BOONE & BO…Born to Hunt Together

Grandpa Boone's farm where I learned to hunt.

Bo the beagle squirrel dog.
  • Boone and Bo…squirrel hunters that lived for the next day, every day
  • The autumn of their years – a special story to my grampa and his dog
  • Lessons for every generation to pass down

By Larry Whiteley

Bo was a beagle and beagles are usually rabbit dogs, but he was all squirrel dog and cared nothing about rabbits. He loved to chase and run those squirrels around the farm, ran them right up the tree. Creeks, barbed wire fences, briar thickets or even a brake-squealing car couldn’t keep him from his mission. Treeing squirrels was Bo’s job and he was good at it. He would do it all day long before finally coming back home to supper. When finished he’d curl up on the porch completely worn out from his days’ adventures.

Grandpa Boone

Bo was my Grandpa Boone’s dog and both were as independent as they could be. Boone was in his 80s and I was 12. He enjoyed taking his grandson hunting and was teaching me to be a squirrel hunter too -when the time was right. Back then we were poor, so it was important not to waste a bullet. It would take a while to save enough to get more. Getting a couple of squirrels was our supper. With Bo’s help that was never a problem. I still remember how good those fried squirrels with grandma’s homemade biscuits and gravy were.

Grandpa Boone had worked hard on the farm all his life and his heart was beginning to wear out. He slowed down a bit, took his medicine, and kept hunting squirrels with Bo and me. Like Boone, Bo was in the autumn of his years. Bo’s gray muzzle reminded me of Boone’s gray beard.

A squirrel trying to hide from Bo.

For Bo, chasing and treeing was the game. It was fun to watch him go after a squirrel. When it would run up a tree he would climb partway up it in his excitement to get at it. As soon as he gave up climbing he would sit at the base of the tree barking until Boone got there and shot the squirrel. A dead squirrel was not important to him anymore. He would trail up to a freshly killed squirrel and then take off after another one.

Our last day was perfect squirrel hunting weather. A crisp, clear morning had dawned when we reached the back forty of Boone’s farm. The early sun sparkled on the frosted grass as we left the old truck. The trees were bare of leaves now. Bo saw the movement of a squirrel and he went to work. Boone took a position by an oak tree and watched. He smiled with pleasure as he listened to the sounds of Bo. He held his old .22 rifle, still in mint condition, in the crook of his arm.

Bo was out of sight, but his bark told us he was after his quarry. His voice muffled as he chased it across a gully and it ran up a tree, as we knew it would. Boone walked slowly to the tree and prepared for the shot. The squirrel came into view out on a limb high up in the tree. Boone sighted down the barrel, but it moved slightly as Boone fired. The squirrel fell to the ground and then ran into a thicket of wild blackberries. Boone muttered to himself.

Boone’s farm where I learned to squirrel hunt.

Bo was after him, but like Boone, slower than before. His voice high and clear, he started after the squirrel at a walk. As we watched, Bo fell. Quickly scrambling to his feet, he yodeled as he entered the thicket. He gave voice for another fifty yards or so and then there was silence.

I looked at Boone. His face was gray, his breathing was heavy and his old face seemed more wrinkled. “Sit down Boone,” I said. “He found the squirrel. I’ll go get them.” But Boone just stood there and didn’t say anything.

Get the biscuits and gravy ready.

I walked through the thicket toward the place where I’d last heard Bo. I found him stretched out, mouth open, eyes glazed. There was no life left in him. A couple of feet beyond his muzzle, the squirrel twitched and was still. I left them both and returned to Boone. He was leaning against a tree with his head bowed.

“I knew it when he fell,” Boone whispered. We walked back to the truck, thinking our own thoughts. Boone broke the silence. “I hope to go like Bo, doing something I really like to do.” “I’ll come back later with a shovel,” I said. “Thanks,” Boone replied, “I don’t think I could do it. One more thing though, would you bury the squirrel in front of him?” I nodded as a tear ran down my cheek.

We got back to the truck and Boone reached in and got out an oiled rag and carefully wiped his old rifle and cased it. He handed the gun to me and said, “I don’t think I’m going to hunt anymore. I want you to have it.” In just a few months, Boone was gone too.

I hunted for many years with Boone’s gun and took a lot of squirrels with it. But, it just wasn’t the same without Boone by my side and the sounds of Bo treeing a squirrel. Today, the rifle sits in the gun safe in my office. I am now in the autumn of my years.

My sons grew up hunting squirrels with that gun. I taught them as Boone taught me. My grandson Hunter got his first squirrel with it after his Dad had taught him. There was never another dog like Bo though.

When I am gone, Boone’s gun will be passed down to one of them.

They all know the story of Boone and Bo, more than just a story of the autumn of their years.

