As a young boy, this time of year brought me much excitement and anticipation of the upcoming season. No, not football season, not World Series or Baseball Division Playoff season. My daddy, who had no use at all for “stick and ball games” as he called them,the season we country boys were anticipating involved a different team with some members having two legs and others having four. We were always “fired up” about the start of the fall squirrel season! The annual fall hunting season for us “kicked off” with us hunting squirrels, Gray (cat) Squirrels, Red (fox) Squirrels and finding an occasional Raccoon (coon) or Opossum was a bonus for some of our older relatives who preferred to consume those type critters.
I will confess that a small to medium coon is a very tasty animal and I enjoyed more than a few of them fried or barbecued. But, a possum was never an animal that I found palatable, even when the “over-sized growling rat” was caught and caged for a few weeks to “sweeten” it up for the pot as my grandparents used to do routinely. They would ask us to join them, especially if we had captured the “marauding marsupial” or as daddy would call them “ground buzzards”and brought him in to my step granddad’s holding pen for the fattening up process, Ugh!
But, we all loved the squirrels! any way they were prepared by my mother, or either of my grandmothers. These ladies could perform magic with most any outdoor game brought in to their kitchens! Both grandmothers made a squirrel dumpling dish that was amazing but each was distinctly different. One had a very smooth “comfort” taste and texture and the other was peppery and had various additions, depending on what was available in her garden such as carrots, celery, onions, or leeks. Both created crispy “skillet-fried” squirrel dishes that along with some rice, broth gravy and “cat-head” biscuits were a five star county boy’s dream of a meal on a crisp autumn afternoon or chilly autumn evening for a grand supper meal after a day in the hardwoods of West Alabama.
After I grew up and got busy (too busy) at making a living, I rarely took the time to go squirrel hunting over the next twenty years. However, as I got less addicted to deer hunting after my fiftieth birthday, I started going squirrel hunting again and found new joy in an old sport! I remembered hunts with my daddy, “Paw-paw Walter”, various uncles, cousins, and neighbors long forgotten. Episodes, events and memories of days afield that I had not brought into the conscious portion of my mind for years and many of them I considered totally forgotten! The mind is an amazing organ our creator bestowed upon us and I was amazed when I recalled an old squirrel hunting memory so sweet and holding such personal value, that sometimes I am compelled to stop and savor the moment, with focus and effort, to wring out every little bit of the emotion wrapped in that memory, and to drink it in like a man who just survived a trek across a desert! Just remember,old Memories can’t get old if they are never made! That is why you need to go make some memories afield when you can. If you are young and if you have children, times spent together in the outdoors can create a magic that is impossible to duplicate any where else.
Now, some of you are looking at the blog title and wondering what that title has to do with squirrel hunting and the memories it wells up in an old outdoors addict like me. Part of my very best outdoor memories knocking those bushy tails out of the tops of those tall hardwoods we had back then was my hunting partners. Not the ones I mentioned earlier in this article. I, and I bet more than a few of you, remember every dog you had as a pet and even more, every dog who was a valuable hunting partner.
Sidetrack was the first squirrel dog I remember my dad owning and he got his name by his sideways gait when he was running along behind dad’s pickup and he drove slowly down the dirt road on our little farm from pasture to pasture. As a puppy, “sidetrack” ran with that peculiar sideways gallop where his rear end was not in line with his front so someone named him “sidetrack” I was too young to know that part but, as I made my first hunts for squirrels, he was the one who could find and “tree” them by the dozens so he made our hunts infinitely more successful and a lot more fun.
A few years later, sidetrack was showing his age and daddy got a young Feist-Cur mixed breed that the owner had already named “Headlight” due to the fact he fed the dogs at night and when he went to the kennel to fee them, this little pup had a pair of unusually bright eyes that reminded him of a set of headlights. That stuck with my dad, so “that was that”. “Headlight” was a pretty good little squirrel dog that had his life cut short by a speeding jerk in a big Plymouth that flew past our home one day and ran over the dog before it could get out of the way. I never saw that guy or that car again, but I believe I would recognize both of them today. That memory is one I had just as soon forget but, that “ain’t gonna happen”.
“Midnight” was a jet black mixed breed dog of questionable breed type but, was a superstar in the squirrel dog world, so much so that daddy bought him from a fellow up in Brookwood, near Birmingham and though he never said, I heard he paid $50. bucks for the dog, which was almost a week’s salary for dad in the early 1960s. “Midnight” was as good as they come in terms of a squirrel dog’s hunting prowess and we got invites to a number of different farms to squirrel hunt just so the other folks could watch the dog “work”. We killed hundreds of squirrels with “Midnight” leading the way. We had him for six years and he went missing about two weeks before one squirrel opened so dad always figured someone “needed him worse than we did”.
As family pets. “Sidetrack”, ”Headlight”, and “Midnight” were wonderful dogs to interact with. In the woods, they transformed in to intelligent, no-nonsense hunting partners that brought all of us a lot of joyful moments long ago and far away in the sweet smelling, deep hardwoods, of those cool autumn days of my youth.
There is a lot of magic to be found you just got to get to the woods and find your own!
Until next week..