Richard Bruhl was listening for a certain bark, and he definitely heard it.
“May May,” Bruhl’s yellow black-mouthed cur, had been sniffing around the mushy forest floor on an 80-acre tract near Folsom when her finely tuned nose forced her voice to erupt in a vocal frenzy that had passion behind it.
Bruhl moved with a purpose in the direction of the barks, but stopped 40 yards away, folded his arms and looked heavenward, scanning the top of a mighty white oak for balls of fur or signs of movement.
Bruhl’s cousin, Jeff, trailing only slightly behind, saw it first.
“There he is, Ricky!” he said, while angling away to find an unobstructed line of fire for his .22.
Jeff Bruhl leaned the light rifle against an 8-year-old pine, found the squirrel in the scope and fired. The round reached its mark, and the second squirrel of the afternoon tumbled to the ground below, where it was met by a victorious May May.
In the afterglow of the successful kill, Richard Bruhl said he could tell by May May’s persistence that she had treed a squirrel.
“If she’s right on a squirrel or she saw him go up, she’ll bark just continuously,” he said. “It’s really strong.
“Other times, you can tell it’s just confusion. She thinks she heard something or saw something, but she’s not sure.”
Richard Bruhl lives to watch May May work. He got her as a puppy 11½ years ago, and has hunted alongside her for more than a decade. Unlike some dogs, May May ignores the scent of rabbits, deer, hogs and coons.
“She’s a squirrel dog. That’s all she is,” Bruhl said. “The other dog I had before her would hunt coons. She’d chase both.”
Bruhl had plenty of squirrel dogs before that one as well. He’s been hooked on the sport since he was a child growing up in northern St. Tammany Parish.
Training the pups takes some effort and planning, but it’s easier than most might assume.
“When they’re puppies, I’ll put feeders up at my house,” Bruhl said. “You put food out for those squirrels, and then you bring a squirrel dog down there for the puppies to watch, and they train themselves. At first, they’ll smell them a little bit, and then as they mature, they’ll start treeing them and barking. Generally, for a squirrel dog, that’s about 15 months.”
Bruhl will also save squirrel tails in his freezer from previous hunts, and drag them around the yard to get the dogs attuned to the smell.
But good squirrel dogs use more than just their noses, Bruhl said.
“When I first got May May, when she was a lot younger, she went strictly on sound,” he said. “She could hear a squirrel 70, 80 yards away on the ground. She would take off, and then tree it.
“But now she uses her nose, eyes and ears. If I see her and she’s looking up and kind of dancing, the squirrel is running. She sees him, and he’s going through the trees.
“Sometimes you never see them. If they’re hid very well, they’ll never move. You just can’t find them.”
Bruhl puts May May to good use this time of year, especially after Feb. 1. By then, most deer seasons are closed, and a guy with a well-trained squirrel dog is welcome just about anywhere.
Bruhl does a lot of his hunting on a tract near Enon in Washington Parish. Two years ago, he shot 122 squirrels on the place, but last year was much leaner. He dropped only 33.
“There were no acorns up there (last year),” Bruhl said. “They move to where the food is.
“When the deer hunters tell me, ‘Man, I can’t wait until squirrel season,’ then you know it’s going to be good. Seems like the dog will send one up every tree.”
Bruhl said he’s getting positive vibes from the tract’s deer hunters this year, so he’s optimistic his family will eat plenty of fried squirrel next month.
“Every day with good weather in February, we’re hunting squirrels.” he said.
And weather, like acorn abundance, is critical to success, Bruhl said.
“Squirrels feed a lot more on sunny days,” he said. “On a cloudy day, they stay close to the holes in the trees, and if something’s after them, they go straight back to the holes.”
What Bruhl despises even more than clouds, however, is wind.
“I won’t even go if it’s windy,” he said. “It’s just impossible to see a squirrel.”
There were neither clouds nor wind during last week’s hunt, and that afforded May May a nice tune-up for the season, which, for Bruhl, really begins next week. The countdown is on.
Need a place?
Wildlife management areas in every corner of the state are open to using dogs to hunt both squirrels and rabbits through Feb. 28 this year.
It’s best to consult the Louisiana Hunting Pamphlet, 2018-2019 for the WMAs open to this hunting opportunity and these seasons. Or go to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ website: wlf.louisiana.gov, then find “Hunting” pulldown, then “Regulations,” then the 2018-2019 (PDF) Hunting Regulations.