Squirrel hunting evokes fond memories
Frost is finally on the pumpkin, and the rich aroma of the October woods beckons with a number of outdoors pursuits.
Sweat, bugs and too many leaves are three good reasons not to get serious about bow hunting until the first frost. Weather until just this week has been better suited for fishing than picking up a bow or gun.
Deer are feasting on acorns now, requiring a serious sit at least once a day with daylong forays into the woods less than two weeks away with the approach of rut.
This is a great time to harvest a doe to help keep the herd in balance and take the edge off potential buck fever.
Plans along these lines were interrupted one morning last week by squirrels scampering across the forest floor. Squirrels make a lot more noise than deer, but they never fail to put a hunter’s senses on edge on a crisp and quiet morning.
There are two big squirrel nests in white oaks near one deer stand, which is only worth sitting in when there is a south or southwest wind. The bushytails decided this would be a great morning for a squirrel scamper-rama all around the stand.
The frolic got somewhat irritating about 9 a.m., maybe because thoughts were on a juicy honeycrisp apple and two granola bars, which were forgotten in the truck a quarter mile away.
Hunger soon became a greater focus than deer. For some disjointed reason I started thinking about how great Mom’s squirrel and dumplings used to taste when I was a kid and the time dad broke a tooth on a piece of No. 6 shot.
This led to a proclamation that all future squirrel dinners would experience lead poisoning from a .22 instead of a .410 shotgun.
Mom used to soak squirrels in cold salt water overnight, then roll the pieces in heavily salted and peppered flour before browning them in a cast iron skillet with deep fat for about a half-hour.
Once the pieces were well browned, she would place them in a roaster with some garlic salt, leaving lard and drippings in the frying pan and adding onions to make a rich gravy. This was poured over the squirrel pieces and allowed to simmer for several hours until tender.
She would then remove the squirrel from the roaster and put large dollops of Bisquick and milk into the broth after bringing it to a boil. The dumplings were covered for 10 minutes, then allowed to bubble for another 10 minutes uncovered before plopping the squirrel pieces back in the stew—and telling me to wash my hands and set the table.
My mouth was watering as I walked back to the truck. Casing the bow, I let juice roll down my chin from the honeycrisp as I drank in the mid-morning sunshine. Remembering the .22 Ruger pistol tucked under the seat, a plan for the following evening’s meal began to take shape.
Dad’s admonitions to sit still and aim small, which were first whispered in Marv Woessner’s big woods a half century ago, are now an ingrained way of life when entering the woods as a hunter.
It didn’t take long to harvest two large fox squirrels with two clean head shots. I couldn’t help musing how proud Dad would be if he was still with me in person instead of spirit.
A brief sense of melancholy came over me as I walked back to the truck. Dad wouldn’t recognize the country he fought for in World War II. He couldn’t imagine .22 shells as a rare commodity at $4 a box—when you can find them.
Squirrel hunting is no longer the rite of passage it was when I was growing up back in the 1950s. Hunting today is not viewed from the same perspective as it was when I started writing outdoors stuff more than 40 years ago.
My perspective hasn’t changed. I won’t apologize for being a hunter. Fish and wild game have always been a major part of the cuisine around the Peck table.
To my mind, the only thing more American than apple pie is squirrel and dumplings—even in a world where microwaved vegetables can be the entrée.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.