Category Archives: growing up wild in Georgia

Visiting Lake Nottely, Blairsville and the Georgia Mountains

Want a nice get-away to the mountains for some scenery, cool air and fishing? I just got back from a few days around Blairsville and Lake Nottely. On the trip I ate some good food, looked at scenic views and fished for bass.  And I was constantly having flashback memories of my youth.

All the years I was in elementary school, grades one through eight back then, my family went on summer vacation for a week in the mountains.  We would load up the 54 Bel Air – and later the 1962 Bel Air – and head north from Dearing. All the roads were two lane back then and it was a slow, enjoyable trip.

Each night we would stay in a cheap roadside motel, four of us in one room, and eat at a local diner. Daddy insisted on country food just like we ate at home no matter how much I wanted a hamburger or hotdog.  At lunch we would stop at a picnic table, often right beside the road but sometimes at a scenic overlook, and mama would make sandwiches.

My most vivid memory of lunches is not about the food.  We always had Cokes in small bottles back then. I picked up mine for a swig and didn’t notice the yellow jacket on the mouth of the bottle. It took exception to being pressed against my lip and, after the burning sting eased a bit, I swelled up for two days!

The roadside attractions back then were not politically correct.  At many you could buy a nickel Coke or candy bar and give it to a chained bear cub to drink and eat.  I never wondered what happened to those cubs when they got too big, the owners probably ate them.

I learned about scams on one of those trips. A sign said give the owner a nickel and he would open the lid of a box cage and let you see the baby rattler and copperhead inside.

Sure enough, there was a baby shake rattle toy and a penny inside.

I loved the mountain streams and lakes but we never stayed in one place long enough for me to fish. But the year I was eight we changed our plans and I could not wait for my dream trip.

My family and another family, close friends, rented a cabin at Vogel State Park for a week. It was right beside a small stream that had trout in it, and only a couple hundred yards from the lake.

The other couple had a baby girl and she had colic.  Her loud crying kept me up all night and almost ruined the trip. That is when I decided I never wanted kids of my own!

One morning before daylight I put on my overalls, slipped out of the cabin without waking anyone, picked up my cane pole and can of worms and headed to the lake.  Where the stream entered it several row boats for rent were chained up.  One was half full of water with its back end in the lake.

I sat on the edge of that boat for a couple hours as it got light, catching small bream, yellow perch and trout with live earthworms.  I put my fish in the end of the boat that was full of water and it was supposed to work like a livewell.

Mama came hustling down the path to the cabin calling my name. When they woke and I was not there they panicked and went looking for me. Mama found me after she asked two teenage girls out walking if they had seen a kid.

Apparently they answered that yes, Huckleberry Finn was fishing down by the lake the lake!  I guess that fit me with my bare feet, overalls and straw hat!

Many things have changed, you will not see chained bear cubs or baby rattlers. But a trip is still fun and fishing is good on Nottely and other area lakes. 

My trip was to go out with guide Will Harkins and get information for my June Georgia Outdoor News article. Although Will is in college he is a great fisherman and knows Nottely and Chatuge well.

I stayed in a nice fifth wheel camping trailer through in a retirement camper community.  It was cheaper than area motels and more comfortable and quieter than a motel would have been.  It was only a few miles from Nottely and Blairsville.

About a mile from the camper and Nottely Dam is Papaw’s Bac-yard BBQ where I got some of the best brisket I have ever eaten, delicious and tender enough to cut with a fork. He has a wide variety of sauces and his Brunswick Stew was very good, too.

Next door at the Amish Store some interesting jelly is available. Frog jelly is fig, raspberry, orange and ginger.  Toe Jam is tangerine, orange and elderberry.  Traffic jam is mostly strawberry for some reason. There are also many other things, from furniture to funny signs, for sale too.

The first night I drove into Blairsville and ate at Mike’s Seafood. The scallops were delicious, cooked just right, and the bite of grilled tuna I tried was excellent. I always like walking into a place like Mike’s and see you order at the fresh seafood counter.

I planned on eating there on Saturday night before I left. Although Google Maps said they got less busy after 8:00 PM, an hour before the close, at 8:00 that night the wait to order was 90 minutes!!

