Schuckman: Long wait for squirrel season is nearly over

Squirrel hunting season in Illinois opens Thursday. Hunters are allowed to hunt from a half-hour before sunrise until a half-hour after sunset. The daily limit is five squirrels and the possession limit is 10. (H-W File Photo)
Posted: Jul. 27, 2013 12:46 am Updated: Sep. 7, 2013 1:35 am

In Jeff Winthrop's case, Thursday can't get here soon enough.

"I don't count down the days to anything," Winthrop said. "But I thought about marking days off the calendar this month."

Yet, he's not sure that would have appeased his son, Tyler.

Since February, when Winthrop took his 8-year-old son to an Illinois Department of Natural Resources hunter safety education course at Payson Seymour Middle School, it's been a constant barrage of the same question.

When do we get to go hunting?

The answer was always the same: Wait until squirrel season.

Thursday, Tyler's wait ends. Illinois squirrel season opens a half-hour before sunrise Thursday, officially kicking off the 2013-14 hunting seasons. Chances are the temperatures will be high, and the ground cover and canopy in the woods are thick, but it won't keep the Winthrops from venturing out for a little while at least.

"I get to see if Tyler remembers everything he was taught," Jeff said. "And he gets to shoot his gun at something other than a paper target or a soda can."

When he heard his dad say that, Tyler's eyes lit up.

"I think I can kill something," he said. "I'm going to try."

Since completing the hunter education course -- Jeff took the test along with Tyler -- they have gone to a family friend's farm a couple times a month to shoot the .410 over and under shotgun that has been passed from one hunter to the next in the Winthrop family. It was the first gun Jeff and his two brothers used, and it will be the training piece for Tyler and his younger brother, Zach.

"I can't think of a better gun to learn with and practice with," Jeff said. "It's been more than 20 years since I used it, but I still hunt with it occasionally. It's a dead aimer."

As much as Jeff hopes they see some squirrels Thursday and Tyler gets the chance to shoot, he's more interested in teaching Tyler how to hunt.

They've scouted an area thick with oak and walnut trees, figuring squirrels will flock to those trees to gather nuts.

"I could see two nests in the same tree," Tyler said. "I bet there are squirrels in there."

The first time the Winthrops spotted the nests high in an oak tree, Tyler asked a legitimate question.

"Can't we just shoot the nests and see if something falls out?" he said.

Jeff made it clear -- crystal clear was how he put it -- you never do something foolish like that. He's taught Tyler to look for shots with a clear line of sight, to only hunt in areas where there is no danger of harming anything in the background with a missed shot and to only shoot at game within range.

"This isn't the Old West, and we're not gunslingers," Jeff said. "Tyler knows we don't just pull the trigger and keep shooting. You take pride in being a hunter and do it the right way."

That means being prepared, too.

Tuesday night, the plan is to break down the .410 over and under and clean it. Wednesday night, they'll lay out their hunting clothes and gear. Thursday morning, they're going to set the alarm for 6 a.m. and get to the woods by 7 a.m.

At least that's the plan.

"I expect Tyler to wake me up before 6 o'clock," Jeff said. "He won't be able to sleep."

Then he admitted something.

"I won't sleep either," Jeff said. "This will be as much for me as it is him."



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