Black Powder Bushytails

  • Made to order method for early-season squirrel hunting.
  • Muzzleloaders lend new excitement to the old game of squirrel hunting.
  • Where to go, What to do, How to call, Packing your game sack.

By Jim Low

There’s no need to wait until fall to enjoy the thrill of hunting squirrels with a rifle.

With turkey season in the rearview mirror and Memorial Day just around the corner, Missouri hunters’ thoughts naturally turn to squirrels.  Squirrel season opens on May 27.  Hunting is mostly done with shotguns during the early months of the season, because lush foliage makes bushytails hard to spot.  When you do spy one, it’s usually just a fleeting glimpse.  However, there is a way to hunt summer squirrels with a rifle that is, paradoxically, both easier and more challenging.  I’m talking about hunting with traditional black-powder rifles with iron sights.

Daniel Boone might have been able to shoot the eyes out of squirrels at 80 paces with old Tick-Licker, but most modern-day hunters find it much harder to head-shoot squirrels with iron sights.  For consistent success, we need to get within 25 yards of our quarry.  This puts a premium on woodsmanship that can pay dividends during later, big-game seasons.

Choice of muzzleloader is mostly a matter of personal preference.  Hard-core traditionalists will opt for flintlocks, but there’s no shame in opting for the more certain ignition offered by percussion models. Since you are aiming for squirrels’ heads, it makes little difference whether your smoke pole is spitting .32-cal pellets or .54-cal marbles.  Larger projectiles do provide a slight advantage, simply because their greater diameter increases the chances that some part of the ball will make contact with the target.  They also offer the possibility of “barking” squirrels – aiming at tree trunks or limbs adjacent to the squirrel’s head so death results from concussion.  A .535-cal round ball weighing 230 grains packs a serious wallop that a .31-cal ball, weighing a mere 45 grains, can’t match.

Do not, however, let anyone tell you that small-caliber muzzleloaders won’t kill squirrels outright.  The first squirrel I shot with my .32 CVA Varmint caplock was a full-grown gray squirrel.  I had 20 grains of FFFG black powder under the .31-cal ball.  When I went to pick up the deceased rodent, all that was left of the head were flaps of skin from the lower jaw and pate.  I have since decreased my squirrel load to 15 grains of FFFG.  The heavier load simply is unnecessary.

If you don’t already own a muzzleloader, look for one with a set trigger.  This second trigger – typically located behind the main trigger – is pulled just before taking a shot.  It “sets” the main trigger, dramatically reducing the amount of pressure needed to release the hammer.  This lessens the tendency to pull the rifle to one side as you squeeze the trigger.  Traditional muzzleloaders’ lock time – the time elapsed between the moment you release the trigger and when the projectile leaves the barrel – is much longer for smoke poles than it is for modern firearms.  So, the time during which you can drift off-target is much greater.  Reducing trigger-release pressure helps offset this inherent disadvantage.

Hunting with a muzzleloader is an excellent fit for summer squirrels.  The same factors that limit hunters’ vision apply to squirrels, so they are much less likely to notice your approach.  And because last year’s leaf fall has had seven months to weather, you can slip through the woods with greater stealth.

Summer squirrels are not concentrated around nut trees, as they are in the fall.  That doesn’t mean they are randomly distributed, however.  Early in the spring, I have seen as many as a dozen squirrels in a single elm tree, harvesting the fresh, green seeds.  Later, they consume the succulent flower and leaf buds of a succession of trees.  Later still, they focus on mulberries and other fruit, such as hackberries and wild cherries.  You don’t need to know which trees provide food each week throughout the summer.  It’s enough to know that where you find one squirrel, you are likely to find more.

Sound is more important than sight for finding summer squirrels.  Take a seat or lean against a tree when you enter the woods and spend five minutes listening for the telltale rustle of squirrels foraging in the treetops.  If you hear nothing, move 50 yards and listen again.  When you hear feeding activity, gradually move toward it until you make visual contact.  Then pay attention to the squirrel’s feeding cycle.  Typically, they will spend a few minutes gathering food from one branchlet, then move on to another.  Often, they pause to rest for a few moments between forays.  Move into shooting position during the active feeding phase, freezing when your quarry moves between branches.

The Mr. Squirrel distress call, sold by Haydel’s Game Calls, is an effective tool for harvesting summer squirrels.

Another advantage to hunting squirrels in the summer is the fact that they are more susceptible to calling than at any other time of year.  Male and female squirrels respond dramatically to young squirrels’ distress calls.  You can use this habit in two ways.  One is to blind call, which will cause any squirrels in earshot to reveal their location.  A better approach is to find actively feeding squirrels, sneak in and take a position in their midst, and hit a few licks on the distress call.  Thrash the ground violently with a small, leafy sapling while calling to mimic the sound of a baby squirrel caught by a predator.  Not only will squirrels leave the treetops to investigate, some will run toward you and perch on branches, barking and offering a shot.

