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Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada
FOREST LIFE—(Continued)


THE SQUIRREL-THE FOX-RABBIT HUNTING

SQUIRRELS in the early days were very numerous. Of late years, however, their numbers have diminished considerably. There were about five varieties common to this section of the country, viz., the black, grey, red, flying, and ground squirrel, or chipmunk. The red and chipmunk are about the only two varieties that are at all common now in the older settled parts. The black squirrel, which at one time was so plentiful, is very rarely seen now, excepting in the newly settled districts. They were very fond of grain, and could often be seen in large numbers in the wheat fields when the wheat was ripening. They would bite off the head of the 'grain stalk and carry it away to their nests. Being large, they were much sought after by the hunter for their fur and their flesh, which latter, when cooked, is said to taste very much like that of a chicken. This fact, no doubt, had a great deal to do with their rapid extermination. The flying squirrel was never very common, and it is only a few of the older people who remember seeing one in the wild state. Squirrels live in holes in the hollow trees, with the exception of the ground squirrel, which lives in holes in the fallen trees or logs, and the ground. They live principally on nuts and grain, of which they lay away great stores in their snugly-constructed homes, for supplying them with food during the long winter months. It was one of the amusements of the boys to chase the squirrels with sticks along the old rail fences. This meant death to the squirrel in most cases. When killed their tails were often placed in the boys' hats as trophies. If the boys saw a chipmunk running up a tree they would hammer on the trunk of the tree with a stick. This would bring Mr. Chipmunk down to the ground, where he was the more easily despatched.

For years back it has been the custom on Thanksgiving Day in November, in many of the country towns and villages, for the young men who practised gunning to choose sides and spend the day in hunting for game, the side bringing in the greater number of rabbits, birds' heads, squirrels' tails, etc., being free guests at the supper held in the evening and paid for by the losing side. Unknown to the others, some of the unprincipled young men would go out hunting days beforehand, thus stealing a march upon and meanly cheating their opponents. Of course, this was not fair sport, and the guilty parties, when found out, were generally frowned down upon and their company avoided and dispensed with in future matches of any kind.

The Fox.

In some localities where there was considerable bush foxes were very plentiful. Their short, sharp bark, which resembled that of a dog, only sharper and not quite so loud, could be heard at night when they came out of their holes in search of food. They lived in holes they burrowed in the sand or loose soil, mostly on the side of a hill, near the woods.

A great deal has been said about the cunning of the fox, but it is only necessary to know of their habits to be convinced of the truth of the saying, for truly there is no animal more wily or crafty than he. Their fur is valuable if obtained at the right time of the year—any time from September to April—months with the letter r in the name. At any other time the fur is loose and poor in color. These animals are frequently poisoned, but great pains have to be taken in setting the bait. It must not come in contact with the hand, or Reynard will not touch it. Usually a hole is made in a piece of lard, strychnine is placed in this hole, after which it is plugged up. The lump of lard is then carried on the end of a stick to a place frequented by the fox. Strychnine is also placed in a piece of meat, with the same precautions. It is almost impossible to catch foxes in a trap, but they are frequently shot. It is necessary when hunting them to take along a foxhound, or some other dog trained for the work, as no other will answer. The best time to start out is early in the morning, when their tracks are fresh in the snow, as the hound can only scent a fresh track. As soon as the hound strikes a track he begins to howl, and keeps this up all the time as he follows the track, only howling the louder as he gets nearer the fox. The fox is a fleeter animal than the dog, who only helps to keep the hunter on the track. He will not take to his hole when being hunted unless he becomes very tired, but will keep up the chase for a whole day. When followed he runs round in a circle over his own tracks, unless he sees the hunter, and then he will strike out in a new direction. When possible, he will jump from the snow on to a piece of ground, so as to put the dog off his scent, as the scent is not so good on the ground, but he will not take to water. You cannot drown or smoke him out of his hole, as he will die first. But sometimes, when digging him out, smoke is blown in to find the other holes (he generally has two or more), and thus prevent his escape.

He lives on birds, rabbits, etc., and has been known to tackle lambs a couple of months old. In the early days he frequently attacked the hen roosts, so that it was necessary to pen up the fowl at night, so as to keep them from the depredations of Reynard. He would catch a goose by the neck, give it a sudden jerk to break it, throw the goose over his shoulder, and then away as fast as possible to his den.

NOTE.—Since the bush has become small the foxes have disappeared.

Rabbit Hunting.

Rabbits were more plentiful years ago than they are now. There were a number of varieties, viz., the gray, brown, black, and jack rabbit, but the kind that was the most common was the little gray or cotton tail. They live chiefly in the swamps, in holes or burrows in the ground, and subsist on cedar boughs, herbs, roots, clover, grain, etc. Their flesh is good to eat. Excellent for eating is a rabbit stew, being a dish fit for an epicure when properly cooked. They are frequently caught for their flesh, as well as for their fur and skin, which is made by tanners into leather for gloves.

The fox-hound was often used for hunting them, their tracks being easily discovered in the fresh snow. They were sometimes caught by the figure 4 trap, but more commonly by snares. The snares used for this purpose were made of brass wire. It is fastened to a tree, a loop or noose being made and set across their runways. When the rabbit runs through this noose it tightens around his neck and chokes him.


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