Sicily’s Pizza & Subs Pasta was just down the street and there was no wait. The pizza I got was great but it was not the scallops I wanted! Till next time – Gone fishing!

Cooking and Camping Growing Up

 The smell of bacon frying over a campfire made my stomach growl.  That enticing smell, mixed with the aroma of wet canvass, was a staple of our “wilderness” camping trip in the woods a couple of hundred yards

behind Harold’s house.  Although we camped like this several times each summer, each one was special.

    I was glad we had taken precautions and made a lean-to cover of an old tarp to keep firewood dry in the rain.  The lower end was stacked with everything needed from twigs to sticks of firewood cut with our hatchets, and the upper end was high enough to shelter the fire from the falling water that seemed to mark every trip. Our Cub Scout and Royal Ambassador training paid off.

    Last night we had tried to stay awake all night, but as usual sometimes during the dark we gave up our talking and drifted off to sleep.  It was not always easy to go to sleep in the army surplus pup tent with a ground tarp. No matter how hard we tried to remover them all, we always left some sticks and rocks to poke us through our sleeping bags. They seemed to grow during the night.

    When we first woke in the dim green haze of tent light our voices sounded strange as they always did early in the morning.  They took on quality never heard anywhere else.  And there was the usual treat of a rainy morning.  Small puddles had formed on the ground tarp where water had worked under the edge of the tent.  Those puddles made an interesting game of floating our mess kit pans and making them spin when we tried to eat inside sheltered from the rain.

    A mess kit contained all our necessities.  The knife, fork and spoon clipped together with two small brads to hold them in a stack.  The frying pan handle swung over the pan holding them together, making a container to hold the small pot with a top and coffee cup. 

    Perfectly cooked bacon, eggs and toast at home never seemed to taste as good as strips of bacon half burned in the middle and rubbery on the ends, scrambled eggs that ranged from watery to too dry, and toast with black burned areas.  Cooking over an open fire was a slowly acquired skill and we were not there yet. 

    Coffee was not as good as at home, though. We all tried to drink it black with a little sugar but missed the cream that was mixed about half and half with coffee at home. Without no way to keep it cool, cream or milk was not an option on those trips.

    The night before we had cooked our favorite dinner on the coals.  We called it a “Hobo” meal and it was perfect for a camping trip. Before leaving home, we had made a huge ground beef patty and placed it in the center of a square of tinfoil.  On top of the meat went a slice of onion, then slices of potato. Sliced carrots topped the pile of food then a big chunk of butter was placed on it.  A little salt and pepper finished up the preparation.

    The edges of the tinfoil were pulled up and twisted into a seal to keep it all together. If the tinfoil was formed perfectly, and we didn’t poke a hole in the bottom when placing them on the coals that were carefully drug from the main fire, they would cook evenly and be floating in butter.  But we seldom had any butter when the tinfoil was opened.  At least we did not have a plate to wash, the tinfoil served fine.

    We never camped for more than one night. We had to go home to get some sleep, put iodine on the inevitable cuts and scrapes and Watkins Salve on the ever-present chigger bites.  It was also a lot easier to wash up our mess kits at home. We had only one each and although we tried various cleaning methods in the woods none worked very well. And we had to dry out tent, tarps and sleeping bags.

    After carefully covering the fire pit with the same Army surplus folding foxhole shovels we had dug it with, we packed up our gear into army surplus duffel bags.  We would not have survived without Army surplus equipment!

    The trip home seemed to be miles longer that the trip to the campsite.  Although everything was usually heavier from water at the end of the trip, I think our hearts were the heaviest load since the trek home meant the camping trip was over.

Sandwiches and Other Food Eaten Growing Up and While Fishing

I loved the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served at Dearing Elementary School, probably because they always went with the vegetable soup.  We had that meal about once a month and it was one of my favorite.  And there was always plenty for us to have seconds and even thirds.

    At home during the summers we ate tomato sandwiches almost daily, with delicious tomatoes from the garden. But I never heard of a BLT until I went off to college.  My tomato sandwiches were simply two slices of loaf bread, salad dressing and thick slices of tomato.  And yes, it was always salad dressing, never mayonnaise, although we used that term.

