Jefferson Weaver • When One Shot Made Meat
As I stepped outside to greet the morning, the fog gave everything that ethereal feel that Hollywood can never quite capture. The pines were disputing the sun’s right to seize the day, but Ol’ Sol was patiently working his way to a point where he could dispel the darkness and the mist. The goats and geese were still snoring, having decided a foggy morning was a good time to sleep in.
Far down in the woods, I heard a single shot.
“One shot, he made meat. Two shots, maybe. Three shots, bad hunter,” I instinctively whispered. My old friend Bill Prevatte, the retired preacher turned turkey killer, taught me a variation of that saying on a similar morning years ago.
For just a few minutes, I remembered a similar set of woods, and I was 14 again. My buddy Robby and I met at his house at a time when our parents would normally have despaired of seeing us awake, but it wasn’t a school day, so we could get up early. As it was both our longsuffering mothers had fortified us with hot breakfasts, snacks and a bag lunch (mine was bologna and cheese, white bread, and a piece of pound cake) and sent us on our way.
My faithful dog Dudley was heartbroken that he wasn’t allowed on this particular trek, but conventional knowledge says a retriever mix ain’t a squirrel dog. He would later prove that harassing squirrels was another unknown talent in his repertoire, but that’s a column for another day.
It was the first day of squirrel, coon and possum season, and the last for doves. We didn’t have deer in that area back then, but Robby and I didn’t care.
It amazes me now to realize that we thought nothing of riding miles on our bicycles, in the dark, often without a light or reflective clothing, with guns slung across our backs or strapped to our Schwinns, Raleighs and Huffys, and nobody blinked an eye. No cellphones, trackers, GPS or more information than a vague “We’re going down Warren Road a couple miles.”
We made the woods behind the cornfield a few minutes before daylight, and carefully loaded our single barrels. Our bikes were stashed behind a big bush in the unlikely event someone might steal them (and our lunches).
The trail through a blackberry bramble led to a thin stand of planted pines, which in turn ushered the erstwhile nimrod into an oak- and hickory-blanketed ridge. At the edge of the hardwoods lay the remains of a burned tobacco barn, and farther in was the scar of a burned-out tenant house. There was a nightmare of an apple tree, a sad excuse for a grape arbor, and a fascinating trashpile that was home to old broken bottles and copperheads. It was a wonderful place to be a boy.
But on that particular morning, after the third or fourth light frost of the year, we weren’t treasure hunting. Sciurus carolionensis was our primary quarry, although we would have happily harvested a procyon lotor or even a didelphias virginiana had either a raccoon or possum intruded on our hunt.
We likely made more noise stalking into our hunting grounds than a normal person walking, but we felt like we went to extreme measures to be as silent as possible. Looking back, I’ve spent less effort getting to a deer stand when the whitetails have end-of-the-season paranoia than I did on that cold opening day of squirrel season.
Robby had a bit more experience than I did, but neither of us were far beyond the stage of just being allowed to hunt on our own. It took a couple years of watchful eyes and sharp questions before we could be trusted to head for the woods without adult supervision. I’m fairly sure the pride of such maturity was tempered by the nervousness of what all would happen if we screwed up even the tiniest bit, hence we were careful.
It was foggy that morning, too, just as it was when I heard that shot ring out the other day, but the fog wasn’t as thick. It lay heavy on the nut-shedding walnut, oaks and hickories, obscuring more than half of the limbs in some cases. We could hear our targets gossiping and discussing world events, but the only sightings were gray shadows flitting across gray trees in gray fog barely illuminated by gray morning light.
After a while, one big bull squirrel sauntered to a branch below the line of fog to examine what kind of fidgeting, army surplus green and Wrangler blue-colored things were trespassing in his woods. He never had a chance to find out.
We actually debated over who would take the squirrel home; each said the other one had made the kill. Our mentors would have been proud that we weren’t game hogs, but were trying to be sporting gentlemen like the examples they set for us. In the end it didn’t matter, because we took three more (and in each of those cases, there was no doubt who made the shot, since we took turns.)
We enjoyed our early lunch, and ended up cleaning the squirrels on an old pumphouse, shotguns close at hand so we could knock an errant dove or three. Dudley was happy, since he could join us again and at least pretend to work for a living. On that day, Bill would have been proud of us – we didn’t get many shots, but when we did, we made meat.
I don’t hunt squirrels anymore; Miss Rhonda raises so many orphaned babies I never can tell if I might be aiming at kinfolk. Fox squirrels, however, are a different game entirely, but we didn’t have many of them where I grew up. We focus more on deer, bear and those wretched hogs, although given the chance I’ll cheerfully slap and skin a coyote. And I still love the magic of a cornfield in dove season, and I look forward to the day I can again chase coonhounds in the night, or watch a young pointer quiver with indecision, then lock up on a point on a covey of invisible quail in a pose so perfect you know God had a hand in the design.
That one shot the other morning, echoing through the fog, brought back so much, even before my first coffee of the day.
I have no idea who was hunting, exactly, or where. It was likely one of the deerhunters on a neighboring property.
But in my heart I hoped it was a slightly chubby little kid with a single-barrel shotgun strapped to his Schwinn, a bag of bologna sandwiches, and a good dog waiting at home.
I just hope his one shot made meat.