Meridian Star

January 3, 2014

Confessions of a would-be squirrel hunter

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — I sneak quietly through the young pine trees to the edge of the big timber where I stop and listen. It is two hours before dark and all is quiet on this bluebird day when grey squirrels like to feed ravenously on acorns in preparation for winter. An acorn falls from a big white oak tree just ahead. A limb shakes. I step carefully on dry leaves; slowly, slowly ahead; eyes straining.

    Another movement in the feed tree is heard but not seen. My throat is getting dry and I grip the Fox double barrel tighter with both hands. One more step and the squirrel sounds a low bark followed by that quiet little whine. Has he seen me or was he just lazily practicing his "I see you" call? I think I know the answer.

    I take an eternity to inch forward; a step and watch; an inch and scan every limb.  I slip under the tree and I see no squirrel nor a single movement to give me hope of even a running shot. He has vanished.

    They have done it to me again. Grey squirrels have my number. They always have.

    I tense up and utter harsh words and move on into the woods. Not a breath of air is moving. One could see a squirrel move a limb a hundred yards away. The next one I will win. I ease against big red oak trunks and watch in silence. Nothing. I move on. Why aren't those grey taunters moving? In the best stretch of oaks, which covers a small knoll, I decide to sit and watch and listen.

    I can see forever through the oaks which have a few juicy acorns remaining. It's just a matter of time. Every tiny sound is magnified by my straining ears. A beetle crawls across a dry leaf nearby and I snap my head toward the sound and then tell myself again to relax. Minutes go by and the silence is deafening. Suddenly a giant flicker sounds his staccato scream just over my head and scares me senseless. His mate joins him and together they complete the job of shredding my nerves to bits.

    "Wait a minute!", I am thinking. "Why am I so uptight? Why do squirrels always do this to me"? "Not long ago I calmly put two fatal shots in five seconds into a bull moose as it crashed through thick aspens almost on top of me. I've held my ground while a bull elk tore up a tree thirty yards away while preparing to kill me for screaming a challenging call. I've sat numb but frozen in place, barely breathing while turkey gobblers strut and gobble just out of range. What is this with squirrels for gosh sakes"?

    As I sit here in silence, watching the sunset and being utterly defeated again by this smallest of game mammals, I confess what I have known all my life. I am possibly the world's worst squirrel hunter. I review my history. In 1958 I killed a hundred squirrels, my family eating all but a dozen which went to friends.  "Admit it,"  I say to myself, "That was a fluke, and a good hunter would probably have killed two hundred in the same woods." I go on to admit that my good friend Ivan Chisolm, my hunting partner in the early years, beat me nine times out of ten. In adulthood my friend Ronny Lee would almost apologize for showing me up. I don't recall ever besting him

    At dark I am walking from the woods, defeated again and feeling it. I ask myself if I will have to visit a hunter friend to taste squirrel and dumplings or fried young squirrel and gravy this year.

    As I top out in the pasture and turn toward the road, a bit of hope glimmers from amidst my gloom. Tomorrow the weather man predicts clear and cool with no wind. The tall trees in the swamp to the north should have a few acorns; and even more leaves will drop by morning. Maybe. Just maybe.