    During the winter we had the sandwiches just without the tomatoes. A mayonnaise sandwich, two slices of bread slathered with so much salad dressing it was hard to keep them from sliding on each other, was both a lunch and after school snack.  Another simple one was a catsup sandwich. Slices of bread soaked with catsup an eaten mostly as a after school snack.

    Pineapple sandwiches had the same bread and salad dressing and we always had canned, sweetened crushed pineapple.  By putting the salad dressing on one slice of bread, piling it with pineapple and putting another slice of bread on top the top slice got delightfully soaked in pineapple juice.  

    On fishing or hunting trips a can of potted meat and Ritz crackers was all I needed, unless I carried a can of Vienna Sausage.  With them I wanted saltine crackers, not Ritz.  The meat had to be paired with the right crackers.

    Those same canned delights made good sandwiches at home.  A thick layer of potted meat and so much catsup on it globs of the mixture fell into the plate from the bottom of the sandwich, to be licked up as a dessert, made a great meal.  I learned at an early age to line of the Vienna Sausage on the bread from side to side with two on top of the row, then the last on in the can on top of those two, filled up the bread. Again, lots of catsup completed my sandwich.

    We always said loaf bread at my house but some of my friends called it “white bread.”  Mom was a great baker, making cakes and pies to sell, as well as fantastic biscuits and corn bread, but she never baked loaf bread. 

    Corn bread was in sticks, muffins or pone that was baked in a black frying pan in the oven. Left over cornbread of all kinds was eaten as an afternoon snack, with a bowl of catsup to dip it in. Yes, I liked and still like catsup!

    My favorite cornbread was something we called “splatter bread.”  Sometimes mom would heat lard in the black skillet until there was a pool a half inch deep and pour a thin mixture of corn meal and water into it.  The edges were amazing, crisp and crunchy, and the center cooked just right.   I still make it to go with steamed cabbage, peas and creamed corn, and soup.

    Writing this has made me hungry, I think I will go make a batch of splatter bread and get a bowl of catsup.

Digging Bait and Other Ways To Get Fishing Bait Growing Up

Digging bait was always fun, mainly because it was preparation for a fishing trip.  We used all kind of bait in local ponds to catch bream, catfish, a few bass and a good many turtles, and red wigglers were one of our favorite baits.

    On our farm we had seven chicken houses with a total of 11,000 laying hens.  The four old houses were long wooden sheds with chicken wire walls. The birds ran free inside on the wood shaving floor.  Their roosts were wooden frames set down the length of the house on either side of the center. 

    The support posts inside divided the width into thirds. On the downhill side, a galvanized trough three inches wide and five inches deep ran the length of the houses at a slight slant.  At one end was a faucet that dripped constantly. At the other end a nipple in the drain stuck up about four inches and acted as an overflow pipe much like the one in a pond, keeping water up to four inches deep the length of the trough. Water slowly ran over the top and out a pipe to the outside.

    The water was very fertile since chickens are not real careful where they leave their droppings, and every morning one of my jobs was to remove the nipple, turn the water on at the other end and walk the length of the trough with an old broom, cleaning out the mess.  It flowed out the drain pipe.

    The ground behind the house near the drain was always wet from the constant flow of water and extremely rich from all the droppings washed out every day.  Red wigglers found it an ideal habitat and we could dig a can full in a few minutes with just one or two scoops of dirt with a shovel.  There would be dozens of worms in every shovel full and picking them up from the ooze was easy.

    Every critter that lives in water loves red wigglers. We even caught crawfish on them when fishing for catfish on the bottom.  They were our staple bait when fishing but we did have many others.

    The chickens themselves provided great catfish bait.  With that many birds on the farm, a few died every day and I would cut them open and take out the heart, liver and gizzard.  Those innards put in a jar and set in the sun to ripen made an irresistible bait for catfish of kinds.  The livers were soft and hard to keep on the hook but gizzards and hearts were tough enough to last through several fish, if we could get past the smell when putting them on the hook.

    One of mom’s favorite baits were meal worms. We didn’t buy them, we grew our own.  Mom would fill a coffee can half full of corn meal and flour siftings and let it sit open for a few days, then put a cover of cheese cloth or old curtain sheer over it. 

