Aug. 23 dawned clear and bright, a dazzling bluebird morning.
But we were after squirrels, not bluebirds, as first light found Roy Denney and me slipping into the woods on his Gladeville farm. It was opening day of squirrel season, and we were determined to get in a short hunt before the temperatures began to climb into the forecasted mid-90s.
Despite the hot, humid conditions, the squirrels were active. The ground beneath every hickory tree was littered with nut hulls and fresh cuttings, and high above, leaves shivered as bushytails scurried about their breakfast business.
We hadn’t been in the woods 10 minutes when Roy’s .22 cracked and a squirrel came tumbling down.
Minutes later my .22 cracked and a squirrel went scampering away.
That was the story of the hunt. Roy shot five times and bagged four squirrels. I shot four times and bagged air.
The sun was in my eyes, while it was at Roy’s back.
His squirrels were closer than my squirrels.
His were sitting still while mine were running.
His rifle scope is bigger than my rifle scope.
After three hours I’d gone through every excuse except global warming.
Plain truth is, Roy’s a crack shot while I’m more of a crack pot.
Nevertheless, it was enjoyable being in the woods for the first time in months, and the prospects for a good season are promising. There is an abundance of mast, especially hickory nuts, and the cyclical squirrel population appears to be on an up year.
Last Saturday’s season-opener was also Free Hunting Day in Tennessee, held annually by The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to encourage more hunters to get afield – especially youngsters.
Judging from several gunshots in the distance, there were numerous hunters who, like Roy and I, were willing to brave the heat and give it a try.
I’ve suggested that the TWRA should move Free Hunting Day to mid-October when the weather is ideal for being outdoors. If a kid’s first hunting trip is enjoyable, maybe he or she will want to go again. It it’s uncomfortable -- hot, itchy and buggy -- they may balk.
The drawback to early-season hunting, in addition to the heat, is that the woods are crawling with ticks and chiggers. Especially bothersome are tiny seed ticks that cluster around the ankles.
I usually spray down with a strong insect repellant, but last Saturday I forgot. By the time I got home I was itching.
Hot, soapy water alone won’t dislodge the tiny ticks. They have to be scraped off, and alcohol or some other antiseptic applied to the bites.
Until a hard frost dispatches the ticks, chiggers and mosquitoes, a good insect repellant, liberally applied, is a advisable for squirrel and dove hunters.
Seed ticks, hot weather and cold shooting notwithstanding, Opening Day was enjoyable, and I’m, well, itching to go again.