Talkin' Outdoors

Want to be the envy of your hunting buddies and fill your calendar with squirrel hunt bookings? Find and train a dog to tree squirrels and you’ll wear out your pencil jotting down hunting dates.

It’s too late this year to locate and train a dog to tree squirrels as season ended Thursday. However, it’s not too early to start thinking about picking out a pup for the future.

For Ruston’s George Seacrist, working with his squirrel dogs is a year round proposition. He raises his own squirrel dogs and begins some preliminaries with pups as young as a month old while they’re still in the kennel, deciding which ones of the litter will eventually be sniffing out and treeing squirrels.

“Dogs that have the inborn desire to hunt can be detected at a really young age,” said Seacrist. “I’ll fan a squirrel tail in front of them and watch their reactions. Some have no interest while others want to reach through the kennel gate and grab it. I’ll keep my eye on those that do and start working with them right away.

“When pups are out in the yard playing, observe which ones seem to have an interest in birds or squirrels in the yard. Once you decide which of the pups seem to be alert to creatures in your yard, sniffing the ground with tails wagging, start right then working patiently with the puppy. I’ll tie a squirrel tail to a string and drag it around the yard so they become accustomed to the smell; they see it as a game and those that show promise become interested real quick.

“When you get to the actual training, take the pup to the woods with a trained dog and let him observe how it’s done. If he’s going to make a good squirrel dog, the light will eventually come on and he’ll be able to do it on his own,” Seacrist added.

Even though a dog may learn to tree squirrels, two other possible obstacles have to be faced. Some dogs are hesitant to bark on the tree while others may be frightened by gun fire.

“Sometimes when one of my dogs trees close to me, he doesn’t bark. However, if I step back behind a big tree where he can’t see me, he’ll bark. I’ve learned that when a dog barks after treeing, he’s not barking at the squirrel; he’s barking at me and it’s his way of telling me there’s a squirrel up there and I need to come shoot it out.

“I had one dog that was gun-shy so I started out hunting her with a .22 or 20 gauge shotgun. I also purchased a tape that plays music and periodically, the music stops and a gun fires. It took awhile but eventually, the dog became accustomed to the sound of a gun shot and now, she no longer has that problem,” Seacrist continued.

Another consideration in deciding which puppy will learn to tree squirrels is the dog’s heritage and blood line. Several species of dogs, such as the mountain cur, usually make the best squirrel dogs, but Seacrist prefers smaller breed of dogs.

“My dogs are a feist and rat terrier mix and they’re worked out really good for me. These are smaller dogs and won’t range out as far as the larger dogs. I like a dog that will hunt close so I can stay in contact with the dog and have a better ‘read’ on him and what he’s doing,” he added.

You want good exercise? Hook up with a squirrel hunter and his dogs. I have made several hunts with Seacrist and his dogs and after a day of tromping through the woods, sprinting to the tree when the dog barks, I don’t have to be rocked to sleep that night. It’s wholesome; it’s fun and the squirrel mulligan that usually follows goes down mighty nice and easy.