Originally created 01/06/02

Hunting for squirrels revives fond memories



Last fall, after the World Trade Center attack, I dug through my late father's things, looking for the American flag the Veterans Administration sent me for his funeral.

I found it, of course, and unfurled it to show my patriotism. It was carefully stored with other mementos, including something that had lain dormant far too long: a Winchester Model 67 rifle.

I handled its slender barrel and simple walnut stock, and remembered Dad's stories of stalking squirrels in the treelines that bisected southern Illinois cornfields near his boyhood home.

It had been his first gun; now it belonged to me. I oiled it and bought a box of .22 rimfires with plans to take the ancient single-shot afield. But weekends always seemed to be consumed by other things.

Finally, on New Year's Day, after placing a couple friends in deer stands, I abandoned my big-game rifle and headed into the swamp with Dad's old Winchester - and a fistful of tiny cartridges.

I remembered traipsing into similar forests when I was a boy. "Rise and shine," Dad would say when it was time to go.

"Ughhh," I'd respond, half asleep.

But I'd always go, enjoying every moment.

Sitting in the forest of tall, leafless hardwoods brought back that magic. It wasn't long before a squirrel barked at me from atop a huge hickory tree, and the old .22 barked back.

Soon my game bag began to bulge with bushytails. The morning eased into a leisurely game of hide-and-seek that stretched on for hours. Time, as the cliche goes, stood still.

Wild squirrels, I've always thought, are warier than the backyard bird-feeder bandits we find at home. They flatten themselves out on limbs and rotate in silence around tree trunks as you move through the forest.

But the tactics for hunting them are older than Dad's Winchester. Dad always told me to look for the lump on the limb, and he showed me how to throw a stick to the opposite side of a tree to move the squirrel into view.

Altogether it was a memorable afternoon. Squirrels aren't as exciting to see as a mature whitetail, but they're a lot more plentiful - and simpler to hunt.

You don't need a four-wheeler, or food plots, or elaborate deer stands and safety belts. You don't need high-end scopes or Nikon binoculars. And you'll never wrench your back dragging a squirrel out of the woods.

It's funny how simple things like a squirrel hunt on a cold winter day can resurrect warm memories from long ago. I can't remember when I grinned so broadly, or felt so childlike.

Let's face it. Some of us age gracefully; others don't. And a lot of guys will try anything to feel young again.

They buy Corvettes - or grow facial hair. Or gulp down elixirs laced with everything from ginseng to Mexican yams.

But it doesn't really make them any younger.

The famed Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was so obsessed with the topic he traveled to the New World in 1513 - searching for the Fountain of Youth.

He never found it. No one has.

But I think I've come across the next best thing.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.