My squirrel distress call is sold by Haydel’s Game Calls under the name Mr. Squirrel.  Flambeau offers a different version of the same thing, called Mr. B’s Distress Squirrel Whistle.  You also can make your own out of a plastic jug.

Because most of the activity occurs high in the tree tops, most of your shots will be at steep angles.  This makes a shooting stick invaluable.  You can use a store-bought rifle rest, but I prefer an actual stick – an ironwood sapling that I cut nearly 40 years ago.  I grasp the stick with my left hand and rest the barrel of my rifle on top of my hand.  This arrangement works for any elevation.

One problem unique to summer squirrel hunting is meat spoilage.  I carry a couple of frozen water bottles in my game pouch.  Gutting squirrels as soon as you shoot them hastens cooling, and keeping them inside the pouch avoids attracting flies.

You can do all the above with a modern rifle, too.  That’s the best bet if you are dead set on bringing home a limit of bushytails.   But if you are looking for a way to make squirrel hunting more challenging and interesting, nothing beats a muzzleloader.

Fins & Feathers Day

Let’s call the fourth Saturday in May what it really is.

Maries River Smallmouths – Jefferson City native Randy Boeller drove all the way back home from Houston, Texas, to catch this hefty smallmouth from the Maries River.

To my knowledge, the fourth Saturday in May is the only date on the calendar when Missouri anglers and hunters all have something to rejoice about.  That’s because the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend is opening day for squirrel hunting and for catch-and-keep fishing for black bass south of the Missouri River.

This year’s squirrel season runs from May 28 through Feb. 15, 2017.  You can fish for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass year-round, and you can keep these three black bass species all year anywhere north of the Missouri River and in impoundments statewide.  Though in most streams south of the Missouri River, you may not legally keep black bass until the season opens.  This is designed to give bass protection during their spawning season and during the part of the year when Ozark streams are at very low levels and bass are concentrated in small pools.

Note that I said “most” streams south of the Missouri River.  The area where black bass fishing is restricted excludes what is commonly known as “swamp east Missouri,” the low area that is part of the Upper Mississippi Embayment.  This includes all of Dunklin, Pemiscot, New Madrid, Mississippi and Scott counties, most of Butler and Stoddard counties and tiny bits of Ripley and Cape Girardeau counties.  The actual boundaries are much more precise than this, being demarcated by highways as described in the Conservation Department’s Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations.  The booklet is available wherever fishing permits are sold or online at http://on.mo.gov/1LwnqRA.

There’s no trick to finding places to hunt squirrels.  Anyplace with trees is sure to have bushy tails.  If you don’t own such land or know anyone who does, there are literally hundreds of conservation areas that are crawling with squirrels.  The Conservation Department makes it easy to find an area near you with its online Conservation Area Atlas. The database is searchable by county, activity or type of facilities.

What might be slightly more complicated is finding the right kind of squirrel.  To me, the “right” kind are fox squirrels, which are about twice the size of gray squirrels, and consequently are more likely to add up to more than one serving apiece.

In principle, finding fox squirrels is easy.  They inhabit open woodlands and areas where wooded acres are surrounded by open ground, especially agricultural land.  This means southwestern and northern Missouri for the most part.  However, you can find fox squirrels throughout the state where forest borders on pasture or row crops.

Black Powder Squirrels – A small-caliber muzzleloader is a good tool for hunting squirrels in the summer, when foliage dictates close shots.

Most of the bass you catch in Ozark streams will be smallmouths, those bronze-backed masters of the aerobatic hook-toss.  In a few streams, however, smallmouths have been fighting a losing battle against an invasion of spotted bass.

I’m not normally one to intervene in a fair fight, but in this case I think anglers have legitimate cause to take sides.  For one thing, the spotted bass’s fighting ability pales in comparison to that of a smallmouth.  Add to that the fact that spots are significantly smaller, on average than smallies, and you’ve got a no-brainer.

To let anglers weigh in on the smallmouth-spotted bass battle, the Conservation Department has removed the minimum length limit for spots on all or parts of the Big, Bourbeuse, Courtois, Meramec rivers and on Huzzah, Blue Springs, Dry Fork and Mineral Fork creeks.  Taking home a limit of six spotted bass of various sizes lets anglers enjoy fish on the table without reducing the supply of hard-fighting smallmouths.

More restrictive length and creel limits apply to smallmouths on various other streams where the Conservation Department is trying to build trophy smallmouth fisheries.  Before heading out, be sure to check the section of the Fishing Regulation Guide for regulations specific to the area you plan to fish.

Stream bassing in Missouri isn’t all about the Ozarks.  Several streams in Northern Missouri have good smallmouth bass populations mixed in with the dominant bucketmouths.  The South Fabius (pronounced (Fabby”) River, which runs through Knox, Lewis and Marion counties north of St. Louis.  This Mississippi River tributary is virtually unknown outside of Northeastern Missouri, but it is notable enough to be included in the Conservation Department’s “Padder’s Guide to Missouri.”

