There's something to be said about a boy's first squirrel hunt. I still remember mine, though it was quite a few years ago. I think that in a lot of ways, hunting has gotten away from it's "roots" so to speak. Too much emphasis today is placed on big game like white-tail deer, while everyone seems to had forgotten about small game, like squirrels and rabbits. True, they aren't as glamorous as a big antlered white-tail, and I've yet to see any Boone & Crockett record book entries for squirrels, but small game hunting teaches the basics..............The basics of how to move, how to actually "hunt", how to handle a firearm, and just a basic appreciation of nature. If you spook a squirrel while hunting, there'll be another on down the path a little way. If you spook a deer while deer hunting, sometimes you may have to give up for the day. This can be discouraging to a small child.
I had been telling my 6 year old son that I would take him squirrel hunting this year, but as is usually the case with today's busy schedules, we weren't able to actually go until about 2 months into the season. With only being 6 and his first hunting trip, I decided that he could carry his BB gun if he wanted, but that was going to be as much firepower as I wanted him to have just yet! Just like most every other kid these days, Mason is no exception when it comes to playing video games. We limit the amount of time he can play, and what he can play, but usually when he isn't playing, he's acting out parts of the video games. His favorite game right now is Pirates of the Carribean Online, with all of the sword fighting in it. Little did I know that his video game playing would be one of the highlights of our first hunt!
We had to drive down to the farm to hunt before daylight, and much to my surprise, he was ready and raring to go at 5:00 AM when we had to get up. We were able to get in the woods right at daylight, just as I had hoped. After parking the 4-wheeler, I went through everything with him as far as watching where he was walking, looking around for squirrels, stopping beside trees, etc. We stayed at the 4-wheeler for a little bit, and let everything quiet back down from us going in, and then headed out.
Since this was the boy's first hunt, I didn't want to take him on "too much" of an adventure, so I had decided that we would just stick to the old logging roads. It was a cool morning, with little to no wind, but where we hadn't had any rain in quite a while, the leaves were dryer than a popcorn fart! The patch of woods we were hunting though had quite a few squirrels in it, so I figured we would find at least one that was either mentally challenged, very brave, or at the least, blind and deaf! Plus, since I was carrying a .17 HMR, if I could see it, I could hit it, which swung the odds in our favor a little.
I have hunted the patch of woods enough to know about where the squirrels usually were, so in areas where there usually weren't any squirrels I made sure to point out the other things Mason would need to know. When we would stop at a tree to look and listen, I pointed out different trees, leaves, plants, bird calls, etc. We whispered about this and that, me asking him things, and he asking me about things. I could hear squirrels cutting further up on the side of the hill, or down in the hollows, but didn't want to go after then. This was going to be just a leisurely walk in the woods, with a little hunting/learning mixed in.
After sneaking around for quite a while, we still hadn't gotten any squirrels and I could tell that Mason was starting to get bored. As we started going down a hill, I could see some limbs moving up ahead where there were some squirrels cutting. I pointed them out to Mason and told him to really watch where he put his feet as we slipped a little closer. We stopped beside a pretty good sized beech tree and watched for a little while. I could see a fox squirrel every now and then through the leaves on down the hill a little bit, so I told Mason to stay there at that tree while I slipped on down the hill a little to see if I could get a shot at the squirrel. I had told him earlier that morning that if he saw me put the rifle up to my shoulder to put his fingers in his ears to protect them from the blast of the rifle. Me wanting to go on down the hill away from him was to mainly get the blast of the rifle away from him. I moved on down the hill about 20-25 yards, found a tree that I could get a good rest on, and finally found a hole that I could thread the little 17 grain V-Max bullet through. When I turned around to motion for Mason to put his fingers in his ears, I almost completely forgot about squirrel hunting! Up the hill, diligently standing by the tree where I had left him, Mason was locked in an epic sword fighting battle with (from the looks of it) several imaginary foes! LMAO!!!!! I had gotten on him several times that morning about shuffling his feet in the leaves and making noise. He had apparently listened to me on that part of "moving quietly", but not on the part of "moving slowly". He wasn't making a sound, but his arms were flailing wildly about, his stick/sword vanquishing foe after foe!!!
After whispering "MASON!" loud enough for him to hear me, and shaking my fist at him, he quit sword fighting. I motioned for him to put his fingers in his ears, and I turned my attention back toward the deaf, dumb, and blind fox squirrel. At the crack of the rifle, the squirrel folded and hit the the ground with a very audible "THUMP". I scanned on around the other area to see if I could see any others that the rifle had provoked into moving. Seeing nothing, I turned around to check on the boy. He was all grins, pumping his fist in the air. I motioned for him to come on down there toward me. Once he finally made it down there, doing his best not to make very much noise, I showed him which tree the squirrel had been in and how to "mark" the tree so that he would be able to find it once we got down there.
We found the squirrel without any trouble. After I picked it up (mainly to make sure it was dead) I handed it to Mason. He said, "It's warm Daddy." "Yeah it is buddy. He was alive just a little while ago but I shot and killed him. The good Lord put this squirrel out here for us to get so that we can have something to eat." This kind of exchange continued between the two of us, with him asking questions and me answering. I had shot the squirrel in the head, and in normal fashion for the little V-Max bullet, part of the squirrel's head was missing. This too provided a good learning opportunity to the boy, and from the look on his face, it was really hitting home what I had been telling him for several years about being careful with guns, that they can kill, etc. It's one thing to see a hole in a target, but a whole other thing to see a dead animal with part of it's head missing. Since that time, I've noticed that Mason is a little more careful around my guns and even with his Nerf guns.
I peeled the bottom of the squirrel's foot back and put a stick under the tendons to carry it with. Mason was done. He wanted to go back to the house to show Momma and Nanna Carol our squirrel. We hunted for just a little while longer and then started making our way back toward the 4-wheeler. Back at the house, I let Mason tell Momma & Nanna Carol about his hunt, with me adding little bits and pieces every here and there.
If I had gone hunting by myself that morning, there's no doubt I would have gotten a limit and been back at the house in very short order. But this hunt wasn't about me. It was about "The Boy". It was about a father and son getting out and spending time together, both learning from each other. It was about learning from Mother Nature and actually listening to what she has to say. But mainly, it was about passing down the hunting heritage to the next generation, so that they too can be self sufficient and appreciate all of the wonders around them each day. Even the wonders of a little 6 year old boy sword fighting by himself in the middle of the woods.