I've been squirrel hunting almost every evening for the past week. Don't have many to show for it, but we don't eat as much as we used to, so I'm not complaining. Have been having good times sneaking about in woodlots. Mosquitoes are down in numbers, and this past week has offered up perfect early season weather, cool and calm. Leaves have not fallen from the trees yet to carpet the woods, and the duff and dirt are soft from recent rains. Very quiet walking.
The few mornings I have been out early have been ideal for squirrels, too. Foggy, quiet, still. You can hear a bough swish as a squirrel launches itself from one tree to another for a ways off, especially the morning after a night of rain, when branches shake water from their leaves. Or you can catch sight of one's jerky and erratic movement across the woods when all else is still and breathless.
Squirrels have started cutting hickories. On such still mornings as these, you can hear their gnawing for a good ways, even with all these leaves on. Darned things are like ventriloquists, though, and it's sometimes difficult to get their exact direction and location when they're high in a tree or off in the woods. The classic early season posture has me standing under a nut tree, craning my neck looking for a shot while a sprinkle of shell and husk parts patters down through the leaves. The only time they're really vulnerable is when they're cutting--searching about in a tree top for a special hickory meat, or, having found it, tumbling it over and over in their paws, shredding it to bits. Their attention gets riveted on nuts so much that they tolerate some stumbling around underneath.
I missed two squirrels tonight, both fairly easy shots. Came out of the woods empty-handed, except for a firm and meaty, newly sprung puffball mushroom that I wrapped in my bandana and hung from my belt, the first of the Autumn season. A vegetable substitute for poor marksmanship, but oh so good fried up in an iron skillet. Back home I sliced it into hot butter and olive oil and fed some to Mary, who had fallen asleep on the couch, tired from her work day. She woke up by bites. I chuckled watching her come back to life, chewing each new morsel more vigorously than the last, anticipating the next bite with her eyes closed.
But that's not all I brought back with me. Memories are what I'm good at gathering, Adkins. Not money or wordlies of any other sort. Memories. Tonight I snuck up on a beautiful whitetail buck and watched as he worked to remove the velvet from his antlers, delicately rubbing small bushes and brush, shaking his head back and forth, staying furtive in the shadows all the while. I caught a glimpse of his movement as I stalked down a trail, and then I eased to within 15 paces of him and crouched there transfixed for who knows how long. I just watched and watched and watched, my bow poised as though it were deer season, and all my senses alert, practicing for the 6th of October, looking to position myself for the shot, but really just loving being there and watching. Hunting from the ground affords you no real opportunity to count tines, not if you are intent on the animal's every movement, reading and anticipating, but he sported a large rack, with long points, and was massive of beam. It seemed all the larger for the velvet ribbons hanging down.
He finally looked in my direction, and then began to stare, because I made no real attempt to hide my outline after I had been there for a while. So I said to him, "Hello, brother." I barely got out with the Hello when his tensed muscles spun him around and away with an involuntary snort. He was unsure what had happened, but aware that nothing was in hot pursuit. I could tell by the way he bounded off. By the time he'd gained the understory far enough to be hidden, which required only a few more jumps, he slowed and stopped. Snorted a few more times and wondered what I was.
The owls started hooting early tonight. Gosh, there are so many of them any more. I'll not forget the night almost a year ago in Southern Ohio. Nearing dusk, a gray squirrel came by on its way to its beech den. Just as I was preparing to shoot, a great horned owl dropped down from the top of that same den tree and covered him with feathers. Surprised me so much it took moments to register. He must have dozed there all day, waiting for supper to come home late. I'd have noticed had he flown in. The squirrel figured it out quickly, no doubt. One minute scampering through leaves searching out beechnuts, the next minute arrived at some new station on the food chain. Great horned owl is a mighty and large creature. Sudden, silent death.
Tonight I had three squirrels up one hickory. Squirrels will decide that one hickory tastes better than all the surrounding ones, and then descend on it. Saw the first one leave and marked his route as I snuck toward the tree, so I positioned myself for a good shot along this avenue of limbs and waited for the other two to fill their bellies. Soon another squirrel started barking at me from behind, apparently coming to supper but finding me obstructing his path. I turned slowly and there he sat, scolding me from his perch. A limb kept me from shooting. I tried to maneuver, but just about the time I noticed that the first two squirrels had quit pitching cuttings from the tree, he scampered off without offering a shot. I turned back just to glimpse the second squirrel vacating the premises along the escape route. Could not help laughing at their routine. One come to extricate the other two, and I played my part perfectly.
It was a great night tonight nevertheless, Jan. I have mushroom in the refrigerator, a few squirrels marinating, and the desire and opportunity to hunt in the morning. Could life be much better?
Much love, brother.