Bourjaily: What Happened to Squirrel Hunting?

I recently came across this press release, the relevant portion of which is quoted here:

Rabbit and Squirrel Hunting Seasons Open Sept. 5

Posted: August 25, 2009

Hunting opportunities for squirrels are excellent in Iowa because hunting pressure is low, says [Iowa's forest wildlife biologist Todd] Gosselink. In the early 1960s, Iowa had 150,000 squirrel hunters and a harvest of more than 1 million squirrels compared to last fall where an estimated 23,160 squirrel hunters harvested 169,478 squirrels. Although forested habitat for squirrels has increased in the state over the last 30 years, interest in the sport has declined. Gosselink attributes this decline to more opportunity to hunt other species, like turkey and deer and the decline in Iowa's rural population.

Here in Iowa, our squirrel hunter numbers have fallen by almost 85%. While I can't say for sure, I would guess squirrel hunting is on the decline everywhere. You certainly don't read about it much in Field & Stream or any other outdoor magazine anymore, nor do you see it on TV. It seems like everyone is too busy hanging treestands or trail cameras this time of year to actually go into the woods and have fun hunting.

I have to confess I'm as guilty as anyone else on this count. I spend September and early October trying to get ahead on work so I can chase roosters when the season opens. It's been a least a dozen years since I last shot a squirrel. At the time I had one of those "Mr. Squirrel" distress whistles, which were an absolute hoot to use. You'd blow the whistle - actually, you sucked in to make a high-pitched shriek --- and shake the nearest bush or sapling to make it sound like something was grabbing a young squirrel. The trees would light up with angry chattering, and squirrels would come running to the spot. I have never hunted anything that would bust you as quickly as a squirrel coming to a distress whistle. They come in on full alert, expecting to see a predator. Move at all, and they vanish.

No matter how you squirrel hunt, it's a fine test of woodsmanship and shooting skill. And, squirrels taste great - I am particularly fond of the Squirrel Cobbler recipe in the LL Bean cookbook - but, sadly, squirrel hunting seems to be fading away. Is that true where you live, or is just that us Iowans are so big-deer happy we've lost sight of the important little things?