Beating the banks for bushy tails

Posted on September 20th, 2018

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor

An acorn’s toss across the county line sits Shupac Lake, the northernmost state-forest campground in Crawford County and the place where we took one final summer camping trip for some hunting, fishing and paddling.

For most of the campers there with boats last weekend, it’s the lake’s nighttime rainbow trout fishing which draws them to the lake two miles south of the Otsego-Crawford county line. Their lanterns — some dangling on metal arms over the water, others submerged below their boat hulls to attract fish  — lit up the remote lake under a starry sky.

The campground sits on a ridge overlooking the lake, and the night air was so still I could hear the excitement of every boated fish clear from my seat by the campfire. On Friday night, my neighbors caught 7 rainbows.

What drew me there is the surrounding state land abutting the North Branch of the AuSable River as it flows out of Otsego County. Not only is this home to some beautifully scenic stretches of flies-only fishing, but the woods are absolutely loaded with red oak trees full of acorns — not a favorite of squirrels, but good enough — and that was good enough for me too.

Chels brought her kayak on the trip, and Paige opted to join her for a paddle around Shupac the morning of Sept. 15. This is the first small-game season for my 9-month-old mix pup, Otis, so it was just him and I when we left our site, Otis’ collar jingling as I carried my rifle.

A gun, oil, lantern and French-press coffee maker adorn my picnic table. Photo by Chris Engle

This is also the first season — at least in a while — for my century-old .22 short rifle. Once belonging to a late family friend, the little gun was built by Remington sometime around 1920 and the style was commonly used in carnival shooting galleries. Its cartridges are shortened versions of .22 LR rounds and are relatively quiet and accurate at the distances needed to shoot squirrels.

Aside from all that, letting this battered old rifle stretch its legs just seemed like a fun thing to do. I oiled it up at the picnic table and loaded it with 10 rounds in the butt-stock tube magazine once we got away from camp and into the woods.

We’ve camped and fished here before so the surroundings are fairly familiar to me, but its network of two-track roads can still be confusing so I left markers along the way. This is something I do just about everywhere I hunt for squirrels, birds or mushrooms, and the arrows I scratch into the dirt help me find my way back should I get turned around. Most of the time I never even need them, but it always gives me a little reassurance in pressing on.

A telltale mark squirrels are near: a fresh red oak cutting, once holding acorns, lies bare on the ground after a squirrel clipped and de-nutted the branch. Photo by Chris Engle

We walked and paused for an hour, Otis making wide circles through the oaks in search of scent. There was plenty of squirrel signs — cuttings of oak branches nipped by sharp squirrel teeth littered the trail — but we sprung only a handful of red squirrels and one fox squirrel the whole way. During a break at the river, a volley of grouse erupted from the brush like fireworks, startling Otis out of the water and back into the woods where they once sat. He’s new at all this.

White oaks like these differ from their red relatives by having much more rounded leaf lobes and acorns that are more highly favored by critters. Photo by Chris Engle

Before heading back to camp, I took five shots at a leaf 50 feet away, tumbling it across the ground with each hit. Otis paid little attention, which means he’s not gun shy and that there’s hope for him yet.

Back at the campground, Chels and Paige were relaxing at the beach. We put the gun and the kayak away and headed off to do other stuff, saving the squirrels and the trout for another day.

Chris Engle lives in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

After a successful hunt, there’s nothing better than sharing it with you family. Just kidding — those are pork ribs. I didn’t get any squirrels. Photo by Chelsea Engle

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