Trading in deer for squirrels
The author has relearned the joys of squirrel hunting, a sport he hasn't pursued since he was a kid.
As a kid, I spent as much time as possible in the woods on the 600-acre working ranch on which we lived on the edge of Baton Rouge. During the summer, when I wasn’t sitting on a tractor bush-hogging a pasture or helping in the hay field, I ranged through the 300 acres of hardwoods doing whatever struck me at the time.
Each fall, the shotguns came out, and I would disappear into those same forests to shoot whatever small game was in season. Squirrels were a certainty. If a wood duck popped up from a slough, yeah, it received a load of shot, as well. Rabbits were a special treat, but, um, maybe I shouldn’t say how we hunted them in my teens back in the late ’70s. Suffice it to say, we combined working the overgrown fields and hunting to stack up big swampers.
We even shot woodcock, although we had no dogs and often lost the birds amid the head-high palmettos.
And then, in my early 20s, I started deer hunting. Everything else was dropped. Well, I still shot a few woodies each fall because my dad (who had stopped hunting) insisted we needed them for holiday meals. God forbid we actually eat turkey like everyone else. (OK, so he was right about that).
But the bulk of my time afield was spent chasing deer. Freezing for deer. Sweating for deer. Dreaming about deer.†
My buddy Darren Cooper and I lived and breathed deer hunting, even spending much of the offseason planning out where we’d hunt and how we’d set up stands the next fall.
That fervor lasted until my mid-30s, when family responsibilities made it harder and harder to get into the woods and justify the hunting-camp fees.
Now, I have to admit it: I just don’t hate deer like I once did. Sure, I continue enjoying time in a tree, and a deer walking into range still messes me all up. And, yes, if you want to invite me on a deer hunt, I’ll load up the truck and head your way.
But the blood lust has died.
I was having problems coming to terms with that change until a few years ago when I was relaxing in a tree stand on Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge.
There I was, on a deer hunt — and all I could do was think about how easy it would be to fill my limit of squirrels. The danged things were all over the place, doing everything but picking my pockets. And I was convinced that if I sat still enough one of them might give that a try.
And these weren’t cat squirrels. Nope, they were chuckle-headed foxes — and there were black-coated specimens mixed in. A veritable trophy room of black squirrels.
I couldn’t wait to trade in my bow for one of my shotguns, and on my next trip I filled a limit in 100 yards. I walked back to my truck feeling like the king of the woods.
My son Garrett and I already are planning out some squirrel hunts, and our discussions are reminiscent of my old deer-hunting days with Darren.
I’m returning to my hunting roots, and it feels good.
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