June 2018

Squirrel Hunting

Gary W. Zinn

An avid squirrel hunter since the age of seven, Gary tells four quick tales of his hunting adventures in the Holbrook - Summers area.

When I was growing up in the Holbrook - Summers neighborhood, squirrels were the small game most hunted in the autumn. I was an avid squirrel hunter (from age seven,) and my father always encouraged me to hunt at every opportunity because fried squirrel was one of his favorite meals. He kept me well supplied with shotgun shells and .22 rifle ammo. Here are four squirrel hunting stories that I remember especially well.

The Wile E. Coyote squirrel: One day I was hunting along the ridge beyond our farm. I was walking along one edge of a pipeline right-of-way when I saw a squirrel run up the trunk of an oak tree on the other side. Soon he climbed to where a dead limb jutted out of the tree. He began running out that limb and as he did I mounted my shotgun, swung ahead of him, and touched off. At the shot the squirrel kept running along the limb and at its end he continued into the air, feet still flying. Suddenly he stopped moving, seemed to suspend for a moment, and then fell like a brick. It looked exactly like the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, running off the edge of a cliff.

The easiest limit ever: One opening day I walked into the woods just before daylight and picked a spot to wait for the squirrels to start moving. Just as full light came I spied one in a nearby hickory tree. I shot him and the tree came alive with squirrels, running in all directions. Without taking a step, I fired until the shotgun was empty (six shells) and then walked over and pocketed my limit of six squirrels. It’s never that easy – except that one time.

There is a postscript to this story. I was back at the house with my limit of squirrels by 7:30 a.m., and as I arrived Dad was just coming in from doing the morning chores. He asked, “What are you doing back so soon?” When I explained that I already had my limit, he said, “When are you going to be home again?” (I was in college at Morgantown, and didn’t get home very often.) I replied that it would probably not be until Thanksgiving, and he said, “Six squirrels will not hold me ‘till then. Leave those, get some more shotgun shells, and get back out there.” I had another limit two hours later, and got three more late in the afternoon. There were a lot of squirrels that year.

My best day as a hunting guide: I went to college at West Virginia University, majoring in forestry. I didn’t have a car so I did not go home frequently, but I always found a way to make the hundred mile trip home for the opening day of squirrel season. As that time approached during my junior year, I was talking with a classmate, also named Garry (with two r’s,) who mentioned that he really enjoyed hunting, but he was from Ohio and it was too far for him to go home to hunt. I invited him to come home with me for opening day.

We hit the woods at daylight and I directed Garry to the best spots I knew, while I hunted nearby. By midmorning he had a limit of six squirrels and I had bagged four. We hiked back to the house, cleaned the squirrels, and then enjoyed one of Mom’s great country lunches. (Yes, we had fried squirrel for dinner that evening.) After lunch Garry helped me do some chores, and later in the afternoon we worked another patch of woods with much the same results we had that morning.

After we graduated, I went on to graduate school at Syracuse University, while Garry went to work as a forester for a paper company in Ohio. We didn’t see each other for over a decade, until finally we attended a conference together. I asked him if he recalled the time he went hunting with me. “Oh yes!,” he said with a big smile. “I shot squirrels that day until I was ashamed of myself.”

Something I didn’t know: After a couple years using Dad’s pump action shotgun, I thought I understood it thoroughly. One day, though, I found out differently. I was hunting in the Haught woods, when I saw a squirrel working his way through the treetops, coming my way. I watched him as he jumped into a tall tree just to my right. He scampered through the crown and I saw that he was running along a limb from which he could jump to the next tree. I decided to shoot just as he made the jump. The squirrel was almost directly overhead when I shot, and the next thing I knew the gun had fired four times. Somehow my shots never touched the squirrel.

I thought something was wrong with the shotgun, so I carefully unloaded the remaining shells and headed home. When I told Dad what had happened, he laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes. When he caught his breath he said. “I never thought to tell you – that gun doesn’t have a trigger sear disconnector.” “What the heck does that mean?” I asked crossly, peeved that he was having so much merriment at my expense. “Mind your tongue, boy, and I’ll tell you. It means that if you don’t release the trigger as you pump the action, the gun will fire again as soon as the bolt closes.” (Since I was aiming the gun almost straight up, I was “riding” the trigger, which caused the gun to fire each time I pumped the action.) I did not know that the shotgun would do that.

I don’t know if much squirrel hunting is done in the old neighborhood today, but autumn days spent chasing “bushytails” are among my most fond memories of my youth.