Guns & Cornbread: Squirrel Season. Then & Now.

It’s the first day of squirrel season and I am not in the woods.

It’s the first day of squirrel season and I am not in the woods. I have let the threat of a little rain in the forecast keep me from going. I stand on the front porch of the camp with coffee and take in the foggy, misty gray morning. It is no bright and shiny morning with lots of sun, but it is cool and beautiful, and I am not very happy with myself (a malady that seems to occur more and more these days). Some great squirrel hunter I am, there is no downpour or even light rain, but I have let a forecast keep me from something that I used to dearly love, opening day of squirrel season.

I have my squirrel pin on my belt and some .410 shotgun shells in my pocket.

(Set the Way back machine to mid-October 1965) I spring from my bed where I am sure I got no sleep. Getting ready entails no more than pulling on some blue jeans, a flannel shirt, and maybe grabbing a bowl of Cheerios. Unlike the mountain of gear that seems to be required today, I have my squirrel pin (made from bending a coat hanger) on my belt and some .410 shotgun shells in my pocket. I follow my Dad out the door and he starts up the International Scout and we are off. This is a day trip close to home so in a few minutes he pulls over on an old dirt road and we sit in the predawn darkness. The anticipation, the pent-up excitement, is palpable. We have waited for months for this, and now it is here. The realization that the event is here, and now we are living it seems well, almost euphoric.

I look back on this now, after so many years, and I think about was Dad really excited as I was on those opening mornings? Or was he just playing along for a skinny kid that lived to go hunting? It is just one of a hundred questions I wish I could ask him.

Once upon a time, the opening day of squirrel season was a big deal.

A lot of today’s hunters may find it hard to believe once upon a time the opening day of squirrel season was a big deal, I mean like as big a deal as buck season. It was not unusual for the surrounding woods to ring with hunter’s shots on opening day. I remember my Dad would say it sounded like a “young war”. Back in the day hordes of hunters went to the woods for a tree-dwelling rodent that might weigh a pound or two. Why? There are probably several reasons. Fifty years ago, without a doubt, we had more hunters. Hunting was something more people thought of as important and more young people naturally followed their fathers, uncles, and grandads into the squirrel woods, more so than today. In some areas, like my native southern West Virginia, small game like squirrels could be the only game in town. Deer were not found all over the state and wild turkeys were not as plentiful either.

Another thing occurred when the deer started to comeback in increasing numbers. The bowhunting craze started. By the mid 1970’s whitetail deer were becoming much more populated over much of the southeast and bowhunting became the thing. Advances in bowhunting equipment and technology brought us the compound bow which seemed to have improvements every year, and new kinds of broadheads brought bowhunters success in the field.

As bow hunting increased, squirrel hunting participation plummeted.

All of this was great for bowhunting, and maybe for hunting in general but as bow hunting increased squirrel hunting participation plummeted. As the chances for taking a 150-pound deer increased more hunters forgot about the two-pound tree rat. Then, over time, something else happened. Many sportsmen today feel that because we have a generation of hunters who grew up without squirrel hunting, the skill level of many hunters has gone down.

Older hunters may tell you the squirrel woods is where they really learned to hunt. All the basic skills hunting like stalking, learning to move quietly in the woods, how to sit still and not move, what to listen for while hunting, and tracking and looking for signs of game can be learned at a young age on squirrels.

Melting back into our roots and heritage of being a hunter.

I ventured out in the late evening shadows and tried to slip up on two different gray squirrels, but they gave me the slip. But in that short time, it all started to come back to me. The intense stalking, trying as you might to silently move through the dry leaves, pausing behind a big oak as the squirrel bounces from a limb. Melting back into our roots and heritage of being a hunter.

And sitting there on an ancient chestnut stump it came to me as clear as day, Dad was just as excited as I was on the opening day of squirrel season.

– Larry Case w/ Guns & Cornbread. Hashtag #127 October 2020. Contact Larry Case at Larryocase3@gmail.com. and visit GunsandCornbread.com

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