Warm weather has brought the leaves back to the trees in Lafayette County. As turkey hunters hit the woods now, it wasn’t too long ago that squirrel hunters, and those that use treeing feists to hunt squirrels, were in the woods.<>
Steven McGee was one of those hunters, stopping briefly in Lafayette County as he made his way around the South on the hunting/competition circuit. McGee guided some locals on a hunt a few months ago, when the trees were barren and the squirrels were the only things moving.
The hunt took place out in Denmark, at the base of the national forest. The outing garnered three squirrels. Not a bad day by any stretch of the imagination.
“It was very interesting because you do less watching and more watching the dogs because if you have good dogs, they tell you where the squirrels are,” said Alan Gafford, who hosted the hunt on family land. “It was a lot more enjoyable to use dogs because you didn’t have to go hunker down somewhere and watch for a squirrel to come by.”
The farthest the dogs got away from the hunting party was 600 feet. When the dog got on a squirrel, they put it up a tree and then barked to let everyone know where it was. None of this may sound like groundbreaking information, but there is a lot more involved than just letting a dog loose.
“It’s just like a good duck dog or a good coon dog, it just makes it easier if you have something that knows what it’s doing,” said Gafford, who took his son with him on the excursion. “You’re letting the dog’s instincts take over.”
Squirrel hunting is a good outdoor activity for much younger children because they can be louder. Of course, in McGee’s case, that was especially true.
“Ever since I was old enough to walk,” McGee said when asked when he first tracked a squirrel. “It started way back with my dad and my granddad. We coon hunted, rabbit hunted and everything else. I would rather squirrel hunt over anything else. I like watching the dogs work, that’s what I like to watch.”
McGee’s dogs, one named Georgia and the other Chester, are champions. They have gone to numerous competitions, from Mississippi to Missouri to Kentucky to Alabama competing against other dog owners looking to win a title.
“Usually have a cast of 30 dogs and you break it down to three dogs per cast, so 10 overall,” McGee explained. “You draw a certain site and they usually have seven or eight sites picked out on a board. You have a judge on the hunt with you, and a spectator, is what they call it. They watch how the dog trees a squirrel and another member of the party has to see the squirrel or it doesn’t count.”
The American Treeing Feist Association is in charge of the hunts that McGee takes part in. For those that may be wondering, squirrel competitions are generally held from October through March. McGee said that in Arkansas and Kentucky the season is all year long. Missouri shuts down for two weeks out of the year.
McGee and his dogs had won some awards and he was looking to compete in some more ATFA hunts. There is a point system based on wins, and McGee has placed in the top 10 with his two dogs on different occasions.
When it comes to competition hunts, McGee said everything revolved around the draw.
“You can go and get a hot spot where there are squirrels galore or you can go to a spot where you just don’t have any luck,” McGee said. “I’ve been with some world champions and still couldn’t muster up a squirrel. A good hunt, on a good day, you can tree as many as 15 to 20 and kill anywhere from 10 to 15. It all depends on what the population is like.”
The ATFA has over 350 members and McGee, who resides in Lake, said the sport is popular in the state of Mississippi overall. McGee is into leading youth hunts, trying to grow the sport through the support of the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks.
“It really is a good sport for the kids to get into,” McGee said. “It’s enjoyable for kids and for people who really have a hard time being still or the rigors of deer hunting.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation will hold its annual chapter banquet Friday at the Oxford Conference Center. It will begin at 6 p.m. Taylor Grocery will be providing a seafood buffet for the event. And for $10, those that attend can purchase a bottomless beer cup. There will be games for kids and a chance to win 24 guns valued at $20,000 through a raffle.