Squirrel season opens Saturday.
When I was young, I looked forward to this opening day with as much anticipation as any deer hunter waits for deer season now. It was a highlight of my life until my late teen years.
I got my first “real” gun for my eighth birthday. That used Remington semiautomatic .22 was the love of my life. I followed a strict rule, I could not load the gun or take it from the house without an adult present. I knew if I broke that rule, I would not see the gun for months, if not years.
Since daddy didn’t have time to take me squirrel hunting, and I could not go with any of my friends, I was dying to go that fall. I knew exactly when season opened and daddy told me we would go after dove ended and before quail season opened, but that seemed to be forever away.
One afternoon I came home from school and got a snack of cold corn bread and catsup. While eating it I saw a squirrel run up a big hickory tree across the road. Mama and daddy were not home. The only adult in the house was Gladys, the woman that helped mama around the house, with the chickens and raising me and my brother.
I told her to come with me, got my rifle and loaded it, with her fussing the whole time. She followed me out the door and across the road. The squirrel, being a squirrel, instantly ran to the top of the tree and hide on the back side of it.
I eased around the tree and the squirrel went to the opposite side, as they do, but Glady’s fussing and movement made it move back into my sights. I was so excited I did not make a good shot, but it fell to the ground with the hole made by the long rifle bullet through its belly.
I grabbed it by the tail and knocked its head on the tree, killing it. Then Gladys and I went back to the house, with her still fussing at me.
When daddy got home he was little mad but proud of me killing my first squirrel. He showed me how to clean it, the first I gutted and skinned of hundreds since then. And mama and Gladys cooked it that night for dinner. It was old and tough, but they made it tender and delicious!
Daddy was always busy with his job as principal of Dearing Elementary School and taking care of our 11,000 laying hens after work and on weekends. He hunted every Saturday afternoon of dove and quail season and only rested on Sunday afternoon, after church and doing what had to be done daily with the chickens. That was the only time I ever saw him slow down, relaxing in his recliner and sleeping through a baseball game on the radio or TV.
But one afternoon he came home after school and said he would go squirrel hunting with me. I quickly grabbed my rifle and he took the .410, my second gun. We went into the woods across the street and hunted a bottom that ran down to Dearing Branch.
I killed ten squirrels that afternoon, the only time I really remember getting my limit. But daddy never fired a shot. I realized later he made sure I was the one that got a shot when we saw one up a tree, moving around so the squirrel came to my side.
I will never forget that afternoon.
A few years ago I went to war against tree rats around my house. They gnawed into my garage and nested in the ceiling, dropping leaves, twigs and other stuff into my boat. If I saw one in the yard, I would grab a 12 gauge shotgun, step out on the deck and kill them. There was no sport or hunting involved.
When he was alive, Rip would jump around and go to the door as soon as I picked up a gun. Now Cinnamon does the same thing. Both learned to look where I was looking up in the trees and run to the area. I’m not sure they knew what they were doing but they would drive the squirrel around to my side for a shot.
Both loved to grab a fallen squirrel and shake it, breaking its back and killing it if not already dead. And both would bring the squirrel to me, even if reluctantly.
I try to cook every one of them, using some of mama’s recipes for fried squirrel and gravy, squirrel stew and squirrel and dumplings. And I BBQ them, make squirrel and cream of chicken soup and several other methods.
I wish every kid knew the joy of squirrel hunting and daddy going with them.