I Love and Hate Fall!
I always looked forward to September with dread and excitement. I hated the fact that school was starting back. Gone would be the long, lazy, fun days of fishing local ponds, damming Dearing Branch, building tree houses and camping out in the back yard.
But fall also meant hunting seasons were near. Dove season opened soon after school started, easing the pain a little. I could not wait until squirrel season opened, usually in September back then, and rabbit and quail seasons followed in November.
When I was growing up there was no deer hunting anywhere near me. There were not enough deer to hunt and the Department of Natural Resources was stocking deer and trying to get them established. By the time I started high school in the mid-1960s it was still rare to see a deer. If anyone saw one crossing the road we talked about it for a week.
Daddy didn’t fish and hunted little, but we always got to go to dove shoots on Saturdays during season. And we had two pointers we spent many hours following through fields near the house to find quail. Bird hunting with him was always special.
Since daddy didn’t get to go hunting except on Saturdays, I squirrel hunted by myself or with friends. We often went after school and hunted all day on Saturdays when bird season was not open. I could walk out my back door and be in the woods in five minutes. I knew where every pine the squirrels liked to cut pinecones grew and the location of favorite white oak trees where they fed.
One very special place was behind my house on a ridge beside Dearing Branch. There was a huge white oak tree about three fourths the way up the slope and it was always loaded with acorns in the fall. And it was usually loaded with squirrels. I spend hours sitting near that tree waiting on bushytails to come to feed. It was a magical place for me.
I hunted with a .410 shotgun or a .22 rifle. In those much younger days I could shoot squirrels in the head with my .22 and used it when the leaves fell. But the shotgun was better early in the season when the trees were full of leaves and the squirrels harder to see.
One trip with my friend Hal stands out in my mind, even after 50 years. We had ridden our bicycles to Harrison’s pond, a favorite fishing hole in the summer, but this time we had our guns. It was about five miles from my house but we thought little about the distance.
Hal shot a squirrel with his over and under .410 and .22. It had a rifle barrel on top and a shotgun barrel underneath. I always wanted one but my daddy said I could make do with what I had.
The squirrel Hal shot ran into a hollow about 20 feet off the ground. We never let anything get away if there was any possible way to get it but it seemed impossible on that one. We came up with a plan. I rode back to my house, got a saw and hatchet, and headed back to where Hal waited by the tree in case the squirrel was able to come out.
We cut that tree down about three feet off the ground, planning on getting the squirrel out. When we cut it we looked in the hollow stump and could see hair. I grabbed it and pulled a dead squirrel out. It had died after crawling into the tree.
While we were celebrating getting the squirrel, I noticed the wood chips and sawdust in the stump moved. I looked and saw more hair, so I shot into it with my rifle and pulled out another squirrel. That made us look closer, and we again saw hair, shot into it and pulled out another squirrel. We got three out of that hole!
We ate anything we caught or killed and three squirrels made a decent number for squirrel and dumplings that night. My mother could cook anything. I often thought she could take and old hunting boot, season it and cook it and it would turn out as a gourmet meal!
We ate a lot of squirrel, rabbit, quail, dove and all kinds of fish. My mother often said a fish was big enough to keep and clean if it would make the grease smell. She especially liked the crunch tips of the tail and fins after deep frying little bream.
I have great memories of growing up wild in Georgia and hope many other kids are making those memories right now.