Master and Apprentice – The Best Squirrel Hunt of my Life
Russ Chastain 02.26.21
Most days just happen, then slip away into the haze of unremarkable memories which seem to pile up in the back of one’s mind with no real purpose other than getting in your way when you’re searching for one memory in particular. Then, there are days which simply live forever. This is a story about one of those days — but first, I need to back up a few years.
I’m a man who never had a son, but I have had the honor of helping to introduce some young people to the wonderful world of hunting. One of those was my nephew Russ (great name, eh?) a.k.a. Ox, who specifically asked to go hunting with me when he was just a wee lad. I used to take him on an annual squirrel hunt early in the morning after Thanksgiving while the rest of the family snored away under the influence of too much turkey. As he got older, it was deer we hunted together. Fast forward a few decades and now, somewhat to the surprise of us both, he’s become a man in his mid-30s and I’m past the half-century mark.
Neither of us have hunted small game in a long time, and it was decided to meet up one weekend at my uncle’s hunt camp to pursue squirrels in some of the woods where we traipsed as teacher and apprentice when I was younger than he is now. It was January in Florida which meant unpredictable weather. By the time I’d finished packing my truck for the trip I was sweaty and decided to change into shorts and flip-flops. It was only after I’d gotten to camp nearly 100 miles away that I realized I’d left the house without any other shoes! When Ox arrived, he brought me some brand-spanking-new boots so I could enjoy the hunt a little more than if I was wandering the woods in sandals. What a guy!
Next morning, our squirrel hunt got off to a medium-late start, but it was drizzling rain anyhow so the critters should have still been stirring. It sure did feel nice to have those boots on my feet. After a couple hours of walking, stalking, and sitting we had heard a few squirrels and glimpsed exactly one, so we headed back to camp to grab some grub.
After filling our bellies, the rain began to fall in earnest so we stretched out for a while to wait it out. It didn’t last terribly long and the temperature began to drop, so we headed out around 2:00pm to hunt a little hunk of hardwoods we like to call The Unwashed Twelve. At 2:32pm Ox’s scattergun spoke and a tree rat met its demise. Nice! We had a few lulls after that, but the action was better than we’d ever seen before. When he got himself a double at 4:16pm he’d gotten 4 squirrels and I had one.
We decided to take the long way back to the Jeep, and we couldn’t have had a better idea – squirrels were everywhere! Having reached the point in life where I still love hunting but sometimes prefer watching someone else enjoy it, I hung back to let him take the lead and purely enjoyed every minute of the hunt. Some squirrels were team efforts and others were solo ventures – and in the final moments of daylight I burned my last shell to kill my fourth squirrel of the day which put our total at 10.
We’d begun the squirrel hunt with more than half a box of 12 gauge shells between us, and by day’s end there was one shell remaining. That morning, I’d made the offhand remark that I would be amazed if we got enough opportunities to use up all those shells – and amazed I was. In only about three hours, Ox and I had bagged more squirrels than we’d ever gotten over a full weekend of small game hunting in the old days.
Perhaps our bounty can be attributed to lack of competition because fewer folks hunt squirrels these days, but we prefer to think we are just that much better than we used to be. I mean, why not? Might as well believe the best. A stack of ten squirrels on a Jeep hood makes an impressive sight, even if there are only two guys there to be impressed.
As we cleaned the squirrels we were silently grateful we hadn’t bagged more of them, but have no fear; in a few years this squirrel hunt will be recalled as having provided enough squirrels to feed an army, and with only a half-dozen shells! Seriously though, I am looking forward to cooking up a squirrel stew in the old slow cooker come turkey season.
That evening I stretched out to sleep with a big grin on my face and a grateful, peaceful heart knowing I’d done good by training this hunter who had just outdone me in my own woods on the best squirrel hunting day I’d ever had. Ah me. A hunter’s life is good.