Obvious that we had at least been successful in the woods that particular morning. Squirrel hunting had been an August pastime for as long as I can remember. Longer than I was able to even carry a gun into the woods. I can recall one such humid morning in the mid 80s when I was five or six. Dad and I had pulled up in my Grandaddy’s yard in Hickman and proceeded with the preparations. Honey Buns, check. Mountain Dews, check. Skeeter Dope, check. The spray down of the dope is a memory of the senses. The hiss of the spray and smell of the repellant as it fell sticky on the face. The weird taste as some of it went in my mouth. The buzz of a mosquito wanting to indulge but repelled by the very substance I was now covered in. A heck of a tradeoff.
Matching camo outfits complete down to the boots, we headed off into the thick green late summer’s growth of the woods. Dew sticking to our pants legs along side cacaburs and enough pollen to turn the green fabric yellow. Spider webs every three feet or so, the disgruntled spider now crawling around on one of us, much to my dismay. We would head back, half silently, to trees Dad had hunted for years, still producing the same oak and hickory and pecan treats they had for decades of squirrels. I say half silently because I always managed to step on every stick God had lain in the woods. Apparently there was a trick to this sort of walk, one that was opposite of how I had learned just four years earlier. Back then, it was “heel first, toe last.” But hunters walk was “toe first, heel last.” Right. No matter what part of the foot I used, a loud “crack” would send wiggly tails hopping branches high above us into the holes of the trees and a look from the hunter in front of me.
Eventually, we’d settle in underneath a big tree where a few squirrels were having a field day with the bounty. You could hear them cutting on the nuts and see them jump branch to branch. After they would get the good out of the it, they would hurl the shell down to the ground, knocking leaves and braches and just making a bunch of noise on the way down, a loud “thump” as it hit the ground (or one of us!). Somehow I wondered why the animals would run at my little twig breaking, but not at World War III going on here.After a minute or two of watching this nonsense, it was time for Dad to slip around to the base of the tree for a shot. I followed in tow. Gun up. Aim. “Boom.” Smoke and a larger fall as the squirrel fell from the limb above. A thud as it hit the ground. I got excited and screamed for joy at this wonderful event! I think it shocked everybody. The little squirrel’s beady eyes got as big as marbles and he ran off into a hole in the ground next to us! At least I hadn’t scared him to death, I guess. Dad jerked his head at me. “Why’d you do that?” I was still thinking about the eyes of that thing. Dad was undeterred, and went off after this sandwich worth of meat, sticking his arm elbow deep in the hole. After about ten seconds, the efforts were fruitless (meatless) as no squirrel was found. No more screaming in the forest, check.
We probably got our limit that day, and have gotten our limit since, Dad still making the yearly trip into the woods and me going with him when I get the chance. But nothing replaces those early moments in the woods, the memories, and God help, the taste of squirrels.
-Originally published in The Hickman Courier, August 9, 2012.
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