I've grown up in in a hunting culture. The rite of passage into manhood for me was a Winchester Model 1300 in 20 gauge. It was a clear sign that my parents (most importantly my dad) trusted me enough to have my own "scattergun" at the age of 13. The third Sunday of the following August found me in the squirrel woods of Pigeon Roost. My dad made sure to keep a close watch on me all the same. He and my uncle took me through the training phase the winter before on target clays as a warm up for fast moving targets and how to pull the right lead. It was not only educational but loads of fun.
We had started out before sun up, made sure all of our gear was ready,checked and re-checked our shotguns and ammuntion before stowing them in the truck. The whole time my guts were in a knot.
We didn't use dogs to tree them, but instead stalked through as silently as possible stopping every once in awhile to scan the tree tops for movement or listen for the tell tale sound of our grey bushy tailed quarry feeding on beech or hickory nuts. It was a long haul through some intense brush. Each time I made a misstep and a fallen branch snapped or leaves crackled under my feet, I was given quick verbal instruction to "Watch what the f*** you're doing" in a whisper quiet but harsh tone and seeing as how I was tagging along with a veteran of those woods I did as instructed,even though I wanted to talk back and tell him where to go and the best way to get there, I didn't.
It seemed like we had been walking for hours but we had only been working through the area for 30 minutes and had covered just a little bit of ground in that space of time, due to the amount of noise I was making. It seemed like the old man griped at me with each step. But I did my best not to talk back and kept my cool as we wound our way up an overgrown dozer road.
Before long the old man heard something signaling me to stop with his left hand. He slowly scanned around looking from one branch to another. I could barely catch my breath. The full belt of ammo,the water bottle in my game bag, and the 20 gauge I carried was a strain and a half as I froze mid stride. Catching my breath I relaxed my leg muscles trying to get as comfortable as possible. Then I heard a steady tapping sound off to my left,then something akin to a small rock drop from a high limb above my head landing just a few feet from where I was.
I slowly turned my head to look and saw it 40 yards up in the crook of an outstretched hickory limb. Dad saw it at the same time. I brought the 20 gauge to my shoulder,the vent rib and bead met my eye level no different than when I shot target clays. My finger thumbed off the safety, the squirrel heard the "click" and saw me. It darted from that limb, and I followed, turning to get a better presentation, pulled just enough lead, then as it jumped I pulled the trigger.
It was in mid air leaping to another tree and balled up as the shot broke, it came crashing through the over hanging limbs and onto the forest floor with an audible thump. I pumped the forearm and with shaking hands loaded another winchester #6 shotshell into the magazine tube from my shell belt,then pushed the safety back on keeping the shotguns muzzle pointed up in a safe direction. The adrenaline was still going as my old man walked over to me,clapped a hand on my right shoulder and said "There ya' go Doc Holiday, that's the way to get 'em" I looked over at him and the contagious ear to ear grin he wore. For the first time I saw the pride in my dad's face. He quickly walked over, picked up the rather large grey by it's tail and stuffed it in my game bag after seeing where the shot pellets had struck. In a jovial tone he told me "Ah' hell son no wonder you got this one so easy....it's blind" meaning that my lead was on the money and the pellets had struck the animal in the side of it's head.
After that we continued to hunt the rest of the surrounding area, I followed his continued instructions and as we finished our hunt my bag held three while his held five of the tasty rodents all had fallen to his trusty Winchester 1400 12 gauge. We had made a slow 4 mile trip uphill then downhill that morning my aching muscles and sore feet were glad that the truck was close by.Later at supper time we ate our bounty,talking about the experience with my mom.
I left the house that morning a 13 year old boy but returned as a 13 year old man.
The memory of that first hunt will stick with me for the rest of my days. Someday soon I hope to do the same with one of my kids,if I'm ever lucky enough to meet up with the right lady.