Plenty of other northern Missouri streams also have excellent black bass fishing.  North of the Missouri River there are the North Fabius, Grand, Chariton, Salt and Platte, and in the south you have fine Ozark Border streams, including the Lamine, Moreau and Maries rivers.

Oil up your shotgun and fishing reel.  The fun is about to start!

Fins & Feathers Day

Let’s call the fourth Saturday in May what it really is.

Maries River Smallmouths – Jefferson City native Randy Boeller drove all the way back home from Houston, Texas, to catch this hefty smallmouth from the Maries River.

To my knowledge, the fourth Saturday in May is the only date on the calendar when Missouri anglers and hunters all have something to rejoice about.  That’s because the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend is opening day for squirrel hunting and for catch-and-keep fishing for black bass south of the Missouri River.

This year’s squirrel season runs from May 28 through Feb. 15, 2017.  You can fish for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass year-round, and you can keep these three black bass species all year anywhere north of the Missouri River and in impoundments statewide.  Though in most streams south of the Missouri River, you may not legally keep black bass until the season opens.  This is designed to give bass protection during their spawning season and during the part of the year when Ozark streams are at very low levels and bass are concentrated in small pools.

Note that I said “most” streams south of the Missouri River.  The area where black bass fishing is restricted excludes what is commonly known as “swamp east Missouri,” the low area that is part of the Upper Mississippi Embayment.  This includes all of Dunklin, Pemiscot, New Madrid, Mississippi and Scott counties, most of Butler and Stoddard counties and tiny bits of Ripley and Cape Girardeau counties.  The actual boundaries are much more precise than this, being demarcated by highways as described in the Conservation Department’s Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations.  The booklet is available wherever fishing permits are sold or online at http://on.mo.gov/1LwnqRA.

There’s no trick to finding places to hunt squirrels.  Anyplace with trees is sure to have bushy tails.  If you don’t own such land or know anyone who does, there are literally hundreds of conservation areas that are crawling with squirrels.  The Conservation Department makes it easy to find an area near you with its online Conservation Area Atlas. The database is searchable by county, activity or type of facilities.

What might be slightly more complicated is finding the right kind of squirrel.  To me, the “right” kind are fox squirrels, which are about twice the size of gray squirrels, and consequently are more likely to add up to more than one serving apiece.

In principle, finding fox squirrels is easy.  They inhabit open woodlands and areas where wooded acres are surrounded by open ground, especially agricultural land.  This means southwestern and northern Missouri for the most part.  However, you can find fox squirrels throughout the state where forest borders on pasture or row crops.

Black Powder Squirrels – A small-caliber muzzleloader is a good tool for hunting squirrels in the summer, when foliage dictates close shots.

Most of the bass you catch in Ozark streams will be smallmouths, those bronze-backed masters of the aerobatic hook-toss.  In a few streams, however, smallmouths have been fighting a losing battle against an invasion of spotted bass.

I’m not normally one to intervene in a fair fight, but in this case I think anglers have legitimate cause to take sides.  For one thing, the spotted bass’s fighting ability pales in comparison to that of a smallmouth.  Add to that the fact that spots are significantly smaller, on average than smallies, and you’ve got a no-brainer.

To let anglers weigh in on the smallmouth-spotted bass battle, the Conservation Department has removed the minimum length limit for spots on all or parts of the Big, Bourbeuse, Courtois, Meramec rivers and on Huzzah, Blue Springs, Dry Fork and Mineral Fork creeks.  Taking home a limit of six spotted bass of various sizes lets anglers enjoy fish on the table without reducing the supply of hard-fighting smallmouths.

More restrictive length and creel limits apply to smallmouths on various other streams where the Conservation Department is trying to build trophy smallmouth fisheries.  Before heading out, be sure to check the section of the Fishing Regulation Guide for regulations specific to the area you plan to fish.

Stream bassing in Missouri isn’t all about the Ozarks.  Several streams in Northern Missouri have good smallmouth bass populations mixed in with the dominant bucketmouths.  The South Fabius (pronounced (Fabby”) River, which runs through Knox, Lewis and Marion counties north of St. Louis.  This Mississippi River tributary is virtually unknown outside of Northeastern Missouri, but it is notable enough to be included in the Conservation Department’s “Padder’s Guide to Missouri.”

Plenty of other northern Missouri streams also have excellent black bass fishing.  North of the Missouri River there are the North Fabius, Grand, Chariton, Salt and Platte, and in the south you have fine Ozark Border streams, including the Lamine, Moreau and Maries rivers.

Oil up your shotgun and fishing reel.  The fun is about to start!