It might surprise anyone that has ever been to our little farm in Thayne, WY that there was a time when it actually had a ground squirrel population that would eat some of the hay in the field next to the pasture where they lived. Today, there isn’t much evidence that they ever existed.
Man I am Old.
I was reminded of this story the other day when I opened a can of Pepsi here in China. Pepsi in the can in China is still in a “pop top” can. I sat there and pondered how long it had been since I saw a pop top can of any kind. With the exception of seeing a “7-Up” can with one in Hong Kong a couple of years ago, I haven’t seen pop top cans since the early 1970s. I was sharing the wonder with some of my colleagues when I told them that the current can used for Coke products, stay tab tops, actually had a top version between them called the push top can. The push top can discussion reminded me of the now extinct squirrels of our little farm in Wyoming. Such is the wandering of my mind, this push top can top was one of the main reasons that the squirrels are extinct today.
Their is some irony here with this image. Likely would have been lots of those cans available to use.
I think it was Shasta Soda that I would have been drinking. Probably had a can or two in the creek by the little trail into the stream. The stream water is a pretty steady 48-54 Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall. Not an ice cold drink but sitting in the sun waiting for squirrels it was great.
The history of the aluminum can doesn’t mention that this can type was used in a soda pop version but I am pretty sure it was, I am sure that I drank some pop from it as a kid, probably Shasta since it was probably the cheapest pop you could buy at the time. It is somewhat ironic that one can photo is a Coors can. I would have seen many of them as Coors was the brand that my grandfather drank and these cans would have been plentiful during my youth while they were used.
It seems only fair to the story to try to explain where the squirrels used to live. When we began working the farm there was a fence that existed between the hayfield and the pasture that was used for the cows. It would have followed Flat Creek on the west side and allowed just enough room for the cows to walk along the fence on that side of the creek. Flat Creek wanders through our little farm and flows from the south to the north and meanders to the east and west several times before it exits the property. In one of its wanders to the west it makes its closest approach to Salt River towards the north end of the property. When the creek turns again and begins to run back to the east-northeast, the fence would have continued to move north would have created a triangle of pasture when the fence ran nearly east-west and put about 2500-3000 square feet of ground in the pasture next to the creek. This is where the squirrels had existed for at least some period of years. It was their home. I don’t know how they got to this spot of the farm but they weren’t but a couple anywhere else, they weren’t in the hayfield and there were only a few over by the willows on the other side of the field several hundred yards to the south.
That is a beautiful little spot there now. 40+ years ago there were fences and a separation between two fields.
Next to this small part of the pasture there was a spot along the fence near where it came close to the stream bed as it traveled east so that the cows would either enter the stream or continue to walk the fence. This spot down worn down by the hooves of many cows over many years provided a perfect spot to hide a little boy’s body while he could still set up his gun towards the squirrel colony.
Dad must have noticed one day as he was looking to see if the hay was ready to cut that the squirrels living in that little spot were eating a lot of hay from the hay-field just across the fence. I am not sure how many squirrels it takes to eat the same amount of hay that a cow does but I am pretty sure that there were at 2 to 3 times that many living in that spot. He told me that he wanted me to kill the squirrels that were in that spot.
Dad had an old single shot 22 with iron sights that he gave me with a box or two of .22 caliber bullets. It was likely a gun that he had for a long time. The bolt handle had been broken at sometime before I got it and it had been welded back on. It was a good little gun for a boy to have because you really couldn’t hurt it and it would still fire even when suffering from the abuse that a boy could dish out. He took me down there and told me that this was where the squirrels were and that I should shoot them.
A squirrel is known to stand up when near the hole and look about to survey the lay of the land and to look for “enemies”. When squirrels are out and about there will always be at least one of them standing up and looking around. My little hiding spot was perfect for not being detected and would allow me to stay near the squirrels without spooking them back into their holes.
You gotta be able to make that shot.
Squirrels are cautious but curious. The curious part was what lead to extinction.
I don’t know if these squirrels ever had someone shooting at them before but they acted like every other squirrel I have seen since then. Like a typical squirrel, they like to stand up and see what is going on around them. That position is also a very advantageous position for the dead-eye that is trying to shoot them.
I spent more than a few days nestled into my little worn out spot by the fence shooting squirrels. The first few days were splendid; squirrels would routinely stick their heads out and see what was going on. It didn’t take too many days to go by before the shooting opportunities began to dramatically drop. Likely the population was considerably reduced and the “survivors” were learning from the mistakes of those that had gone before them. At first I could whistle at them and they would stand up but soon there weren’t enough squirrels to make that very productive either.
Now, sitting in the sun with a .22 caliber rifle is fun for a boy, but it isn’t as much fun as shooting things while sitting in the sun. It finally reached a point where the time shooting compared to the time sitting was not making it fun. I knew that there were more squirrels there but it was only “smart ones” that remained. I might get a shot at the beginning of the day but it could be hours, to my little boy mind anyway, before I would get another shot. I needed another way to get them to stand up.
One day while sitting around roasting in the summer sun I had one of those push top cans sitting there and pushed the middle of the can between the two holes. The can made a little click and a squirrel stood up. Now I would not explain this discovery as anything earth shattering, it was not too different from the sound of the little device that the soldiers in WWI and WWII were given to signal each other; they called it the cricket.
Chirps like a cricket or the top of a push top aluminum can.
The remaining squirrels in that spot of the ranch were very susceptible to the click of a push top can. I could click that top and squirrels would stand up, curious creature that he was. That push top click to a squirrel was like poison, they would hear it and stand up; I would send them a little speedy 40 grain hollow tip lead present.
Shooting these was such a blast.
You can see the cutout. Top is the bullet, bottom is the brass. The bullet is grey part shown on top, the bullet, it is lead and it has a copper coating. The base is the brass and is cutout to show the gun powder that sits in there.
A box of 100 .22 caliber shells. Might have cost about $1 USD in the 1970s. Hours of fun if you shot slow, minutes if you shot fast, which wasn’t really possible with a single shot bolt-action rifle.
It was eventually even fruitless to click the top of the can, not a squirrel would stand up, no matter how many times you clicked the can or how long I sat there doing it. I finally accepted that the gig was over, I couldn’t get a squirrel to stand up any more. I eventually moved to the north end of the willows and clicked those squirrels into oblivion too.
The end of the squirrels. The last spot I encountered them before declaring that they were extinct.
By the end of the summer there were no more squirrels on our little farm. The hay we grew went to the cows and horses, no more sharing it with squirrels.
I did notice in my wanderings in the field that year that there were trails leading from the water into the field and there were places where the grass and hay were being eaten down. It was obvious that there was another something else eating our hay and grass and it wasn’t cows or horses. I knew what it was and realized that they were plentiful. I had starting on my adventures with them one spring day not too long before the squirrels became extinct, but that is another story.