Tales from the Woods: ‘The First Squirrel’
The 1st of October signals the start of hunting season in Arkansas. This is the opening weekend of squirrel season. The members of the 101 Club go to squirrel camp like many hunters go to deer camp.
We gather the gang and plan on hunting for several days. We meet at the “Cabin” with enough food and ammo for a fair sized army and it’s support group.
This is an annual event and the five members, their kids, and guests make the best of it. We have four days of nothing but hunting, eating, sleeping and being with your hunting buddies.
I married several years later than most of the boys and I have been on fishing and hunting trips when their boys got their “First One.” A First One could be the kid’s first duck, first deer or even the first fish.
It doesn’t make any difference what the First One is.
It is duly photographed and logged into our 20 year old log book. It is a time for celebration and deed is retold many times., It tends to improve over the years.
My son, Keith, has turned seven and now it is way MY turn for a First One with MY boy. We live out of town and Keith had shot his share of 410 shells at both still and moving targets in the yard. It was time for the real thing. He had been on several squirrel hunts with me as the game toter and had a good idea of what to expect.
An hour before daylight, the camp was a stir and young son was up and dressed in camo from head to toe. A bottle of mosquito dope was in his pocket along with a new compass.
And don’t forget the extra box of 410 shells in #5 shot. Shot sizes had been arrived at after much serious discussion and several pattern shots. We were prepared for this hunt!
We rode the 4-wheeler about a mile to a patch of woods that had many big pecan trees. This had been always a productive area and I knew where each pecan ridge was and where the squirrels would probably be. The woods were open and there was very little underbrush to make for noisy walking.
We eased into the woods and sat down under a great sycamore with several very large pecan trees in front of us. Keith had been briefed on how to look for squirrels shaking branches and dropping nuts. We were ready for daylight.
Not long after dawn pinked, I saw motion in the tree in front of us and shortly spotted the squirrel. I nudged the boy and tried to show him Mr. Bushytail. Whenever the boy looked in the right spot the squirrel was still. As soon as he looked away, it would move and gather another pecan. Soon, after squirrel started cutting in the same tree. Twice as good, but Keith still could not locate the squirrel. It was becoming very frustrating for both the boy and me. The harder I tried to show him the squirrel, the worst it got. Time out and settle down.
I was on my hands and knees trying to get eye level with him and perhaps make it easier. As I knelt there pointing to the squirrel, Keith said. “Daddy, why can’t I shoot that one over my head?”
I looked up where he was pointing. Sure enough, there was a large fox squirrel leaning out from a sycamore branch looking down at us from about twenty feet away.
I nodded and he raised his little 410 and pulled the trigger. It was a neat one shot kill with the squirrel falling almost at his feet.
He pounced on it.
Fortunately it was dead and did not bite or scratch.
We hugged and kissed and celebrated as only a father and son can. We had an experience together that goes beyond description.
One has to have undergone it to understand it.
That morning, the squirrels were abundant and he managed to harvest three more. He had a load in that little game vest!
We returned to camp about 10:30 a.m. just as the rest of the hunters arrived. Needless to say, there was much celebrating and picture taking. Keith made the rounds telling the story to each hunter and checking to see if they had killed as many as he.
We split chores and somebody will start breakfast and the rest will clean game. It usually times out that breakfast and the dressing of the game finish at the same time and we all enjoy a bodiacious bait of bacon, eggs, cat head biscuits, and home made pear preserves. As we split for our jobs, he proudly took his place at the cleaning table, knife and squirrels in hand.
It is a tradition for us to have fried squirrel and brown milk gravy the first night of the season. It is also a tradition of the 101 Club to make a great celebration over a First One.
These were some of the finest eating squirrels I ever had!
The First One did not make the skillet. He is mounted in all his red glory above Keith’s bed. A reminder of the First One.
By John Criner Outdoors Columnist