Yesterday evening started out promising enough. A short way into the woods down a tractor path, I spotted a squirrel working the tree tops. The area on that side is carpeted with multiflora rose. I tried picking through it, but he discovered me, so I stopped and waited him out. He came out of hiding and began barking. Made a nice shot on him and retrieved my arrow,. Young of the year. Perfect for iron skillet braising and gravy.
Well, I sez to myself, what's next? The evening is young and the bag limit is four.
Thirty yards further along the creek bottom, three more squirrels appear. I must be near a den and the young are frolicking. At least one is alert to my presence. He climbs down a nearby tree, crosses the creek, climbs another tree and stretches out on a limb to watch me. A long shot. If I miss, the arrow is irretrievable in a corn field.
I'm packing crested arrows that a friend, Brian Patterson, made for me, of such a quality and beauty as I have never owned before. Premium larch shafting grouped closely by weight and spine, stained brown, with a white crown dip, orange, silver and black cresting as delicate as a keen eye, a steady hand and a sable brush will allow, fletched orange and natural barred to my own distinctive parabolic profile – all this top coated with a deep, lustrous lacquer and fixed with a fluorescent orange nock. The kind of matched set you want to parade at the target butts so envious friends will ooh and aah. Only instead of field points, these are mounted with slotted .357 shell casings and fitted with sharpened band saw bleeder blades – a deadly small game combination that deals both shocking and cutting power.
I move a short way toward him, very slowly, to open a shooting lane. The squirrel lounges, outstretched, while I mull over the situation. He awaits my next move. By giving up his feet with this blithe posture, and thereby his ability to dodge my arrow, he's taunting me, betting his life against my marksmanship. It's a serious bet. I've killed four squirrels with my last four shots.
Then I remembered another arrow in my quiver, one that I made, one with green fletching that I bought in bulk off a trade blanket, its unstained shaft rubbed with paraffin and fixed with a bladed .38. As close to disposable as handmade gets. I replace the precious arrow, root the second string one from the quiver, nock it and prepare for the shot, all the while trying to keep one eye on the squirrel that's keeping both eyes on me.
But in the moment I recheck the green arrow he disappears, and the unburdened branch waves bye-bye. I stand there muttering to myself and catch a glimpse of the second squirrel disappearing behind a tree trunk. The third squirrel is on the ground to my left. I watch him climb a tree and then melt into the foliage. I wait and wait but nothing materializes. All three opportunities have evaporated.
An hour into the woods from there, without the glimpse of another squirrel, I replace the plain arrow with a crested one. It's too late. I've sent a chill through the woods and through myself. I placed more value on the arrow than on the squirrel's life. I passed up an opportunity to make meat with a shot I would remember, brought a shiver to my own values and dishonored the squirrel.
I continued hunting for a while, toward the backside of the woods. It was no use. The consequences couldn't be denied. The still part of the evening lay ahead, but I walked back to the truck.