With the tragedies of this year’s archery season, I decided to take my son out for a Saturday of squirrel hunting. He’s becoming more and more interested in hunting and the outdoors and I feel that it is my job to encourage his enthusiasm. I write “my son” and often that’s how I say it as well. He’s actually my step-son but it’s my belief that when you take a step-son or step-daughter, you accept that you are going to love them like your own.
As usual, he was up before me this Saturday. He came to get me at around 5 am. As much as I like hunting, I’m not getting up at 5 am for squirrel hunting. “Go back to bed. I’ll come and get you when my alarm goes off.” Eventually, my alarm did go off and after MANY snooze buttons, I got out of bed and stepped into his room; He was already awake.
We drove to Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area and squared away our gear. It’s a bit warmer than I prefer for squirrel hunting. I typically don’t go out until much later in the season. I enjoy the late fall’s colder weather. I also enjoy squirrel hunting with a rifle and less leaves on the trees. But today’s adventures required little more than a couple of bottles of water, jeans, t-shirts, and an old shotgun. As I took the shotgun shells from their box, I explained to Max (my step-son) how shotguns work and the good and bad of using them. As with every outdoor adventure we have, I gave him “the talk” about gun safety. Repetition leads to retention.
From the parking area, there is an old logging road that dissects the WMA. With an unloaded shotgun, we stepped from the confines of pavement into the forest, a place for boys to become men. After we covered enough ground to safely load the shotgun, I talked with him about squirrels and squirrel hunting tactics: look for mass, take a few quiet steps, then wait and watch, if you find a good location, take a seat on a fallen log and enjoy the moment, watch for any movement of the leaves – squirrel make a lot of commotion when jumping from tree to tree. Of course, as we started walking, I learned a valuable lesson about hunting with a seven year old. They are noisy! Every third step I’d remind him how to walk quietly through the woods. I’m certain that I said “shhh” and “sit still” more times in one morning than I had in my entire life. Eventually, I gave up and we just enjoyed walking around and talking about “man stuff.”
Squirrel hunting has a very nostalgic feel to me. The pressure of trying to harvest deer often becomes all consuming. Sometimes it’s nice just to get outside, relax, and hunt for bushytails. As I watched the treetops, I drifted back to the times of my youth and those men that took me hunting. I thought back to my dad and our adventures. My dad wasn’t a hunter. Sure, he went hunting and was certainly successful from time to time. But hunting never seemed to be his “thing.” I think back now and realize that taking me hunting probably wasn’t his top choice for activities but realized that it’s important to get boys outside. This is especially true for boys that long for the mountains.
My grandfather also took me out fairly often. He was the epitome of a woodsman and could truly live off the land. He was probably the most successful hunter and fisherman that I’ve ever known. If he wasn’t taking game or catching fish, no one was. He always enjoyed telling the story of taking me squirrel hunting and me wanting the Milk Duds. It seems that someone had littered a paper sack just beside deer droppings on the forest floor. I noticed the “Milk Duds” that someone had spilled and wanted to have a bite. It’s probably good that he stopped me.
Later on in life, my brother-in-law took the time to take me squirrel hunting, as did my much older cousin. In regards to my cousin, even now, he’s a woodsman through and through. He hunts nearly year-round and is an advanced fisherman. I wish I could have learned more from him when I had the chance. We don’t speak these days due to family issues.
Of a long line of men that were worth their weight in salt, I’m proud to be carrying on the tradition of teaching my son. We’ll start with squirrel hunting and gradually move towards more difficult game. He is already shooting a bow and arrow so hopefully, he’ll reach a point where HE talks his mom into letting us spend a few extra Saturdays in the woods with our bows.
Take a moment to think back to your younger years. Most of you probably had someone in your life that took the opportunity to take you to the woods. If you did, you should give them a PHONE CALL or VISIT, not a text, email or other electronic communication and tell them “thank you.”
I’d really enjoy hearing who made the effort to take you out hunting or spending time in nature!