By David J. Griffin, Times Reporter
Last Sunday afternoon my wife and I took a jaunt into our woods on Furnace Mountain, and I noticed lots of squirrel activity in and around the trees near our campground. Watching these little critters brought back lots of fond memories of times when I hunted them for dinner as a young boy.
Kentucky has three species of squirrels: eastern gray, northern fox, and the small flying squirrel, which is not a game species. Tree squirrels are the number one game animals hunted by Kentucky sportsmen. Hunters use 20-gauge or smaller shotguns or 22 rifles predominately to hunt the species.
My favorite shotgun is one that my grandfather (Pop) purchased for me when I was only 10 years old for the very purpose of teaching me how to hunt squirrels in the woods behind our house: a 20 gauge, single-shot Stevens. Today, I still use it first when I decide it is time for target practice.
As I have said before, I love to spend time walking through the woods watching all of the critters in the trees along the path that I myself created. The squirrel population usually spends most of their time in a region filled with oaks and hickory trees near the back of the property. Occasionally, I hike to the cliff-line and take a seat to watch nuts falling where squirrels are working feverishly to fill their stash for the winter.
Squirrels prefer older hardwood trees that have cavities just suited for their nests. The work these furry animals do in the fall is absolutely astonishing. Their feverish pace is something to see. Up and down the tree trunk they scamper, watching for natural predators in the vicinity of their nests including: hawks, owls, snakes, foxes, and domesticated cats and dogs.
This year the Kentucky squirrel season runs from August 15 until February 28. The daily limit is six, and the possession limit is 12. Pop taught me well when it came to limits for our hunting sessions. He maintained always that “We never take more than the law allows – and not that many if we cannot eat them in one sitting.” Squirrel meat, especially the way Mommie Katie prepared them, was one of his favorite meals.
As with any task she encountered, Mommie took pride in boiling the entire animal until the meat was almost ready to fall off the bone. Then she carefully removed the carcasses and rolled them in flour in order to fry them in a black iron skillet. By the time she was finished, the meat was so delicious you could hardly sit still.
My favorite time to get into the woods when hunting squirrels was just before sunrise. Squirrel activity is in full swing at that time of the morning. I found a spot in the woods along KY 461 in Rockcastle County in the early ‘60’s when Howard Coffee introduced me to it one Saturday morning, and it became one of my favorite places to hunt. We sat next to a large oak tree and waited for the animals to appear, and they always did.
Another place that I loved hunting squirrels was on the Brindle Ridge farm owned by Sherman and Mary Hansel. Their daughter, Mary Ellen, was a close friend of mine, and they never refused me the privilege of hunting on the wooded section of their farm. Sometimes when I pulled into the driveway early on a fall morning, Mary Ellen would accompany me to the woods to see how successful I was going to be. Sherman and my grandfather, Eugene Stokes, were very good friends—in part because both families attended the First Baptist Church together for many years.
When I left home in the early morning to go squirrel hunting, Mommie Katie made sure that I took a small sack of snacks to nourish me during the day. Usually, I sat leaned up against a tree waiting for sunrise. All the while, I was eating a sausage biscuit or a piece of cold fried chicken that she had saved for me from the night before. What timeless days those were.
When I returned home from one of my squirrel hunts, Pop would meet me in the yard to see how successful I had been. He always assisted me in the task of cleaning. He would have accompanied me into the woods, but he had suffered an eye injury a few years earlier, and it hampered his shooting eye. I think he envied me every time I left to go hunting. Occasionally, I watched him slowly walk into the woods behind our house (without his shotgun) looking up into the trees as if he were actually hunting.
Pop not only taught me the art of hunting, he also gave me the love of nature that is required to enjoy this type of activity. I suppose that is why I love spending time in the woods as much as anything I do. He was a wonderful teacher, companion, and father figure. I still miss him even after all these years.
Isn’t it strange how something as plain and simple as hunting squirrel in early autumn would make for such fond memories?
(You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can drop me a line at P.O. Box 927 – Stanton, KY 40380. I love to hear your suggestions and comments.)