Meridian Star

December 14, 2012

Everyman’s Game Animal

By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
Otha Barham

MERIDIAN —    It was one of the most spectacular shots I have ever witnessed. We were nestled against one of the many giant beech trees in a deep hollow just 200 yards from the Tennessee River. The big trees showed their age with names and ranks of Civil War soldiers scratched onto their pale bark. My father took careful aim as his quarry moved slowly far up on the rocky ridge.

    At the shot from his .22 rifle the game animal fell forthwith, leaving both of us with mouths agape and eyebrows raised in disbelief. The range must have been over a hundred yards.

    Years later on one of my earliest armed hunts, I scored on six straight opportunities, doubling the combined bag of my dad and two of his adult companion hunters that day.

    During my college years my friend and I fired at three of these same admired game animals and when we collected our kill there were four! Even more astonishing was the time I shot one in most unlikely cover (a briar patch with scattered saplings) and on my way to collect it I found another one quite dead that my shotgun had taken without my having seen it at all

    This marvelous game animal that has given me a storehouse of similar memories is the gray squirrel. If one were to design a comprehensive score sheet that would accurately measure the attributes of game animals and have all hunters in the squirrel states complete the survey, it would not surprise me if the squirrel came out in first place over all other game.

    When I add up the things that squirrels offer me that I value as a hunter, the squirrel comes through with flying colors.

    First, looking to the motivation of our primitive forefathers, as a food source the gray squirrel is first rate. In fact, I have long said that my very favorite game meat is fried young gray squirrel. A half-grown squirrel can be fried whole after dredging it in flour and pressing it down flat in sizzling bacon grease or the healthier oils if you must.

    Now what about the hunt? Compare the toil of the hunter who bags a typical sack of six squirrels on a morning hunt with his friend who takes a typical six-point buck during the same four hour morning of still hunting. The squirrel hunter made six separate stalks, each one different. Noisy dry leaves, branches blocking the way and a quarry zipping around from tree to tree were overcome in each case.

    Carefully selecting shady spots to slip through, moving only when the squirrel moved, feeling sticks underfoot for each step; these were requirements for success. Then timing the shot at the fidgeting, darting target required skill and luck. Several stalks failed, each because of a single tiny mistake. Which hunter used the most hunting skill?

    Squirrels repopulate readily, so they can be hunted hard without fear of making them scarce. I once took 86 squirrels from a scope of woods about the size of six city blocks. The next year, and those following, saw plenty of squirrels there for continued good hunting. My family ate every one of the squirrels I took during those days except for a few we gave to friends.

    Many good hunters got their start hunting squirrels. And most of them return often to where the white oak acorns and hickory nuts grow.