Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Squirrel Hunting

It was late fall 1968 when my father decided I was old enough to go on my first squirrel hunting expedition with him.

I was a spindly thirteen-year-old.  All of 67 pounds and mostly knees and elbows.  The rifle we carried was an old 12-gauge shotgun that had been handed down through the family.  It had a crude hand carved "H" in the worn wooden stock, presumably for Hillenburg.

We drove over to Spine-Cob (an area also known as East Oolitic) and parked the truck at the top of the hill from Grandma's house where the railroad tracks crossed a narrow gravel road.  There was an old wooden sign that read "Murdock", but no one seemed to know what it meant.  I imagined it was the name of a long since abandoned railroad stop.

We took a right and walked down the tracks and around a bend.  It was here my Grandfather and his friends threw coal from the trains they had jumped earlier so their families would have coal to heat their homes during the Depression.  The spot still shimmered with fine black flakes of coal dust.

Just beyond the bend was a stretch where the barbed wire fence had a broken strand.  Tapping his pipe out, Dad carefully pulled the remaining strands apart so I could squeeze through.  Then he handed the rifle over to me and jumped the fence with ease. 

Once we crossed the small meadow leading over to the hickory grove we surveyed the area.  Nut "cuttings" littered the ground.  This was a good sign.

We situated ourselves in front of a huge tree where we could both sit comfortably with our backs against it with a full view of the rest of the grove.  There we sat silently waiting for a squirrel to appear.

It wasn't before long the motion of the leaves mesmerized me.  Dreamily hypnotized, my mind began to wander.

Suddenly, I felt my father jerk in excitement.  He slowly stretched out his arm and pointed toward the middle of a particularly bushy tree directly in front of us.  I leaned my head against his shoulder and looked up his arm but, try as I might, I couldn't locate the squirrel among all the movement of the leaves.

Sensing his impatience, I finally told him I had seen the squirrel even though I had no clue where it was.

To my surprise, he handed me the rifle!  It took all my strength to lift the gun in the general direction he had originally pointed.  The longer I held it there, hoping the squirrel would move so I could see it, the more the gun began to waver.   My father slid his finger under the barrel to steady it.

"Do you have him in you sights?" he whispered.

"Yep," I responded, still anxiously searching the tree.

"Now, don't pull the trigger...squeeze it gently."  His finger still was supporting the barrel.

The moment of truth had arrived.  Do I stop and tell him I don't see it and risk aggravating him or go ahead and shoot knowing that since it was my first time a miss would almost be expected?

I closed my left eye tightly and squeezed . . . KAPOW!

The rifle kicked against my shoulder, sailed completely over my head, and landed behind me.  I fell flat on my back from the impact.

My father kept his eye on the tree and watched as the unsuspecting squirrel hit the ground with a thud!

Incredible!  A perfect shot. 
No buckshot in the body.  It was dead instantly he said.  "Couldn't have done it better myself," he beamed.

It wasn't until my graduation from college, upon which my father presented me with my very own Marlin semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle as a graduation gift, that I finally told him the truth about that day.

© 2010

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