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SQUIRREL OPENER WAS ONCE TENNESSEE TRADITION

By Steve McCadams


Squirrels seem to be everywhere in town, darting across streets wherever you go. Yet itís just not the same as a quiet walk deep in the dark confines of tall timber where the bushy tails bark and fumble acorns like a freshman receiver on the football team.

Walking down the sand ditches of yesteryear I used to pride myself at slipping up on illusive gray squirrels that were too busy cutting high in the hickories to know I was even around. It was a bonus when a rusty fox squirrel bounced into sight.

Thereís a little bit of Lewis and Clark in all of us and I still have dreams of finding the ridges where it looked like someone had been running a chainsaw. The fresh chips of green acorns covering the ground meant the scouting expedition had discovered the place to be when daylight broke the next morning.

A morning after a heavy rain with no wind meant you could hear the bushy brigade navigating their limber lanes to the breakfast buffet. Sometimes you attempted to slip up on them; other times you just had to sit and wait. Young legs yearned to roam but it was a good lesson in patience and perseverance.

Old hunting coats pulled from hibernation deep in the garage closet with a few forgotten shells left in pockets signaled another year had passed quickly since the last outing. And, there was nothing like the roaring first shot that pierced the silence and the smell of that blue Peters paper shell from the 410-gauge double barrel.

The first shot officially opened season and told the blue jays you had invaded their rural hideouts.

Smelling gun powder from the swollen paper shells was the Chanel Number Five for outdoorsmen.

While I seldom ate squirrels growing up, I made sure I gave them to someone who did and they often boasted of the delicacy when combined with a few homemade biscuits.

The bulging game bag on my old sleeveless vest confirmed success on the walk back out of the shaded bottoms and steep hardwood ridges. Back then the daily limit was six and the first five werenít nearly as challenging as number six. Bagging the limit was a goal.

Funny how almost fifty years of memories return in vivid detail every year about this time. I canít remember yesterday but yesteryear is as clear as a cold winter morning when a northeast wind slapped loose tin on a barnís roof.

Every few years I return to my Carroll County roots and stroll down the path near Shiloh Church where a towering white oak yielded my first encounter. I guess the analogy is like that first kiss; you never seemed to forget where and when.

As the aging process hits high gear you yearn to return and, if only for a moment in time, feel the rush of youth just once more. There arenít many things you can do the same way you did them 45 years ago but squirrel hunting is one of them.

Sound nostalgic? I plead guilty.

Tomorrow morning I will be listening for distant shots across the countryside and reminisce, wondering if a youngster is taking his Maiden Voyage. Traveling down silent paths, avoiding dry sticks with carefully planted steps while dodging spider webs whose presence has been revealed by a heavy dew.

Set the alarm clock. Rise and shine. Itís squirrel hunting time in Tennessee.

 

   
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