I don’t know how many times I have sat down in these woods on my neighbor’s farm. Most of those times I have been here hunting deer or wild turkey. A time or two I have carried only my camera.
But it is a good place to be, leaning up against a big oak, relaxing in a place of calm and quiet and peace, far away from the daily chaos of offices and traffic and too many people.
I have my squirrel gun across my lap, a Savage over and under, .22 rifle on top, the bottom barrel a 20-gauge. On one side of it there is an engraving of a fox, and a flying turkey on the other. I remember my dad using it back in the 1960s to hunt squirrels and rabbits. I am about to use it to get a pair of squirrels for supper. I am plumb tired of eating lobster and shrimp and that filet mignon us outdoor writers are used to! I intend to fry myself a squirrel or two. But first I have to get one. And I didn’t bring any shotgun shells, so I will have to get one with the .22 rifle barrel, like squirrel hunters ought to. I didn’t do much of that as a boy. I had an old single-shot 16 gauge Iver Johnson shotgun and if the squirrel didn’t run, I didn’t miss. But with a .22 rifle, I seldom got one.
What wonderful times those were, riding my bicycle down to the Tweed bottoms along the river, with that shotgun tied across the handlebars and five or six shells in my pocket. I could buy a few shells at a time at Mr. Duff’s Western Auto Store for 8 cents apiece. Jess Wolf, one of the pool hall’s front bench regulars would give me 25 cents for gray squirrels, 35 cents for fox squirrels, and he’d often buy two, leaving me two or three for supper. Mom knew how to make them with a pressure cooker and dumplings. And I had to leave the heads on when I cleaned them, cause Dad and Grandpa liked to crack the skull open to eat the brains. Yuck! I never did that … and Grandpa would shake his head and say he didn’t know what was happening to this younger generation!
It seems silly to be hunting squirrels two miles from my home up on lightnin’ ridge when there are about 20 grays and a half-dozen fox squirrels within a few feet of my back porch. But I am not hungry enough to eat anything that feeds at my corn feeder, including the deer or turkey.
The deer still come to my back yard, and ten years ago there were seven gobblers that would come there to fatten up for spring gobbling. Today there are none. And in these sprawling hundreds of acres of timber on my neighbor’s lands, there are darn few now, where once there were so many. If the Missouri Department of Conservation biologists know what is happening to our wild turkeys, they do not act like it. City-born biologists spend too much time in their offices analyzing studies and not near enough time in the woods. Right now we need some drastic changes in seasons and limits on wild turkeys. In most areas of the Ozarks they are really, really declining.
As I walked into that little valley where my resting place is, I shot at three gray squirrels and missed each, difficult targets on the move through branches and vines. Age has weakened my shooting ability. Why, 20years ago I could flush grasshoppers and pick them off before they could land!
Now leaning up against my tree looking down into a small draw where red oak acorns are still fairly plentiful, I can see one nice fox squirrel rummaging around, as another, up in the high branches of a shagbark hickory, is squawking a warning that every outdoorsman has heard a thousand times, meaning he has seen me, or perhaps a hawk.
For some reason the one on the ground pays little attention to him, hearing problems perhaps. Must be an old squirrel. Moving up the slope, sitting on the side of a big oak, the fox squirrel presents a fairly easy target at 30 yards. I only missed him twice. But not a third time!
It is a good idea when hunting squirrels to have a good sharp knife and plastic bag, and to clean a squirrel immediately after killing it. I had neither, so carrying him by the back legs, I headed for home. I felt a little bit bad about killing the squirrel, but I have good use for it. When I was a kid I never felt that kind of regret about baggin’ a squirrel or rabbit. Squirrels don’t live very long anyway and none die easy. A .22 bullet is as merciful as any demise they might face. What I like to do is marinate a squirrel in something, then cook it on a grill. But frying it and eating it with white gravy isn’t too bad when you are tired of steak and lobster … like us outdoor writers get at times. Or did I already mention that?
We live pretty high on the hog up here in the woods on my ridge top. Might have a wild mallard or two soon, or a rabbit maybe, with canned poke-salet greens with sassafras tea. Doesn’t just thinking about a meal like that make you hungry?