Dawn was peeping over the horizon and the woods were starting to stir as Roy Denney and I eased into a stand of hardwoods and scanned the surrounding treetops.
High atop a shagbark hickory, a limb shivered. Moments later a squirrel darted out on a limb to collect a hickory nut breakfast.
My rifle cracked and the bushytail kept going. Roy’s rifle cracked and it came tumbling down.
That, as it turned out, was the only squirrel we bagged during our recent hunt – slim pickings, I remarked to Roy, if we were pioneers with a passel of hungry young’ens waiting back at the cabin.
Of course nobody nowadays goes squirrel hunting to put food on the table. Considering the price of gas, guns, ammo and other gear, you could dine on prime fillet mignon for what it costs to put a platter of fried tree rats on the table.
Getting a squirrel dinner is just a bonus to squirrel hunting. It’s more about getting into the woods, tuning up your shooting eye, checking out turkey and deer activity for the upcoming seasons.
For old timers it’s a stroll down memory lane, when as kids we’d come home from school, grab our .22s and head for the woods. (Back then most youngsters had “easy access to firearms,” yet we didn’t go around shooting people – an inconvenient truth that the anti-gun lobby can’t explain.)
For today’s kids, squirrel hunting is a vanishing activity, for a number of reasons. Foremost is the loss of accessible hunting territory. The charm of squirrel hunting used to be that it was easy and inexpensive, with little or no travel involved.
Nowadays, urbanized hunters have to invest as much time and money to go squirrel hunting as they do to go turkey or deer hunting. Most kids can’t wander the woods at random as my generation did.
That’s unfortunate. Today’s youngsters don’t know what they’re missing.
The weather wasn’t ideal for our recent hunt on Roy’s Wilson County farm. It was hot and dry, not optimum conditions for squirrel hunting.
Also, perhaps due to a wet spring and summer, the mosquito crop is abundant. As the morning heated up, so did the swarms of buzzing little dive-bombers. Roy said he might have to get a blood transfusion when we got home.
There’s also a profusion of spiders this summer, with their sticky webs stretched face-high throughout the woods.
Worst of all are the hitchhikers that you take home – chiggers and seed ticks. I neglected to spray down before we headed out, and I’ve got the bites and bumps to prove it.
But sweating, swatting and scratching is all part of early-season squirrel hunting. It was still an enjoyable way to spend a morning.
It was also interesting to learn that my grandmother Harriet, born in 1884, wasn’t the only one who enjoyed eating squirrel brains; Roy said his grandfather – like most folks of his generation – also considered them a delicacy.
Roy cleaned the single little gray squirrel that we (well, he) bagged, and added it to three he had stored in the freezer from an earlier hunt. I noticed that he skipped the brains.