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Time to rise and shine early. The woods await you.

The fourth Saturday in August is the traditional opener for the statewide squirrel season, a day long revered by Tennessee sportsmen.

Opening day has quite a history among the ranks of outdoorsmen across the Volunteer State. Our hillbilly ancestors were known to just about drop everything once squirrel season opened.

Not only was the hunting season special for the challenge and sport but it was a means by which families put food on the table. Today the season is mostly sport but there are still more than a few who delight at the thought of fried squirrel, biscuits and gravy.

In the old days when times were tough hunters pretty much bagged a squirrel with each shot as shells were scarce as was the money to purchase them. You didn’t waste a shot, which meant honing your skills on sneaking silently through the woods and sand ditches.

Scouting the ridges and bottoms ahead of time was part of the process. Knowing where the hickories were and locating fresh cuttings put you in the right place once dawn chased away the darkness.

City slickers today marvel at the abundance of squirrels in town that dart across paved streets and thrive off backyard bird feeders. Finding a few seems an effortless endeavor.

Their rural counterparts march to a different drummer. They may look the same but don’t act the same.

Country squirrels are a bit different. They’re keen and smart, watching the woods for anything irregular. To survive they have to be wise and aggressive. There are no handouts for the busy tails who make their own way by searching the tall timber or woods lots where acorns provide hidden buffets way out on the end of flimsy limbs.

Slipping up on squirrels is a game in and of itself. It’s the cat and mouse approach that thrills most hunters.

Outsmarting them takes time and effort. There’s skill in judging the shot but just getting to that point in the competition is a big part of the battle.

Maneuvering down the cow paths and log roads; dodging spider webs damp with the morning dew and quietly choosing steps to avoid the cracking sound of dry sticks requires time and talent.

Savvy squirrel hunters know there’s several ingredients in the recipe for a successful morning. There’s more to it than just relying on luck.

From the tall scaly bark hickories come little pieces of cuttings and sometimes a clumsy gray or fox squirrel fumbles, dropping the whole nut from high among the branches. The thud of the nut slapping the forest floor helps announce the whereabouts of the illusive critter that sometimes drops his guard.

Stop. Look. Listen.

Where is he up there? Now you see him; then you don’t.

Then the silence of the forest erupts to the distress call of a bunch of bluejays who just announced your arrival to the world. The element of surprise is no longer on your side once these watchmen spot you treading on their turf.

Patience will return the sounds of silence. Sitting still is imperative while all the time keeping a cocked eye toward the treetops as a stiff neck requires a rub now and then.

Once things come together the blast of a shotgun seems like a cannon firing. To all the forest your entrance is now known as the descent of the squirrel falling limb to limb slams the forest floor, confirming your aim was right on target.

If you’re fortunate to have a youngster sharing the experience then the first squirrel of the season is even more special. Odds are you fall back in time, recalling your first hunt and reliving the moment through eager eyes.

Opening day of squirrel season helps recall old times of this Tennessee tradition but it’s a great opportunity for making new memories. Introducing that young boy or girl to the great outdoors with an early morning walk in the woods is time well spent.

A hunting trip can teach them patience and appreciation of nature’s critters by viewing them up close and personal. Seeing is believing. Sharing time with someone special makes the outing even better. Bagging a few squirrels is nice but not a necessity for a successful outing.

Watching the woods wake up from a sleepy summer nap means viewing nature’s classroom up close and personal. Books and video games don’t do it justice.

Nothing beats being there. Season opens Saturday so seize the moment to travel down a path with a youngster who will follow your footsteps throughout life. Squirrel season is a great way to start the journey!


Steve McCadams is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area. He has also contributed many outdoor oriented articles to various national publications.



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