(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archive originally penned some 20 years ago.)
The Ides of August—the 15th—is the opening day of squirrel hunting season and marks a six month or so greenflag to a variety of hunting and trapping seasons in Indiana.
While I rarely make time for hunting these days, in my youth it was something I regularly partook. Squirrel hunting was about the only thing my Dad and I did when I was real young and because of his work obligations the trips were few and far between.
But that made them all the more treasured, I suppose.
I can remember him asking me on the evening before if I wanted to go squirrel hunting in the morning. “You’ll have to roll out of bed pretty early,” he would tell me. Of course I wanted to go but the excitement and anticipation of the early morning adventure kept sleep from my eyes until very late. Then when Pop came in, shook my foot to awaken me, with a somewhat whispered “C’mon, let’s go”, I’d scramble for my hunting clothes…which were just older, ordinary play clothes.
His wakeup drink was coffee: instant stirred into a cup of hot water from the tap. I sort of embraced it as the drink squirrel hunters drank before heading to the woods. Now, though, I prefer my coffee brewed from the coffeemaker.
Pop used a 12 gauge 870 Remington pump shotgun and he provided his pre-teenage son with an over & under .22 rifle/.410 shotgun.
“Use the rifle first. If you miss, bust them out with the shotgun,” he would advise.
More contemporarily, I use a .22 to hunt squirrels, though it does have a scope and shoots more than one shot.
While a number of my hunting associates prowl, crawl, crouch, strain and hunker all over the woods looking for squirrel, I hunt using my Grandpa’s favorite technique: sit down amongst some hickory and beech trees, stay quiet and keep looking up & listening.
I was using that technique on one of my early hunting trips with Pop. All was quiet but in the heavy dew laced landscape, I could begin hearing the light pitter patter of pieces hickory shell being removed dentally by Mr. Busytail. Try as I might I could not locate the rascal, and I dared not move around for fear of being spotted and freezing the squirrel’s breakfast activity and my chance of squirrel & dumplings for supper.
Still hearing the pitter drip of cuttings hitting leaves, I continued to look all around for the source. Suddenly, a couple of drops of dew hit the back of my neck. Looking up, sure enough, was the bushy backside of a squirrel.
Still seated I leaned one way and then another trying to get a bead on his head. Finally tuckered from all of the contortions and straining, I laid back flat on the ground to rest.
And there was Mr. Squirrel in full plain view.
As I drew up with the .22, he abruptly turned 180° turn and all I could see through the leaves was squirrel butt.
I had had it. I wasn’t waiting any longer and I wasn’t going to take any chances. I clicked the gun down to the shotgun side.
Laying flat on my back I drew a bead just a little north of the rear end I saw, took a breath, let it out and squeezed the trigger.
The squirrel was rolled out of the hickory and dropped with a dull thud just a few feet away.
But I never saw it.
I learned a painful lessons of physics and shotgun kicks while a shoulder is braced against solid objects.
But the soreness in my shoulder quickly eased when Pop came over as I was picking up the squirrel. He held up the two he had bagged and, using my unbruised left arm, I held up my one. And we knew what was on the supper menu that night.