    The eggs the flies laid in the corn meal while the top was open soon hatched into grubs, also called maggots, and grew from tiny white worms barely visible to light brown bait about an inch long. If left too long they turned black and tough and fish did not like them much.  After that stage they soon emerged as young flies.

    Although maggots stunk when taken from dead critters, taking on the smell of rotten meat, they were clean and odorless when grown in corn meal.

    Anything we could catch was tried as bait. Grasshoppers, wild crickets, caterpillars, crawfish, big white grub worms and wasp eggs were all good and most harmless. But wasp eggs were a special problem.

    First, just getting the nest with the larvae growing in it was dangerous. We did not want to spray the nest with poison to kill the adults guarding the nest since it tainted or killed the larvae.  What I would usually do after locating a good nest during the day was go back in the dark, knock it to the ground with a long pole and run off. 

    Wasps do not fly in the dark so after a few minutes I could go back and pick up the nest, being careful to step on any adult wasps that had stayed with the nest.  You could not wait too long to go back for it since ants would quickly find the source of food and be all over the nest.

    The nest was then put in the refrigerator in a paper sack to slow down the growth of the larvae.    You had to be very careful when taking the sack out for a fishing trip since some larvae would come out as an adult even in the cold.  Since they were cold they were sluggish but you had to open the sack carefully and kill any adults that were barely able to move around and sting you.

    I found out the hard way that a sack with a nest in it, left in the sun while fishing, would make any larvae close to changing make the transition to adult quickly. More than once, in the excitement of catching fish, I would reach into the bag to get a new bait and get stung by a newly changed adult wasp.

    A friend once told me how he would take tiny pieces of meat and stick a little strip of cigarette paper on it.  Left outside, a yellowjacket would often pick up the piece of meat to take to their underground nest. He could follow them to the nest by tracking the tiny white dot of paper.

    Yellowjackets build big underground nest with paper cells that look like wasps nest.  My friend said he could sell a big nest to fishermen too timid to try to get them on their own for several dollars.

    I did not know about yellowjacket nests as a kid or I am sure I would have tried his trick to get my own bait!  

Growing Up On A Farm and Growing A Garden

 I have vague memories of a big barn and animal pens beside the house where I lived from 1950 to 1962.  I have no idea how old the farmhouse was when daddy bought it and the fifteen acres it was on after graduation from college in 1948 for his new family.

When we tore it down in 1962 to build a modern split level brick house on the same site we found hand-hewn timbers supporting it. The ax marks were plainly visible.

The barn was torn down when I was three or four, I think. Most of my memories of it are piles of rubble and finding boards with nails in them with my bare feet.  Then we got it all cleaned up and used the 100×300 foot area for a garden. The soil was extremely rich from years of animal waste and rotting hay debris.

Mama And daddy grew up during the depression and did everything they could to be self-sufficient.  Although daddy taught school and later became principal of Dearing Elementary, he worked long hours on the farm, developing a thriving egg business, eventually including 11,000 laying hens.

Mama worked the farm but also made cakes to sell, using milk from our cows and eggs from our chickens. She also canned, pickled and froze everything possible to have delicious food year-round.

Our summer garden included tomatoes, potatoes, corn, string beans, field peas, butter beans, okra, cucumbers, squash, peppers (bell and hot) and onions.  Our early spring garden had radishes, lettuce, cabbage, turnips and broccoli. Some of them were replanted in the fall.  Daddy also had a small asparagus bed he kept active.  

Even as a young kid I “got” to help.  I didn’t have the patience to drop two or three butterbean or pea seeds per hill in the trench daddy dug with an old push plow, so I followed mama as she dropped them spaced just right.  My job was to cover them, using my bare feet like plows to push the dirt on top of the seeds then step on top to compress the soil. Mama would look back regularly and and also check the first row as we worked back up the next one, checking to make sure I had not gotten distracted.

We planted tomato plants after raising them from seeds inside.  I hated that process. Mama or daddy would put the small plant into the ground and I had to haul water in small bucket from the house and pour a little beside each plant, being careful to not wash dirt from the roots.  The biggest bucket I could carry was still small so it meant dozens of trip!

