Squirrel season opened Aug. 27, and once again, I played hooky.
Too muggy and buggy.
Sunscreen and bug spray don’t go with squirrel hunting.
I’m not opposed to a Dog Days squirrel season; if someone wants to hunt in the heat, that’s fine. I’ll save them a seat in front of the air conditioner.
But for me, squirrel hunting is about brisk, dripping autumn dawns with a whiff of wood smoke in the air and foliage splashed crimson and gold.
With every passing year, it's more about nostalgia than squirrels.
Like most mountain boys, I grew up hunting squirrels for fun, food and profit.
Fun: It was challenging, plinking frisky bushy tails out of towering shagbark hickories.
Food: None of our friends and neighbors depended on wild game for sustenance, but neither would they turn down a platter of golden-fried, sage-flavored squirrel or a bubbling pot of dumplings.
Profit: You could sell dried squirrel tails to the Mepps Spinner Bait Company in Antigo, Wisconsin. They brought 25 cents a tail, or the company would send you the cash equivalent in Mepps Spinners.
Starting in 1951, Mepps’ “Squirrel Tails Wanted!” ads began appearing in outdoors magazines. A few years ago, I wrote a magazine story about the iconic Mepps campaign and discovered that the supply of squirrel tails had dwindled to the point that synthetic hair is being used.
There are three reasons for the Mepps squirrel-tail shortage:
Not many folks hunt squirrels these days. And the relatively few who do don’t consider drying and shipping the tails worth the effort for a quarter per tail — or, back then, an RC Cola and Moon Pie.
The second reason is squirrel hunting is not as simple and easy as it used to be — just shoulder your trusty .22 and stroll across the pasture to a stand of shagbark hickories. Nowadays, there are housing developments on the pastures and golf courses where hickory trees once towered.
The third reason: with the proliferation of big game like deer and turkeys, more and more youngsters are skipping the small stuff and going straight to bucks and gobblers.
It’s a shame because they don’t know what they’re missing.
I’ll go again, for old time’s sake, once the weather cools down, the acorns ripen and honking geese start scratching Vs across a purple sunset.
I can’t shoot like I used to, back in my one-squirrel-per-cartridge youth. Nowadays, I miss a lot more than I hit. Today’s squirrels evidently run faster.
But bringing home a 10-squirrel limit isn’t the point or purpose of a nostalgic traipse through crisp, autumn-tinted woods.
The squirrels are just an excuse.