October is one of my favorite months. The brutal summer heat and humidity is behind us and hunting season begins in earnest.
When I was growing up in Winn Parish, October was always anticipated because it marked the beginning of squirrel season. There were few deer to hunt back in the 1960s, so people focused on squirrels throughout the fall and winter.
Some of my fondest memories involve squirrel hunting. Heading into the woods on opening morning was a tradition at Dodson High School, and students and teachers, alike, spent weeks scouting the woods for squirrel cuttings.
For a number of years, opening day found me armed with a Stevens single barrel .410 that my parents gave me for my tenth Christmas. Nothing teaches marksmanship, stealth, and patience quite like stalking squirrels with a single shot .410.
One of the proudest moments of my young life was when I took Lady and Tramp, our two fiests, into a hollow near the house and shot a big fox squirrel. It was the first squirrel I ever bagged while hunting alone and for years I fondly recalled the event whenever I passed that old hickory tree.
Momma enjoyed squirrel hunting, too. Once, when she, brother Larry, and I went on an afternoon hunt, Momma came walking out of the woods at dark carrying a cat squirrel.
When I mentioned having to whack a squirrel’s head on a tree trunk to finish it off, Mom squinched up her face and said, “Oh, I could never do that.”
“So how do you finish off one that’s not quite dead?” I asked.
“Well,” she replied, “I just put a stick across its little neck and stand on each end until it stops moving.”
Larry and I exchanged “Good Lord!” looks and were reminded to never underestimate our prim and proper mother.
Squirrel hunting in those days was often a family affair. When Pop was home from his pipeline job, we would combine squirrel hunting with collecting pine knots for fireplace kindling.
Filling our pockets with peanuts Daddy had parched in the oven, we’d find an old logging road, let the dogs out, and spend a couple of hours jumping from spot to spot gathering kindling and listening for the dogs to tree a squirrel.
Sometimes a large group of uncles and cousins headed to Dugdemona swamp with the squirrel dogs. It was a treat for us boys who were too young to hunt on our own. Getting to tag along with the grownups and listen to their stories and good-natured bantering was like being accepted into an exclusive fraternity.
When the dogs treed, we circled the tree searching every nook and cranny for the hidden squirrel. If it was clearly visible, the men sometimes let one of us kids take the first shoot, but it was usually a miss.
The squirrel then would take off through the tree tops as everyone banged away with their shotguns. Sometimes the squirrel made it safely to a hole, and the laughter and ribbing began.
After a successful hunt, we looked forward to Momma’s fried squirrels, biscuits, rice, and gravy. If we were visiting my grandparents in Mississippi, we also had squirrel brains, which I thought tasted like scrambled eggs.
My grandparents lived on Turkey Creek outside Newton, where my grandfather, C. D. Scoggin, had a dairy farm. It was a young boy’s paradise because I could fish in the creek and ponds and squirrel hunt in the hardwoods.
During the hunting season, I would rise about sunup and chow down on Mamaw’s cathead biscuits with molasses before grabbing my trusty .410 and carefully make my way through Papaw’s electric fences to get to the woods on the back side of the pasture.
One morning I managed to kill a squirrel and excitedly ran back home to show it off. Papaw cleaned it for me and I returned to the woods and shot another one. I guess Papaw was tired of me interrupting his work because this time he declared that it was time for me to learn how to clean a squirrel by myself.
As he patiently walked me through the process, Papaw hinted that I needed to reevaluate my hunting strategy. “You know,” he said, “if you went a little earlier and stayed a little longer, you might shoot a whole mess of squirrels.” It was good advice I continue to follow.
Dr. Terry L. Jones is professor emeritus of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe who has received numerous awards for his books and outdoor articles.