We always planted on Good Friday since that was usually a safe timing to avoid a late frost. Is your garden plot ready?  If not you have less than two weeks!

I have many more gardening and canning memories. I wish I could still do things like that. Now I limit myself to about eight tomato and six bell pepper plants each year.

Hunting Memories – Good and Bad

I have lots of great hunting memories, some fun, some scary and many just happy.

Sometimes I shot odd things while hunting. One year Harold and I were easing along Dearing Branch headed to some oaks to set up for squirrels. Something ahead of us on a low limb caught our attention.  It was big and brown and since both of us had .410s, so we planned to shoot it together.

Somehow I misunderstood Harold when he said shoot, and I did, alone. But the great horned owl fell. I have no idea why it was active during the day; it should have been roosted high in a big tree and hidden from us. It was huge, much bigger than I ever imagined. It is the only owl I ever shot and somewhat regret killing it, but that was 60 years ago!

The first year Linda and I were married she taught school while I finished my senior year at UGA.  Money was tight and we ate anything I could kill, just like my family did growing up.  Squirrels and rabbits were the main meat de jour.

One afternoon I saw a ball of fur up in a bare oak tree. If the leaves had been on the trees I would never have seen it. But with my scope I could tell it was a big raccoon.

I shot it, the first one I ever killed, and took it back to our trailer in town and cleaned it.  I contacted the cook at my fraternity house and he told me to boil it for three hours then cover it with BBQ sauce and bake it. 

I thought it was good but Linda not so much.  Tasted like BBQ chicken thighs to me!

Years later I shot a beaver on my pond and just had to cook it.  A Google search turned up a recipe for Mississippi Baked Beaver, a legitimate recipe.  It involved boiling, sautéing and then braising it.  It was the reddest meat I have ever seen, and the beaver was almost impossible to skin. I had to cut every inch of hide between meat and skin, there was no stripping it off.

Again, I thought it tasted pretty good but Linda did not like it. It was not delicious enough for me to clean another one, though.

A few years ago on-line I told the tale of shooting a killdeer (we always called them killdees) because ai wanted to see exactly what it looked like.  They were common in our field but very spooky and I could never get near them.  A few times shooting doves one would fly near my blind, but I definitely did not want to explain to the others on the field that I knew it was a kildeer not a dove if I took a shot.

I did sneak up on one and hit it with my .22, finally getting a good look at its brown and white feathers with golden highlights. It was very pretty and I never wanted to shoot another one.

When I told this on-line, a troll in the group threatened to sent the federal wildlife folks to arrest me since killdeers are federally protected birds. I jerked the jerk around a little on-line – everyone in the group made fun of him he was so out of it – and he got madder and madder, making all kinds of threats.

When I pointed out I had said up-front I had shot the bird when I was 12 years old and that was in 1962, long before the law protecting them went into effect in 1976, he shut up and disappeared from the group for as few days.

I did not cook the killdeer but I did cook many other birds I shot as a kid.  They all tasted just like the doves we shot.  Robins, bluejays, sparrows and blackbirds all tasted about the same roasted over an open fire in the woods or in my rock fort.  And all were very tough, from my method of cooking or their age.

The only two birds I would not shoot were cardinals and bluebirds. They were off-limits, just too pretty to shoot.  But stalking all others and getting close enough to kill them with my BB gun or .22 helped me learn a lot about hunting and shooting that was useful later in life.

Hunting Quail and Rabbits Growing Up Wild In Georgia

Way back when I was a kid there were almost no deer in Georgia.  Our hunting was for small game like squirrels and rabbits and doves and quail.  My dad didn’t like fishing but he loved shooting doves and following out pointers looking for quail.

    There were a good many old farms near our house and the few planted fields and old abandoned ones had thick hedgerows and fence lines grown up with plumb bushes and briars. They were ideal for quail and our two dogs were good at finding coveys of quail living there.

    One Christmas my best present was a set of Duckback hunting clothes.  The thick jacket and pants allowed me to wade through briar patches without getting scratched.  And hunting quail consisted of a lot of wading through briars!

    My proudest day quail hunting was by myself. 
I was in high school and one afternoon after school
I wanted to go quail hunting but daddy could not go.
He let me go get the dogs and take them out by myself for the first time.

