My friend and my brother and I used to hunt squirrels, and other game, on a game-filled property in the heart of the Maryland farm country. Things with wings were the main attraction, like ducks or mourning doves. Canada geese, however were the real lure that brought us there, and populations were on the upswing in the early 1970’s. The shooting was often truly extraordinary.
The goose hunting was more than satisfying for our fathers and their friends, but not always enough for us. We were, after all, young boys bursting with inexhaustible momentum, and guns, and we badly needed something to do when the morning flights of Canada Geese had ended and the birds had laid up to rest.
For me, it was not just a way to pass the time until the late afternoon hunt. Goose shooting is thrilling, and fun, but squirrels…now that’s a young hunter’s big game.
Fortunately, the hardwood fingers between the cornfields and the backwaters of Chesapeake Bay were absolutely jammed with the elusive bushytails. We spent a lot of time still hunting through the autumn leaves, sharpening our eyes behind the rifle sights and practicing our future whitetail hunting skills. Squirrels fell all around us, though I doubt that we ever really put much of a dent in their numbers. They are, among so many things, a restless and boundless survivor in the long-term scheme of things.
I miss those days spent within that colorful cathedral of canopy, slipping soundlessly around the trunks of tall trees with my chin pointed to the sky. Patience is a virtue in this game, as is focus and sharp eyesight. A flash here and a flash there was sometimes all you got, but sometimes, if you were lucky or good, you got a little more too. A squirrel’s head is a tiny target, and you could fancy yourself quite a marksman if you could drop one cleanly and quick.
Long ago I graduated to hunting much bigger and glamorous game, in places where the terrain and scenery could not be much more different from that gentle land. But those squirrels of my youth have never journeyed very far out of mind, and that is a good thing.
I long to hunt squirrels. I crave those simple and rewarding days in the land of sassafras and scolding bluejays. Some are quick to say that the world moves on, and that you can never really revisit a time gone by. Perhaps that is true, but certainly not in all things. I would like to think that squirrel hunting is one of those.
I feel a well deserved squirrel hunt coming on, and some Brunswick Stew to go with it, wherever they may be…
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“Sure, the usually available squirrel is fine game for the beginning hunter. No game animal will give him better training in hunting fundamentals – stalking, concealment, woodsmanship, and shooting and gun handling. And should he become so fortunate that he has a chance at them, those early lessons will serve him well on this continent’s most prized big game animals…Frequent jaunts to a convenient squirrel woods season the long and colorful careers of many of our most famous hunters…
The hunter pussyfooting through the squirrel woods is not seeking a trophy animal, is not concerned about the behavior of an expensive bird dog, nor is he attempting to impress a hunting partner with his wingshooting. He is in the hardwoods for the pure joy of hunting…
-By Bob Gooch, found in All About Small-Game Hunting in America. Edited by Russell Tinsley.