Squirrel hunting with dad

Written by Bob on July 11th, 2009

WANAMINGO, MN – Dad aimed his rifle high up in to the leafy oak. He squinted his left eye, lined up the sights, and slowly squeezed the trigger. Crack went his .22 rifle. Down tumbled a fat, fluffy red squirrel.

“Good shot dad!” I said as I ran up to fetch the squirrel. Dad seldom missed.

I was about eight when dad started taking me along on his squirrel hunting trips. “If you want to go along hunting you’ll have to get up early tomorrow,” dad would say on a Friday or Saturday night.

Dad had a keen hunter’s eye. When his hand went up like a stop sign, it meant he had spotted a squirrel hidden somewhere in a thick jungle of fluttering leaves. He’d point with his finger and whisper, “right up there.”

As Dad’s hunting partner, my job was to circle the tree.

Squirrels are smart. They hide behind the tree keeping it between them and the danger lurking below. But by slowly stepping around the tree, I forced the squirrel to circle back to dad, his rifle aimed and cocked.

With each small step, I inched the squirrel closer into dad’s squinted sight. When he gave me a little wave, I froze. Dad had his clear shot. The squirrel was as good as in mom’s frying pan.

I loved our fall hunting trips to the West Woods of Wanamingo, and Simonson’s Woods, just a mile from home.

In my mind, my boyhood Minnesota woods were as beautiful as any New England painting. Colorful leaves of red, yellow, and orange burst into brilliance – freed from their summer’s cloak of lush green.

Fall is perfect jacket or sweatshirt weather. Perfect weather for hunting. Perfect weather for hiking through woods carpeted with thick layers of brown, crackling leaves.

Early mornings are best to step into a forest. The rising sun’s ray’s cast long bending tree shadows. Leaves burst with color when golden shafts of light peek over the horizon sifting and slanting through the forest. Off in the distance, a squirrel perches on a limb, like a sentinel guarding his castle, chattering his displeasure, warning of the hunters’ approach.

But my two favorite woods sheltered more than squirrel. Simonson’s and the West woods were filled with wildlife.

Sometimes we’d flush a herd of White Tail deer bedded down in thick brush. If we stepped too close, they bounded away, their white tails bobbing up and done with each gigantic leap, gone in an explosion of speed. The woods flourished with cottontail rabbits skittering about. And occasionally, we caught a glimpse of a fox slinking away from human danger.

Ever hear a rooster pheasant crow in the morning? It’s wildlife music I’ve never forgotten.

Bagging half-a-dozen squirrels was an easy day’s hunt. Cornfields bordered the Simonson’s and the West woods, so our squirrels grew plump like corn-fed chicken. And made for good frying.

Dad believed that the game you shot, you ate – be it rabbits, pigeons, pheasant or squirrel. And he always aimed for the head. Gut shots ruin the meat, he said. And you never hunt squirrels with a shotgun. The scatter shot tears them up and they’re no good for eating.

Some “citified” hunters thought of squirrels as “tree rats.” They’d shoot ’em and leave ’em lay for fox, dogs, or crows to feed on.

But not us. Sure, we hunted squirrel for sport, but we ate what we shot.

Dad and I skinned and gutted and washed our squirrels while the bodies were still warm.

Then we handed them over to mom for frying. Mom sprinkled our sizzling bounty with salt and pepper for flavoring. She sliced up potatoes and onion and fried them in the squirrel lard to a crispy, brown crust.

And if we were lucky, mom had baked fresh loaves of white bread topped with a golden-brown crust. I sopped up the juice from the meat and potatoes with thick slices lathered with melting butter.

When I finished, my belly swelled and my plate sparkled clean – not a scrap left over. Oh, what-a-meal for two hungry hunters.

“When we going hunting again, dad?”

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Lucy says:

    Bob, your stories are so touching. I enjoy them so much. You are a wonderful and very interesting writer. I have always been one that when I read, my mind wanders off…but not with your writings. Thank you so much for sharing your memoirs. Never stop sharing your life with us. I love you so much.
    Love, Lucy

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