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A squirrel hunt

by Bradly Gill | January 18, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

Norphlet, mid-January; I'm 14 years old.

Oh, no, not already -- gotta get moving -- gonna be late -- where's my shoes?

I'm out of the bed and now looking for my hunting coat...

Yeah. Get going... Run... There's Buddy's house.... Dang, it's colder than I thought -- hope it'll warm up when the sun comes out.

"Hey, Buddy -- ready to shoot some squirrels?"

"You bet, hop in the truck while I get Happy and put him in the dog cage."

Mr. Henley is walking toward the truck with a cup of coffee in his hand, while he fastens the last strap on his overalls.

"It's four o'clock boys; load up! I want to be in the woods 'fore daylight."

We're hurrying around the truck holding our shotguns down as we climb in the truck beside Mr. Henley.

The old Ford truck coughs, and we're heading north to the Little Missouri River Bottoms, where we'll hunt along the river till noon. The old truck heater has the truck warm now, and I'm about to doze off...

"Wake up, boys! We're there!"

We're out of the truck now and Buddy is getting Happy out of the dog pen. He's holding him until we're ready to start the hunt. I'm putting three #6s in my Browning Sweet .16 and Mr. Henley is cutting off a chew of tobacco.

"Don't turn Happy loose, Buddy -- wait till it lightens up," he says.

We're standing here waiting for it to get daylight. I'm so cold. Time is dragging, but now the sun is peaking over the trees.

"Turn 'em loose, Buddy."

Happy is ready to go, but Mr. Henley gives him some encouragement.

"Hunt! Hunt! Happy! Hunt!" he yells and Happy takes off. In a few minutes Happy starts yelping.

"He's stuck a trail!" yells Buddy.

"Get moving boys! He'll be treed 'fore we get there!"

We're running toward where we hear Happy barking, and the barking changes and Mr. Henley yells, "Come on, boys, Happy has treed!"

After you have squirrel hunted with a dog a few times, you can tell when it trees by the sound of its barking that just changed.

"Happy sees the squirrel!" yells Mr. Henley and that sends the three of us running through the woods as fast as we can to find Happy. Old squirrels won't stay in the tree very long, and if we don't get there within a few minutes, they'll be in a hole or gone.

"There's Happy!" yells Buddy. "He's treed up that big pin oak!"

"Shake a bush, Buddy!" yells Mr. Henley.

I'm ready, because that means I'm going to get the first shot. When Buddy shakes the bush the squirrel will move around the limb where Buddy can't see it, but since I'm on the other side of the tree, I can. Buddy is shaking the bush.

Yeah, there it is -- wait -- now -- no it's running -- going to jump!

I'm trying to get the squirrel in my sights, but it's just a gray flash in the top of the tree.

It's jumping! -- Now!

I'm squeezing the trigger of my Sweet .16 and the gun slams against my shoulder, as I take a shot while the squirrel is in mid-air.

Did I hit it? --Yeah. The squirrel never makes it to the branch of the other tree. It tumbles down and Happy grabs it as it hits the ground. Buddy runs over to pull it out of Happy's mouth.

I give Buddy a "how about that shot" look, and he acts as if it was nothing. Mr. Henley nods his head and yells at Happy.

"Hunt Happy! Hunt!"

We've been walking for what seems like hours, and we have a bunch of squirrels in our hunting coats when I hear Happy yelp. Then Happy starts yipping and Mr. Henley yells, "The squirrel is on the ground! Get moving!" Well, our tired legs carry us toward Happy, and after another 100 yards, we see Happy circling a brush-top.

"The squirrel's in the brush top! Get ready! Happy going in to run it out!" yells Mr. Henley. About that time Happy takes off into the brush top, and about a second later a gray blur flashes out.

"There's the squirrel!" yells Mr. Henley, "Get 'em!"

Buddy is blasting away and dirt is flying around the squirrel, but he's missing. Now, the squirrel zips up a big hickory tree, and I've got a clear shot. Three blasts later and the squirrel is still racing up the tree, and I've got to reload. Mr. Henley takes his first shot -- and misses, as does Buddy. All that shooting has the squirrel just wild, and it sails out toward a nearby tree with all us blasting away. The squirrel is in a big old pin oak snag, and it's heading for a hole.

"Get 'em before he gets in a hole!" yells Mr. Henley, and we all blast away again at a squirrel that seems to be able to dodge our #6s. I see a hole about halfway us the trunk of the tree, and I know that squirrel is heading for the hole. I'm shooting my Sweet .16 so fast the barrel is hot, but as I see my last shot knock bark off right in front of the squirrel, I know it's going to be in the hole before anyone else can get off a shot. It does.

We're all standing around looking at each other now, wondering how we could fire around 15 shotgun blasts at a squirrel and not kill it.

Mr. Henley smiles, shakes his head, and says, "Boys that was a ghost squirrel." We're laughing now. Happy is already out in front of us, and I'm saying a little prayer that he doesn't strike a trail.

Another hour passes, Happy hasn't picked up a trail, and Buddy and I are ready to fall out. Finally, Mr. Henley yells, "Here Happy! Here! Here!" he booms out, and in a few minutes a tired dog joins us as we walk back to the truck.

Buddy and I are dozing off before we even get off the logging road and onto the main highway. It's an hour later now and Mr. Henley is shaking us.

"Come on, boys, it's time to clean the squirrels."

Buddy and I know the routine and in a few seconds we've emptied our hunting coats and a pile of 18 squirrels is there to be cleaned. I pick up one and hold its rear legs--one in each hand--while Mr. Henley makes three cuts. Now he's holding the tail and skin from the two legs, and as he pulls down the squirrel's skin come off. A cut around the head, and it's ready for Buddy to gut it.

It's an hour later and Mr. Henley has just skinned the last squirrel.

"Get what you want, Richard," says Mr. Henley.

"Yes, sir -- uh, I'll take these two young ones, and a couple of the others." Momma will just cut the young ones up and fry them. The other ones are too old to just fry. She will have to par-boil them, and then cook them in brown gravy, 'cause they're so tough.

Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]

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