    Even better he let me take his 12-gauge bird gun, a short barrel semiautomatic hump-back Remington loaded with #9 shot. That gun no longer hunts quail, it sits by my bed loaded with #1 buckshot.  It is an ideal home protection device.

    The afternoon I went out alone I managed to find five coveys of quail, a very good day, especially since I only hunted about three hours.  I killed one bird from each covey on the flush. Although I tried to find singles from the scattered covey I just did not have the skill, even with the dogs.

    Daddy seemed real surprised but proud when I got home with the birds. We had them for dinner then next night.

    Quail season opened yesterday, as did rabbit season. But the old farms are gone and modern farms do not have hedgerows and good quail cover.  And coyotes, foxes and fire ants have taken their toll on Georgia’s state game bird. Hunting them is extremely difficult now, even if you have a lot of land and try to manage it for quail.

    Nowadays about the only quail hunting here is on plantations where you pay to go out with a guide and dogs to find planted birds.  I won a hunt on one of them a few years ago and was extremely disappointed. 
I took daddy’s old gun, again loaded with #9 shot, and killed my 12-bird limit quickly.  I did not miss a single shot, amazing since I had not shot at them in more than 30 years.

    The pen raised birds were put out in pairs and the guide knew where they were. It was fun watching the dogs work, but the quail were slow when they flushed, so slow one of the dogs managed to grab one as it took off, snatching it from the air. That would not happen with wild birds.  I was so disappointed I have no desire to do that again.

Hunting Small Game After Deer Season

Now that deer season is over it is time to go after small game.  You can hunt rabbits and squirrels as well as quail until the end of February.  Some of my best memories growing up are of hunting those game birds and animals.

    One of my best friends had a pack of beagles and we hunted rabbits almost every Saturday after Christmas until the end of season.  I loved putting the dogs out and listening to them as they jumped a rabbit and chased it.  And it was always a challenge to try to be in the perfect place for a shot when the dogs chased the rabbit in a circle back to us.

     I got frustrated the first two times we went because I took my .410 and missed about half the rabbits I tried to shoot. I was used to shooting squirrels in trees with it and most of my shots at them were while they were sitting still.   Rabbits didn’t sit still.

    I started carrying a 12-gauge shotgun and seldom missed with it.  It almost seemed like cheating at first, but I wanted fried rabbit for supper!

    As much as I liked hunting with the dogs, one hunt without them stands out in my mind.  It snowed a little that week, not enough to mess up the roads but fields and even the ground in the woods was white.  My friend said it was too cold for the dogs so we played dog.

    We went to a farm where we knew there were a lot of good brush piles around the fields.  We took turns jumping the rabbits. One of us would stand on one side of the brush and the other one would stomp up on it and across the top.  It seemed at least every other brush pile had a rabbit in it that day and we got our limits, even without the dogs.

    Hunting on Sunday was illegal back then so most of our squirrel hunting was after school on week days.  Dearing Elementary School I attended from 1st through 8th grade was a little less than a mile from my house.  It was not unusual for me to ride to school with dad – he was the principal – and leave my .22 or .410 in his office. At the end of school I would go by and get my gun and go down to the branch near the school and hunt my way home.

    Dearing was, and is, a small town in McDuffie County and it was easy to avoid houses from the school back to my house.  I probably walked between two and three miles hunting from school to home but it was worth it.

    My dad hunted quail and we went a good bit before he got rid of the dogs and I started rabbit hunting.  He never went with me squirrel hunting but one time and that is a great memory.  One afternoon as I got ready to go out he said he would come along and we went to the woods across from my house.

Most afternoons I was happy to kill three or four squirrels, and I don’t think I ever killed a limit of ten. But that day I did. Daddy never fired a shot. I realize now he actually helped me kill squirrels, by making those he spotted move toward me so I would see them. At the end of the day he bragged on my about what a good  hunter I was, without letting on he helped.

This is a great time to make some memories like that. Take your kids hunting for squirrels and they will probably remember it all their lives. 

Christmas Memories of Times Forever Gone

 Christmas is a bittersweet time for me.  All the good and not so good memories come flooding back and I know those days and times are gone from my life forever.  Memories are all that are left.

