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Open Range: The great squirrel war of Alder Slope

Barrie Qualle is a Wallowa County-based cowboy and author.

Published on August 14, 2018 3:41PM


For a lazy person, I sometimes overcome my affliction and put out a little effort. This usually involves something to do with roping or in this case a garden.

I confess I like to garden. Not to save money on groceries, but because the produce fresh out of the garden tastes so darn good.

I was tricked into growing artichokes by having early success the first time I planted them. I had six plants and harvested about 60 great artichokes. Since, I have had poor luck and terrible aphid infestations.

The reward of watching little plants start and then thrive and then actually produce almost makes gardening worth the effort. Imagine my chagrin when I noticed that the tops of my carrots were eaten, and then my romaine lettuce began to look as if the moths had gotten it. All my effort was being destroyed.

Through a little detective work, surveillance and constant vigilance, I figured out the problem. Over the last few years, we have had a pretty big hatch of ground squirrels here on the slope. Last year, I noticed quite a few around, and this year, they set up a colony close to the garden.

As soon as the garden began to flourish, several of the miserable creatures drilled holes and began raiding on a regular basis.

Enraged by the destruction, I vowed vengeance and loaded my vintage pump .22 with long rifle cartridges. The first two evenings of vigilance from my deck, I managed to terrify several of them into long periods of hiding in their burrows.

The first fatality was a wounding of my garden hose that lay close to the burrow of a large bull squirrel. This squirrel would score around 390 on Boone and Crockett’s scale. I think it was on about the third day of combat when an ally and probably relative of the squirrels appeared and joined in.

Encouraged by their success, the raids increased, and a rock chuck moved into my front yard. He became the first fatality. Early one afternoon I drew down on him with just his head showing and drilled him through the eye.

I was a little disappointed that he died quickly instead of suffering for an extended period. I am not a cruel person, but I was developing a hatred for these invaders and jihad was now my sworn duty.

The squirrels were now terrified to show themselves and actually vacated the neighborhood. Shock and awe had paid off. It was short-lived.

A few days later, they were back led by the huge bull squirrel that lived by my shot up garden hose. If you haven’t been charged by an enraged bull squirrel, you don’t know the meaning of terror.

A day or so later through careful stalking, I managed to draw a bead on the large bull and sent a .22 slug through his lungs. This was a fairly long shot of about 25 yards with an open sight.

He made it back to his hole but died at the entrance. He will be back from the taxidermist in October.

The rock chucks were getting bolder taunting me by lying on their rock pile about 60 yards away and didn’t seem concerned about the near miss ricochets raining down on them. It was time for re-enforcements.

My neighbor Bo has an arsenal of high-speed rifles with scopes. I enlisted Bo and his friend Bob by promising unlimited beer and lots of target practice. Imagine my surprise when in two evenings of jihad, we had rid the world of 12 rock chucks and 5 squirrels.

The garden appears safe for the time being, but I am afraid the carrot crop is doomed.

Had seven grand kids ages 18-21 over for Chief Joseph Days and what they refer to as Camp Qualle. Actually it was four granddaughters and one grandson who brought two friends. This is the second year for Camp Qualle, and it was a resounding success.

The biggest problem is keeping their joy-killing parents from attending. The girls went to the rodeo each night and went to a few dances having a wonderful time. The boys managed to hook up with three local girls who were very hospitable and showed the boys a great time.

My grandson had so much fun he broke up with his longtime girlfriend as soon as he got back to Bend. I expect the boys back for a visit right after football season.

Barrie Qualle is a Wallowa County-based cowboy and author.



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