Jeffrey Wood has been hunting squirrels for most of his life. But for the past 20 years, the Stringer resident has emphasized the use of dogs in his hunts. And as an avid outdoorsman, he’s had many outstanding trips with his canines. But it didn’t take Wood long to pick out the most memorable moment in all of those hunts. It took place more than a decade ago in an area near Vicksburg during the filming of an outdoors television show.
“We must have had 60 or so squirrels in one day,” Wood said. “I was with one of my state-championship dogs, Frankie (the National Kennel Club 2002 Mississippi State Champion). There were some rabbit hunters with us, too. Well, the night before we hunted, we were sitting around talking, and one of the rabbit hunters asked me if our dogs had good noses like beagles. I told him my dog’s nose was so good, I had to tape one of her nostrils shut so she wouldn’t tree two squirrels at the same time.
“Everyone got a good laugh out of it. It was funny, right?”
He didn’t let it go at that, however.
“Well the next day,” Wood said, “we were getting ready to hunt, and I pretended to tape one of the dog’s nostrils shut. The tape fell off, of course, but I let the dog go and she ran down along this levee and within three minutes, she had treed two big red squirrels at the same time.
“No one could believe it.”
Lighthearted stories like that are not uncommon when it comes to hunting squirrels with dogs. Unlike still hunts that require a greater degree of stealth, hunting with dogs is, well, like a walk in the woods.
Hunters don’t require the newest camouflage or decoys. Also, the dogs stir up enough action that hunters can follow them through the forest while talking, which makes this particular type of hunt a very social event.
“It is great with kids because it doesn’t matter if they talk or break a stick, throw a stick,” Wood said. “When you go deer hunting, you can’t do that.”
Wood should know. His son Remington, 12, hunts with him often, and a group of children joined Wood and his hunting partners during the opening weekend of the Mississippi squirrel season in early October. Wood said to assist the kids in finding treed squirrels he sometimes carries a laser pointer and will run it up a tree to point out where the animal is perched.
“Sort of like a college professor,” Wood joked.
But what’s not a joke is the devotion hunters like Wood have to their dogs. He said he’s trained five world champion and three state champion dogs at his own Etehoma Creek Kennels.
He’s working with six other dogs now, and said they are every bit as important to the hunt as the number of squirrels he may bag behind them.
“At first, it was all about the hunting,” Wood said. “Now, it’s gotten to be a big thing to work the dogs and to take them to competitions all over the country, too.”
Mark Morrison is another long-time squirrel hunter who also has gone through an evolution.
“Still hunting for squirrel is not anything close to hunting squirrel with dogs,” Morrison said. “The most-important thing to me at this point in my life is the quality of watching the dogs work.
“It’s not about stacking tails up like cordwood. It’s about the quality of the hunt.”
Morrison, an attorney from the Canton area, was raised in rural south Alabama and became interested in hunting squirrels while an undergraduate at the University of Alabama from 1984-88. His grandmother lived near Talladega National Forest, and rather than “chasing girls or drinking whiskey,” as he put it, he would go into the forest and “ambush some bushy tails” during visits to his Granny’s place.
“I enjoyed it,” he said.
His interest in the sport became more keen when he was in law school in 1990. Morrison said he read an article in a national magazine about the “lost tradition” of hunting squirrel with dogs.
“It was an interview with Randy Parnell of North Mississippi, up in the Tupelo area,” Morrison said. “So I contacted him and he sent me a brochure with tips on how to train a squirrel dog. Not long after that, I saw an ad in the Birmingham newspaper for (squirrel) dogs.”
Morrison made the trip from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham with two friends to check out the bill of goods.
“I saw this woeful-looking dog,” he said. “The first time I saw him, he laid down in an ant pile. But my friends talked me into it, and I bought the puppy for 75 bucks.
“He turned out to be a natural. He lived ’til the fall of 2006, so he was 16 years old. His name was Morrison’s Sir Beauregard. He was a mixed breed, and was one of the best dogs I ever worked with. I was hooked from that point.”
Morrison has eight dogs now, and he hunts with several of them. He was the president of the Mississippi Hunting Dog Association for five years, but resigned the post, he said, because he wanted to focus on what he likes best.
“That’s being with my dogs,” he said.
His canine charges have given him reason to be so fond. Each is a mountain cur registered from Jamestown, Tenn., and their lineage can be traced back six generations.
In fact, he has taken out life insurance policies on three of the dogs. Morrison also said he has placed a dog in the top 10 of at least 50 Original Mountain Cur Breeders Association events throughout the years.
While those numbers surely are impressive, Morrison said it’s the simplicity of squirrel hunting that attracts him. He said many people’s entry into the outdoors began with small game hunting, and he estimates there was a time not too long ago in Mississippi when squirrel hunters outnumbered deer hunters 25 to 1.
“There are no Boone & Crockett squirrels,” Morrison said. “(This sport) hasn’t been oversimplified. You can be a fisherman with a cane pole, a straw hat and a box of crickets. Squirrel hunting is that way.
“There’s enough fussing, fighting and carrying on in real life. I enjoy the good times. We (don’t want to) lose sight of the simple things.”