Hunting squirrels in the middle of winter is different than hunting them in the middle of spring; I knew that. Hunting them in the middle of the day is different than hunting them at dawn or dusk, too, and I knew that. But I wanted to go, so I conned Brian Loveland into making a run with me up to our deer camp on the upper Arkansas near Ponca City to shake ‘em up a little just to let ‘em know we’re still alive.
A lot of this was just a fight against “old timer’s” boredom, but part of it was Brian’s fault, too, the way I saw it. One night during deer season sitting in the tent and chunking fine burning ash slabs into the woodburner, Brian asked, “Reckon how many squirrels it’d take to equal one deer?”
I started to grin at the seeming impossibility of such a guesstimation, until it suddenly occurred to me that, yes, a fairly accurate approximation could be made, and probably in one’s head without a calculator, regarding such a figure, and said so.
“If you’ll let me round some numbers off, and give me the benefit of the doubt five pounds one way to the other, I think I can tell you,” I said.
“Well, in Oklahoma most medium-sized eight point bucks, not a big one, will dress out right at 120 pounds.”
“O.K., I’m with you.”
“A book I’ve got at home says an eastern fox squirrel, the kind we’ve got around here, will weigh somewhere’s between 1 1/2 to three pounds; let’s say, then, a dressed weight of two pounds for the squirrel.”
“O.K., divide 120 by two.”
Brian, a bright boy, that can pret’ near do anything with his brain and his barehands, stared up at the ridgepole of the tent where the lantern was doing a slow little shimmy dance from the wind gusts striking the tent. Clearly, he was running the numbers through his head, thinking back to the fourth grade math garnered like autumn’s fallen pecans from Miss Gerty Crawford in that little grade school along the Caney River up yonder outside Ramona. Presently, he spoke.
“Why, that’d be right at sixty of ‘em, wouldn’t it?”
“That’s what I’m sayin.’ A whole pile of ‘em, I know that.”
“Well, then, we need to come back here after deer season ‘n thin ‘em out a little, don’t you think? I bet there’s five thousand of ‘em here in these wods, give or take a few.” and so here we were. All Brian’s fault.
Squirrels are most active early and late in the day. Some days, like some people, when a cold wind blows, they hardly get out of their nests and den trees at all. Today, bright, cold, and powder blue, was just such a day, and we had started at noon. A walk in the winter woods is good for the soul and heart, though, and with a gun in hand and a pocketful of shells, you’ll sneak up on Rick Warren’s purpose driven life from the other side: the meateater’s side.
What could be rarer than a day in January, with a squirrel stew chuckling on the stove in a black iron pot full of onions, carrots, celery, corn, potatoes, stewed tomatoes, a quart of chicken stock and just enough garlic to make you smile?
At the truck, we pulled the guns from their cases, gave them a good “once over” to make sure everything was where we had left it at the end of the last trip, and then stepped into the woods, right there, and left on diverging angles, both of us taking roads less traveled by, searching for adventure, and whatever came our way.
“Remember,” I said, “Sixty equals one.”
“The limit,” Brian said, “is ten aday.”
“Well, we got ‘til January 31st.”
“I ain’t stayin’ in these woods ‘til the end of January.”
“Meet you back here at the truck, then, at three-thirty.”
Which is what we did. At this point, I hesitate to give this report its full vetting, but since one of my New Year’s resolutions is never to lie in this space again, I must do it. Tell the truth, I mean. Brian shot one time and killed one squirrel.
I shot three times (Brian said that a distance, I sounded like Custer fighting Indians), and missed three times. But that was only because I was born to be wild. Some guy wrote it up in a song. He was talking about me. You don’t believe it, look it up.