    Good ones involve getting up Christmas morning to the joy of toys and unexpected gifts.  I guess my brother and I were a bit greedy, we hung one of mama’s old stockings on the mantle rather than a big sock.

But they were always filled with everything from oranges, bananas and pecans to rolls of caps, boxes of sparklers, bags of candy, boxes of .22 bullets and many other necessities of life.  I think Santa picked up the pecans from our yard and the oranges from the big bag we always brought back from our week before Christmas visit to grandma in Ocala.

    There were the gifts Santa left, which included one big gift and many smaller ones each year.  Big things I remember best are the high-power BB/pellet gun I got when I was 10, the strongest on the market at the time.  It would fire a pellet with the same velocity as a .22 short. And the Remington semiautomatic .22 I got when I was 12, the real thing. 

One year I got a set of Duckback briar britches and coat, a great need when quail and rabbit hunting.  Another is the stand that had metal ducks that revolved, and a gun that shot rubber suction darts at it.

    Smaller gifts included the usual underwear and socks, but even more appreciated were the insulated hunting versions of them.  Boxes of .410 shells, hunting knives, mess kits, hunting caps, hand warmers, fishing lures and other outdoor stuff topped the list.

    One memory brings back sad regret.  When I was about 12 I wanted a new bicycle, as did my brother.  But those were very lean years.  Daddy was the principal and shop teacher at Dearing Elementary School and one afternoon I walked into the shop while waiting on him to go home.

    Hanging from wires were two old bicycles that had been carefully disassembled, sanded and painted.  Daddy had got some junked bikes and repaired them to almost new status.  I got a sinking feeling when I saw them, I knew that would be my present, not a new one.

    I am afraid daddy saw the disappointment in my eyes Christmas morning, and it no doubt broke his heart.  He did the best he could, sacrificing things he wanted to do more for us, and working to make us something he could not afford, even thought he worked all day at school then went home to run our farm.

    I loved that bike and rode it for years.  I would give anything to be able to go back and thank him for it and tell him how much that memory means to me.

    A happier memory is when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  I knew about Santa but my younger brother still believed, although he was starting to question it.

    Our old house had a bathroom in the back off my grandmother’s apartment that we seldom used after she moved out.  For some reason I went to the bathroom a couple days before Christmas and heard birds chirping. When I pulled back the shower curtain a bird cage with two parakeets was hidden back there.

    Christmas Eve Billy and I went to bed but could not sleep. He kept asking me about Santa. It told him let’s make a wish for something no one but Santa would know and see if it comes true.  Let’s wish for parakeets! 

    The next morning he was excited and amazed to see the birds in our gifts.  My parents almost messed it up, saying the birds were from them, not Santa.  I convinced my brother since Santa knew they were giving us birds he didn’t need to. He believed another year!

    I do not ever remember getting daddy anything, but when I got old enough, I always had to find a bag of chocolate crème drops for mama. She loved them and chocolate covered cherries so I tried to make sure she had some.  That is really the only kind of bought sweets she ever ate, all the rest were homemade.

    One very sad gift memory involves a neighbor. Lynn was about two years younger than me and a tomboy so she liked the same kinds of things I liked. My family went to visit for dinner a few days after Christmas.

    Lynn had gotten a stand-up punching toy, about five feet tall shaped like snowman with a heavy weight bottom so hit bobbed back up when you hit it.  I must have been nine or ten, and we were warned to keep the toy away from the floor furnace vent, it was very hot.

    Stupid me drug the punching toy across the vent and the heat melted the plastic with a loud pop. Of course Lynn started crying. That pretty much ended the visit. I felt terrible but could do nothing.  I wonder if daddy bought her another one, if he did I never knew.

    As an adult presents really don’t mean much anymore.  I tend to buy whatever I want when I want it, so it is hard to buy something for me.  Gone is the joy and wonderment of Christmas morning.

    If you have kids, make this as truly a wonderous time of the year as long as possible.

Squirrel Hunting Seasons, Bot Flies and Memories

Saturday, August 14 passed for me without much notice.  That is quite a change from my pre-teen and teen years when opening day of squirrel season was arguably the most important day of the year for me. 

