“The Legend of Sloof Lirpa”

By Bruster Beaty

One of the best aspects of being born and raised in the great State of Iowa are the endless opportunities afforded to experience Mother Nature and her infinite offerings. First placing foot to ground in 1951, in the community of Grinnell, gave me the best of times to be a youth in America: the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Small game was extremely plentiful and property was pretty much a non-issue. It was a simpler, more innocent time. Family farms were the norm and it seemed the locals knew one-another, inside and out.

Many times, I simply hitched a ride with our “up alley” neighbor, Howard Hide, to his farm for a bit of “slab” fishing. Mr. Hide was an aged man and would putz around his old farmstead, chore his few cattle and perhaps mow the yard. He and his wife, Lois, had moved to town years earlier and rented the crop-land to a neighboring farmer. His boots were, however, deeply entrenched in the soil, and he loved spending time there. His pond was looked upon by my simple-minded peepers, as a continuous adventure-land! When not attempting to haul in “punkin-seeds”, chasing frogs, or launching countless clods at turtles and muskrats; I was sitting on the sun-drenched bank enjoying the bologna and cheese sandwich my mom always sent along. Throughout the “pond squatting” afternoons, there was the constant serenade of the Red-Winged Blackbirds as they swayed to & fro while perched on the Cattails next to the dam. Mr. Hide has been gone for decades…the memories he made available to this one so young, live still in my heart and soul. Thanks, Mr. Hide!

As years, and experiences, were added to my quest to become a true frontiersman/mountain man/pioneer, many techniques were used and perfected. From pheasant and quail, opossum and coon, rabbit and groundhog….I learned from experience and advice from those around me.

In the early stages, squirrel hunting was the game of choice. My mother would drive to visit farm friends on Saturday mornings and I would grab my Colt bolt-action, single shot .22 and a pocketful of “shorts” and ride along. As the women swallowed coffee, I’d hit the timber in search of “tree rats”. Success was spotty, at best, but when I’d manage to grass one or two, the biscuits and squirrel stew that followed was fantastic!

Heading down our neighborhood alley, in the opposite direction of Mr. Hide’s, lived a somewhat creepy, old codger named Sloof Lirpa. Although somewhat off keel, as viewed by most, I always felt fairly comfortable in his presence. I found that once accepting the fact that Sloof was in constant need of improved personal hygiene, he could be an extremely informative individual. I would often ride my bike to his shed and watch as he sat on a bucket, consumed can after can of warm Hamm’s beer (opened with the ever-present “church-key” secured, necklace style, around his neck on a fish stringer) and spat “chew juice” at his long-haired grey cat. He wore faded bibs, a stained flannel shirt, scuffed work boots, and a deeply soiled engineer’s cap. In the fall, Mr. Lirpa always seemed to be butchering a pile of squirrels. Even on my best days, I couldn’t match the success of Sloof Lirpa!

Try as I may, he wouldn’t divulge his unfailing secret to success. The later in the season, the more successful he always became. Finally, after a decade of pestering, Sloof agreed to share the method to his late season “bushy tail” harvesting. To secure that I would never allow said information to be distributed to my fellow brethren, I agreed to the time honored “palm spit – hand shake”. Nothing held so tight a secret as this timeless method of honesty and respect.
With Mr. Lirpa long departed from this world, I feel somewhat safe in sharing his pot filling approach to squirrel hunting. Although possibly construed as rather unconventional, I assure you it works without failure.

As Sloof first stated in his sharing, “A mans gots ta works wit what a mans done gots ta work wit”. A poor man, was he, and owned not a dog. Thus, he had to devise a method to locate, tree, and flush his rust colored quarry. “Not a problem,” added Lirpa “ones gots somethins bettern a treein’ terroir. I’s gots me a squirrel treein’ cat.” Believe me, I was as doubtful of such a probable scam as the reader. However, Lirpa took me along on his next “timber safari” and I witnessed the technique in person.

We crawled into his tobacco stained International pickup, with his tobacco stained cat, and a battered Remington pump .22. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at a seclude hardwood patch.

The weather was very chilly, early January. Leaves were long gone and the wind whistled and cut like a knife. As we walked along, Mr. Lipra scanned the grey surroundings, watching for a “den tree”. Upon locating an inviting den hole, Lirpa bent down and picked up a dead branch. Placing one end of the branch to the trunk and the other to his ear, he stated he could hear the scratching of our quarry within the tree. Still riding the skeptical pony, I likewise tried the tactic and I’ll be danged….it worked! Knowing now, what the tree held, Sloof loosed the cat and up the trunk and into the den hole he ascended. Within seconds, out scampered three winter fat red squirrels. The quickness with which Mr. Lirpa dispatched those three “pot fillers”, with that rusty old pump, still fascinates me. Three shots…..three in the grass!

Not long after the shooting stopped, out came the cat. I had to find out the where-to-for that brought this cat to accomplish such an act. Upon passing my inquiry to Lirpa, he simply stated, “Cats is curious and sneaky critters, they is. Oncest theys learnt whats is hidin’ in them thar tree holes, theys jist gotta goes and herds ‘em out. I reckon theys jist thinkin them squirrels is jist red rats awearing theys Winter fur styled duds.”

Now, as crazy as this all sounds, I early on talked my mother into letting me get a cat. I took that cat everywhere with me and the bond we developed equaled any ever built between man and hound. There was virtually no training involved and I’ve been pursuing those fury little morsels ever since. I will, not again, hunt the “scamperers of the branches” without the use of a good listening stick and my faithful squirrel cat.

Still not a believer? Get yourself a cat and give Sloof’s method a try. I have found long haired, greys tend to be more effective. I figure it deals with the possibility that squirrels are used to sharing their trees with opossums and the coloration tends to be more natural and less alarming to them.

I nearly forgot…..you may want to read Sloof Lirpa backwards!!!! Gotcha ya! Have a great month of April on me and Sloof!