BUY THE BOOK
Use this PayPal button to buy Life Along the Apalachicola River directly from me for $15 + $4.99 shipping.
The best thing about a squirrel and one of the only good things is that they are ideally suited for introducing kids to hunting.
There are gazillions of them out there and all it takes to hunt them is a .22 or a .410 and about five minutes’ worth of patience.
It’s that last part that makes squirrel hunting hard for young kids and that provides the most important lessons. Sitting still, watching, waiting, listening and more waiting — that’s the essence of hunting and those who can do it will be successful hunters. Those who enjoy it will be hunters for life.
Recently I had the opportunity to accompany my 9-year-old nephew, Charles, on his first squirrel hunt. His father and I have taken him hunting before, but this was the first time he was able to actually participate. My youngest is now 19, so it¹s been several years since I’ve had the chance to be with a kid as he killed his first squirrel. And it’s been about 40-something years since I experienced the feeling for myself.
One thing I noticed immediately is that the equipment is considerably better now than it was when I was younger. Charles has a new over-and-under Savage .22/.410 combo, so he’s ready for whatever comes his way. By contrast, I started hunting with a 1950s model J.C. Higgins .22 single shot that belonged to my brother Steve. It was cheap, but at least it was old. And somewhere in between Steve and me, the thin iron sights had been “adjusted” so that the spotwhere you aimed was the one place you could be sure the bullet wouldn’t hit.
It was a bolt-action rifle, but just throwing the bolt didn’t cock it. That had to be done by pulling with all your might on a plunger-type mechanism. Mercifully, by the time I was about seven or eight, my brother Mack gave me an old single-shot 20-gauge that I have to this day. He was with me on the day when I finally got the satisfaction of pulling the trigger, enduring the blast and seeing a limb rat come tumbling down the side of the tree.
I had a good chance to rummage through those old memories as my brother-in-law and I sat with Charles in the Iamonia Lake swamp. To his credit, Charles endured mosquitoes and humidity, trudged through the backwater and kept a good attitude the whole time.
He got a couple of shots on the first morning, but couldn’t quite connect. On the second morning, however, the squirrels were out in force and one finally stayed in place just a little too long. The .410 boomed and, sure enough, the squirrel hit the ground with a thud.
It might as well have been a 10-point buck. Charles put the gun down and sprinted over to his prize, holding him up for his dad and me to see. It was a proud moment and one that I was happy to share. From there, it was back to the clubhouse for some lessons in squirrel cleaning (and the safe use of a knife.)
In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure how big of an impact this experience will have on Charles over the long haul. A lot of kids his age now take their first hunting trips in search of trophy whitetails and never bother with the lowly squirrel at all. He may get caught up in that crowd or he might find other interests altogether. No matter what else he does, though, for now he is part of a long line of hunters whose first trophy had buckteeth and a bushy tail.