    From the time I killed my first squirrel at eight years old, I loved to hunt the furry tailed tree rats.  That first squirrel was not exactly a hunting situation.  I saw it grab a pecan from the tree in front of our house and run into the woods across Iron Hill Road.

    I was not allowed to go out of the house with a gun unless an adult was with me at that age.  Mama and daddy were not home but Gladys, the woman that worked on the farm, helped with housework and cooking and pretty much raised me as a second mother, was there.

I grabbed my Remington semiautomatic .22 rifle and told Gladys to come with me. She fussed but followed. As I entered the edge of the woods and went behind the hickory tree the squirrel went up with its pecan, I saw a flash as it went to the other side of the tree.

Gladys was still crossing the road, the squirrel saw her and did what squirrels do, went to the other side of the tree, giving me a good shot.  I picked it up and followed Gladys back to the house.

Mama and daddy got home soon after that and fussed at me a little about taking the gun out with Gladys, I think daddy was disappointed he had not been the one, but both seemed proud. And daddy showed me how to skin and gut the squirrel, the first of hundreds I cleaned and ate.  We had fried squirrel that night as a supplement to dinner.

Season started a lot later back then, in October as I remember, so weather was a lot cooler.  And that made it more enjoyable to hunt, fewer mosquitoes, stinging critters with wings, and snakes slithering around.  But I never really worried about anything when in pursuit of a squirrel with my .22 or .410.  I loved that time in the woods.

Since mosquito bites have been bothering me so much I have been thinking about bug bites and other bug problems. One of the most horrifying that I have seen only once is the bot fly egg lay.  I heard about wolves in squirrels but never saw one until season opened earlier and the weather had not cooled.

A bot fly lays its egg on the skin of a mammal.  The egg hatches and the small worm burrows under the skin, where it lives and grows for several months, growing into a fat maggot about 1.5 cm long.  They live between the skin and muscle, but do not hurt the animal host. But that big lump has gotta itch! And they grow under the skin for up to three months!

The squirrel I shot with a maggot, what we called “wolves,” had a small hole oozing puss on its back. When the skin was pulled off the wolf fell out. It was not attached in any way, just living between layers, and the meat under it was not damaged in any way. 

The maggot does not eat the meat or the skin, it feeds on “dead skin cells, and other proteins and debris that fall off of skin when you have an inflammation – dead blood cells, things like that,” medical entomologist C. Roxanne Connelly from the University of Florida stated.

Although I knew the meat was good, I could not eat that squirrel. Just the though of the pus coming out of the hole and that ugly critter living there turned me off too much.

During season I hunted every Saturday and many weekday afternoons. Hunting was not legal back then on Sunday and I am sure my parents would not have let me go even if it was legal. But every other day of the week was open!

I often took one of my guns to Dearing Elementary School and left then in daddy’s office. He was principal but I was not the only one allowed to bring a gun and leave it there until the end of the day. I had a route from the school up a creek and around town back to my house that I could still hunt, moving fairly quickly, and be home by dark.

Saturdays were special.  I usually left the house before daylight so I could be sitting under a big oak or hickory tree as it got light.  After the early morning feeding period, I would still hunt, walking slowly trying to spot a squirrel before it spotted me.

I seldom came home during the day, eating some saltines and Vienna sausage or Ritz crackers and potted meat from my small pack and drinking branch water.  Some days I would build a small fire and roast a squirrel or bird I had shot, but those feasts too up too much hunting time.

I learned a lot about still hunting, woods craft and patience while hunting squirrels that helped me when I started deer hunting. Staying still enough so a squirrel coming to its feeding tree first thing in the morning doesn’t spot you is easier than staying still enough that a deer does not spot you as it walks down a trail, but it is similar. 

Waiting for the right shot on a squirrel helps train to make a better shot on a deer, and tree rats provide much better, more realistic targets than paper nailed to a post.

A deer provides more excitement, mainly because it is rarer to shoot one, but numbers of squirrels makes up for size. After all, you can kill almost as many squirrels each day as you can legally kill deer in a whole season.

Squirrel season is open until the end of February, don’t miss out on the thrill.