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By Steve McCadams

Snap! Crackle! Pop!
Sounds like a breakfast cereal ad but it also doubles as the slogan for opening morning in the squirrel woods where clumsy bushytails fumble hickory nuts from high in the treetops.

Finding a tree where squirrels are hitting the breakfast buffet and cutting acorns or nuts in the predawn hours requires an allusive approach. Sly maneuvers, keen hearing and clear eyesight are prerequisites to success.

This cat and mouse game is what the sport is all about when the August opening descends each year on the traditional fourth Saturday of the month. The time to rise and shine is here.

Long before shots are taken the squirrel hunt puts you deep in the timber where you can wake up with the woods. Distant dogs bark their “I’m over here” announcements to a quiet world waking up from a summer sleep where damp dew paths lead you further into nature.

Bluejays seem to be the keepers of the castle, announcing your intrusion to everyone. Slipping past them is like trying to hide dawn from a rooster; it ain’t gonna happen! They have home court advantage and it is the hunter who is the visitor.

Down the sand ditches of a rural Carroll County backwoods is where I used to open the seasons of my youth. Scouting ahead of time helped me find the scaly bark hickories on the ridges and plan my approach when fresh cuttings were discovered on the forest floor.

Veteran squirrel hunters know that every oak, gum, and hickory don’t necessarily attract squirrels at the same time so it takes some effort to find out where the bushy tail banquet is being held. I learned from the guiding hand of a patient father how to negotiate the woods and slip around silently in my scouting expeditions.

When opening day finally arrived I knew exactly where I wanted to be long before the first rays of daylight chased away darkness in Dixie. I’ll have to admit there was always a fear factor. Walking down the pitch dark ditches and cow trails were unchartered waters for a youngster.

Entering the woods before dawn was much different than daylight excursions and the little flashlight just didn’t shine bright enough to show all the critters. Would I wake up a sleepy snake? Walk into the web of a black widow spider? Touch poison ivy or spook some skunk into spraying their “beware of me” perfume?

When you’re alone in the deep, dark woods you hear a lot of unfamiliar sounds and your mind creates a few more to go with them! With every snap of a stick I thought some bugger was hot on my trail. Stopping suddenly found a pounding heart drowning out the ability to hear but soon reality returned and fears of the unknown subsided.

Mosquitoes always seem to know I was coming too. Maybe those bluejays squawking alerted them as to my arrival. Applying some repellant, which was referred to in those days as “mosquito dope”, seemed to curtail their appetite at times but once the squirrels started moving I’d forget all about the annoying buzzers that were out for blood.

Now and again I pause and relive some of those outings of my youth and while I seem to have trouble in the modern day era remembering names or what I went into the next room to retrieve I have vivid videos in my mind of squirrel hunts from yesteryear.

Every year when squirrel season opens I catch myself going back in time, wishing I was young again and striking off on a safari with my little .410-gauge double barrel. I remember where the old pear trees were loaded and how sweet they tasted when leaving the woods with a heavy game bag full of grays with a bonus rusty fox squirrel mixed in at times.

I’d like to think there are some other kids planning to do the same thing Saturday morning when the season opens. Perhaps a dad taking a youngster on that first hunt or a youngster begging to go off to another part of the woods on their own and begin the long journey on the road to becoming an outdoorsman.

Hopefully there are a few still left who yearn to explore the opening morning of squirrel season where you can be alone in the woods but never lonely. Time with dad or granddad showing the do’s and don’ts and leading by example.

Maybe, just maybe there are a few who are willing to turn off their cell phones and put down the video games long enough to admire the wonders of the woods!

Here’s hoping you’ll introduce some boy or girl to the outdoors this weekend. The limit on squirrels is ten. The opportunities to make memories are limitless.



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