkington said he'd left his rifle at home because he wanted us to shoot the squirrels while he called them. As we walked into the woods that first morning, Talkington cut a small leafy branch and took out his squirrel whistle.
"What do you plan to do with that limb?" I said.
"Did you read the instructions on the back of the box?" Talkington said.
"No one ever reads the instructions on the back of a package," I said, smiling.
"No wonder you didn't call in any squirrels," he said.
I watched Talkington whip the ground with the leafy branch and begin to toot on the whistle - but nothing happened. He repeated the same process with the same result.
"I don't think there's any squirrels in this spot," he said. "Let's move to another area and try the call again."
I really didn't believe we'd take any squirrels that day after watching Talkington's call and his whopping the leafy branch on the ground fail to trick a bushytail. But as we moved deeper in the woods into an acorn flat, Talkington whipped the ground and tooted on the squirrel whistle again.
To my surprise, three squirrels began to bark. My son and I stalked within rifle range, and in short order each of us managed to bounce a squirrel in the leaves.
The rest of the morning went just as Talkington had predicted.
We'd move 100 to 200 yards from the last place we'd taken a squirrel and call again. I couldn't believe how effectively the Mr. Squirrel whistle lured squirrels out of their holes in the trees and made them bark.
How the Whistle Works
Talkington said as he and his friend hunted one day some years ago, they watched a redtail hawk snatch a young squirrel off a limb, take it to the ground and squeeze the squirrel with its talons to kill it.
To maintain its balance, the hawk fanned its wings against the ground and made the same noise Talkington had made using the leafy branch. The captured squirrel squealed and gave off the same sound Talkington had reproduced with his Mr. Squirrel whistle.
"My friend and I noticed that other squirrels came out of their holes and barked at the struggle," Talkington said.
So Talkington and his friend went home and welded two RC Cola bottle caps together to make a whistle. But their whistle didn't work as well as they'd hoped. Next they captured a live squirrel and took it to the University of Mississippi where scientists measured the frequency of its squealing.
Talkington didn't say if these guys were nutty professors.
Once they determined the frequency of the squirrel's squeals, the two inventors went home and re-engineered their bottle caps. They created a whistle that produced the exact frequency of a young squirrel's distress call when captured by a hawk. After some time, they finally manufactured the squirrel whistle out of different types of aluminum. They not only produced an effective squirrel call but also taught other hunters how to use it.
I'd never heard of a squirrel-in-distress call until I saw Talkington's Mr. Squirrel whistle. However, ever since the invention of the squirrel whistle, many other manufacturers have duplicated the sound.
But now when I hunt with a squirrel whistle, I always beat the ground with a leafy branch to get the desired effect.
Over the years, many hunters have used squirrel barkers to talk to squirrels effectively.
Basically it works by tapping the bellows at the end of this call with the palm of the hand. That creates the sound of a squirrel's barking.
For anyone who has hunted squirrels (and nearly every Southern born and bred boy started his hunting career going after shadowtails), they know other squirrels will leave hiding places and begin to bark after they've heard another squirrel bark.
When a squirrel barks, it gives away its location. Then you can get in close enough to take a shot.
Most hunters squirrel hunt alone and use a single barker. However, a few years ago, I hunted with a friend of mine, Ray McIntyre of Grand Island, Fla. McIntyre and I each carried a barker and a .22 rifle.
After finding a spot where we thought we'd locate squirrels and separating by 50 to 60 yards, McIntyre barked with his squirrel call, and I barked back to him.
We learned that by using this technique we could lure more squirrels out of their holes to bark at us than when we only used one squirrel barker. After we took the squirrels that barked back at us, we moved 50 to 100 yards in the woods, spread out again, waited 10 minutes and began the same barking strategy.
This technique worked well to call and take squirrels, and we took our limits quickly. This strategy also allowed us to thoroughly enjoy hunting together.
The 'Cutter' Call
Many squirrel hunters don't know about cutter calls that lure squirrels out to feed after hunters have spooked them by stalking too close or after a shot's been fired.
After a squirrel has spotted a hunter and returned to its hole in the tree, a hunter should sit down, wait about 10 minutes, then use the cutter call.
A cutter call consists of two parts, a plastic screw and a plastic paddle similar to a tongue depressor. By applying pressure on the paddle against the screw, the paddle drops from one thread of the screw to the next thread of the screw, creating a sharp, popping noise.
This sound resembles the noise a squirrel makes when eating a nut. For this reason, this call causes spooked squirrels to consider an area safe and clear for them to come out and feed.
Why Use Calls?
Early in the morning and late in the afternoon, hunters simply can stalk through the woods, look for squirrels, then get to a shooting position.
However, after 8 or 9 a.m., most squirrels usually will retreat to their holes and remain in their dens the rest of the day.
But when hunters use squirrel calls such as the squirrel barker, cutter or squirrel distress whistle, they can entice squirrels to come out of their dens later in the morning.
When I hunt squirrels, I prefer to hunt all day or at least until I get my limit. Squirrel calling allows me to continue my hunt long past the time I normally will have quit. Squirrel calling also produces a second shot when I often won't have had the opportunity to take one.
Squirrel calling also satisfies my desire to talk to the animals.
When the leaves come off the trees, stalking in close enough to get a shot can prove difficult, especially if hunters don't know where squirrels have hidden. But for those who use calls, squirrels will give away their positions. Then it's easier to plan a stalk and have a much better chance for success.
To learn more about squirrel calls and see instructional videos, Google "squirrel calls." Your search engine should come up with more than 4600 hits. (Haydel's Squirrel Call Pack SP-05 includes two calls, the DS-85 and SW-92 Mr. Squirrel Whistle. Both simulate the distress cries of fox and gray squirrels with the DS-85 also having a barking feature. Try www.AllPredatorCalls.com or call 888-826-9683 where the package sells for $17.95).