Friday, August 27, 2010
My Time As A Hunter; or, The Days I Carried A Gun
Pardon me if I get a bit jumpy reading headlines like "Saturday Is Free Hunting Day" in Tennessee. No permits or such are needed, and it sort of conjures visions of some unwise folks shooting up the countryside. And the headline is not really accurate either.
This day, meant to encourage hunting, coincides with the beginning of squirrel hunting season, so it's okay to shoot (excuse me, 'hunt") squirrels and a few other critters according to the TWRA:
"In addition to squirrels, those species that have a year-round season will be open as well. The year-round species are armadillo, beaver, coyote, English sparrow, groundhog, nutria, pigeon, starling, and striped skunk."
Way back when I was a young teen, I did plenty of fishing and a small amount of hunting with a friend of our family, a fellow who was in his late 20s, and we had such great times and he was a very smart fellow, teaching me much about how to fish and how to hunt. We only hunted squirrels a few times, and we went frog-gigging many times. I remember one of those nights when I was out much of the night with my friend and I was carrying this plastic bag which was soon holding about 10 pounds (or so it seemed) of frog bodies. I was wearing this white t-shirt, and when I came back home my mom nearly fainted at the sight of me. Seems there was a leak in the bag and I was coated and spattered in frog blood. I thought it was pretty funny, but my mom, not so much.
My friend's wife cooked up a fantastically tasty platter of frog legs after our adventures, and I tried not to think about the frog carnage we created.
Our adventures hunting were a bit ... different. He taught me about how to always be safe while hunting, how to carry and shoot a shotgun (I got the smallish .410, but I have never thought of any shotgun as a "small" weapon.) I recall a few days of practice and such prior to going out, again, proof that my friend was a most wise and conscientious person.
Anyway, my friend said he knew some prime places to hunt and soon we were in some gorgeous woods nearby on a mild and sunny day in early Fall in middle Tennessee. It was so quiet, other than various woodland kinds of sounds, and such a beautiful spot he had found. We separated, maybe 30 yards apart, and he advised to just sit quiet for a bit and the squirrels would soon be all around us. ("Good thing I'm armed" I thought and laughed to myself, "because, you know ... squirrels ...")
I heard my friend firing his shotgun a few times, but I still saw no critters at all. I did as instructed though, simply sitting and waiting. Pretty soon, I noticed a squirrel, maybe 20 feet or so away on the side of a large tree trunk. My heart began to race and I closed the breech quickly and quietly and took a careful aim ... and that wee critter did this crazy squirrely twist and hanging off the side of the trunk turned it's head right toward me. It did a full-on, warm-hearted, Disney-cute pose and looked me dead in the eye as I sighted him with the gun.
But that pose it took stopped me cold. It was too dang cute. Blink, blink went the eyes, the tail swished a little wave at me and I could not have shot that critter no matter what. Would have been like shooting some kid's teddy bear.
It was not like I had (or have) some rare fondness for squirrels. It's just that it was watching me in this weird friendly way.
Ah well, I lowered the gun, the squirrel vanished, and I went back to watching the woods, hoping no one had seen me blow my chance to be a hunter.
Maybe half an hour or so later, my friend walked up and asked how it was going and I totally lied and said I had not seen any. He said the spot seemed to be kind of vacant and we would go to another. Soon, we were strolling back to his truck, both of us had the breeches open, though we still had ammo in the guns.
Suddenly this squirrel was racing over some branches above our heads and the noise made us both jump a bit, and in a nanosecond the breeches were closed and I fired. Sadly I had not calculated the distance between my gun and the critter -- a distance I realized afterward was pretty short -- maybe two feet between the squirrel and the end of my barrel. Yes, I pretty much atomized that squirrel. There were no parts or pieces, it was just ... gone.
"I think you got him," my friend said in that ultra-dry way of talking I love in Tennessee. He finally cracked a smile and I quite shaking and laughed too. He kept up the dry humor all the rest of the way back to the truck. By the day's end, he had bagged the limit and I never fired another shot.
His wife cooked up a mess of squirrel to eat and I remember thinking how nasty it tasted, and I was glad I did not depend on squirrel meat for sustenance. We went hunting a few more times, but as I never shot at anything again, we soon returned to fishing, something I was much better at doing. He and I have remained friends over the years and we always share many laughs and smiles at our adventures.
I did learn so much from him over the years, but one of the things I learned best was that I was a Hiker and not a Hunter.