Suffolk Closeup: Getting a little squirrelly

It was quite unlikely for me, a vegetarian for 50 years, to be out shopping the other day for a gun to shoot squirrels.

But squirrels have been stripping our fruit trees. I’ve planted nearly 40 apple, pear, peach and plum trees, and last summer squirrels stripped all of them of their fruit. Squirrels scampered across the property with fruit in their mouths all day long.

I tried to solve the problem the way we try to solve many problems these days, seeking help through Google. One of its suggestions — ultrasound devices, “electronic repellers” that emit a sound various animals were said to abhor and humans can’t hear. I ordered four.

My nearly $100 purchase arrived and I carefully read the manuals. There was a dial on each that I set for what it said was the ultrasound that repels squirrels, as contrasted to other bothersome critters on the dial that included raccoons, possums and armadillos. I laid out wires that sent electricity to each device. The squirrels clearly hadn’t read the manual. The utrasound didn’t work.

I again pursued the issue this year, asking people who might have had experience with fruit-thievery-by-squirrel. A Havahart trap? You’d need to trap 30. A repeated suggestion: Shoot the squirrels either to kill them or shock them and thus discourage them. My choice was the non-lethal approach as someone who has not eaten steak or a lamb chop for a half-century, although I’ve been unable to resist a good meatball every few months.

Oh, and my wife was firmly against killing the squirrels.

John, who grew up in the Pennsylvania countryside, the son-in-law of Shelter Island friends, said he had plenty of experience shooting squirrels with a pellet/ BB rifle and if you didn’t pump it many times, he said the pellet or BB wouldn’t kill the squirrel but would do just what I wanted: scare the daylights out of the varmints.

I went to a sporting goods store. On the way, on my iPhone, I got an email from an editor, Tanya, saying she hadn’t received my column. I phoned to say I had sent it but would resend when I got home — noting I was out buying a rifle to shoot squirrels. She was … shocked.

I explained I needed to stop squirrels from going after fruit. She counseled that “you could buy fruit at a farmer’s market or the supermarket.”

At the store, I emphasized to the salesman how I wanted not to kill marauding squirrels but to scare them by not pumping the rifle too many times. He was aghast — even more than Tanya, but for a different reason. “That’s poaching,” he exclaimed. He believed that when you use a gun you need to go for the kill.

“I don’t know if I want to help you,” he muttered.

Also, he said, I should check with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) about the season for shooting squirrels. I checked online and the squirrel hunting season on Long Island turns out to be in the winter, so no good for stopping the harvest-time fruit thievery. I telephoned the regional DEC office for more details and was told that squirrels are a “non-protected species” and if they were going after fruit on my property they’re considered a “nuisance” and it was always open season on them.

I went back to the store and bought a pump pellet/BB rifle. But when I got it home it was missing a part. On the phone the salesman said he had no more rifles of this type in stock and I could either call the manufacturer or return the rifle. I returned it and the salesman then slickly sold me another kind of pellet rifle, its power unable to be adjusted by pumping.

On its box was a picture in cross-hairs of one of the animals it was meant to kill — squirrels.

That evening I was reading the just-published (and excellent) autobiography, “Nevertheless,” by Alec Baldwin and came upon a poignant passage about finding a dead squirrel as a kid growing up in Massapequa and burying it. And then I told my wife about the second rifle I bought being able to kill squirrels and she gave a solid no. So I returned this rifle, too.

I went to Walmart and the salesman there appreciated my nonlethal squirrel scheme. “You want to just scare them, yes,” he said. At Walmart there were plenty of Daisy BB rifles — just like John had used — and I bought one. It was amazingly cheap: $35. But the squirrel-familiar salesman said I might also get a BB-pistol with a clip of 13 BB’s, considering that the rifle was only good for one shot at time. For those especially brazen squirrels that come to the fruit trees right in front of our porch, I figured this would be practical. So I bought the BB-pistol, too: $25.

I am well-armed with non-lethal weaponry when thieving squirrels return.

Top photo credit:
grossman_karl150Karl Grossman is a veteran journalist and professor and a member of the Press Club of Long Island’s Journalism Hall of Fame. His Suffolk Closeup column is syndicated in newspapers across the county.