Squirrel season opens August 15th. This opening day always brings back memories of my experiences growing up hunting tree rats. They were the main game available to kids back then, and I hunted them every chance I got. We ate every one I killed, too.
I got a BB gun when I was six years old and “hunted” birds around the house with it. When I was 8 Dad bought me a used Remington semiautomatic .22 and taught me to shoot it. I was not allowed to take it out of the house without an adult with me, but my friends and I managed to get to shoot a lot by convincing one of our fathers to go out for a time with us most every weekend.
That fall I was chomping at the bit wanting to go squirrel hunting. Dad did not care for squirrel hunting but loved to shoot dove and quail. He took me with him on dove shoots and we had a couple of pointers and I got to follow him and the dogs, too. All of the time he had to go hunting was spent looking for birds.
One afternoon after school I was home and the only adult there was a woman that helped at our farm. I saw a squirrel grab a pecan from the tree in the front yard and head back across the road to the woods. I told Gladys to come with me as I grabbed my .22. She fussed at me but followed.
Across the road I looked up the big hickory tree that the squirrel had gone up. As I walked around the tree the squirrel would circle, keeping the trunk between us. I told Gladys to shake a limb on the opposite side of the tree from me, and the squirrel came around where I could see it.
That was my first squirrel. My parents were a little upset that I had made Gladys go out with me, and she was not happy, either, but Dad showed me how to clean the squirrel and he seemed proud of me that I had been able to kill one. After that they let me go out on my on, by my self for a couple of years, then allowed me to hunt with friends once they were sure I was careful enough.
I spent many hours in the woods around the house learning the habits of the wily squirrel. Wild squirrels are not like city squirrels that are not afraid of much of anything. Wild squirrel is a favorite menu item of everything from hawks to foxes and they are very wary. You have to stalk them or sit very still until one comes close enough to shoot.
And wild squirrels don’t fill every tree in the woods. You learn to find what they are feeding on and locate the areas where they are active. Squirrel hunting taught me the importance of cleaning a place to sit so I would not crunch any leaves, and how to stay very still for a long time, not an easy lesson for an eight to ten year old.
I remember Dad going squirrel hunting with me only one time. It was a Saturday afternoon before bird season opened and he said he would hunt the woods across the road with me. I was thrilled, and it was one of the best days every for me. I felt real grown up showing him oaks and hickories where the squirrels fed, areas where mushrooms grew after a rain and attracted them, and pines where they cut cones.
Somehow that afternoon I killed 10 squirrels, the first time I had ever got a limit. Looking back I remember that Dad never fired a shot, somehow he was always the one to move around a tree to make the squirrel move, the one that moved around while I sat still and made the squirrels think the danger was gone, and the one that was slow raising his gun when we both saw a squirrel.
That happened over 50 years ago now, but I still have vivid memories of him in the woods, whistling to me and motioning to me to move a certain way. I remember the pride I felt showing him my knowledge, and the pride I felt from him toward me. It is a very good memory.
Squirrels are great game to teach youth hunting skills. Learning to hunt squirrels will prepare you to be a better deer hunter, too. And you can build some great memories with between parents and kids while squirrel hunting. Consider a trip to hunt squirrels with your kids this fall.