Orange and red hues highlighted the eastern horizon. My buddy, Dr. Andy Cline and I sat in a long oak ridge, waiting.

Orange and red hues highlighted the eastern horizon. My buddy, Dr. Andy Cline and I sat in a long oak ridge, waiting.

We had arrived before daylight to watch the woods come alive. Anyone who thinks that hunting is only about the kill is missing the point. Hunting is blending in with nature while receiving the beauty. Fall wood lots offer an array of colors. Hunting is about the experience.

The summer heat had finally passed. The morning was pleasantly cool, requiring long-sleeved camouflaged shirts. Leaves changing to gold and red were like an invitation for us. Squirrels became active. They knew winter was coming.

The sun would not have to rise very high before the chattering would start. I settled in on the rocks and sticks that made sitting almost unbearable. Naturally, I forgot my seat cushion – the one I have written about in hundreds of stories over the past 25 years. I am the writer who says that a comfortable seat cushion will let you stay in one place for longer periods of time. I endured the discomfort. The squirrels would soon be moving.

We purposely don’t hunt squirrels in our Missouri timber until late September or October – a family tradition started long before I was born. This leaves an unspoiled crop of young, uneducated squirrels. My grandfather carried his rifle in the fall while checking the cows. The sharp-eyed old German always brought in enough squirrels to feed his family of six when free meat was a precious gift. I had noted much squirrel movement while scouting fall gobblers and deer. This year would be special.

I sat and waited, thinking about past hunts. I looked at the tree where my daughter, Holly, shot at her first squirrel when she was 7. She practiced for months before her first hunt. That morning a squirrel had slipped out on a broken limb and sat gnawing on an acorn. She took careful aim with her .22 rifle and shot the nut out of that squirrel’s mouth. She is grown-up now and working on a career. She still does not like to hear about that toothless squirrel.

I glanced at the next ridge. My grandfather took me on my first squirrel hunt in that stand of trees. I shot a squirrel that morning, laid my gun and the squirrel down, and then started looking for grandpa. I had to tell him. I returned and could not find my gun and squirrel. I finally found both an hour later. I never told him about that. The sunlight brought me back to the present.

I soon heard the expected chattering of four young squirrels chasing each other up and down the big oak I sat against. Cline watched this and started grinning. He knew that I might have a squirrel on my shoulder very shortly. Good camouflage makes that possible.

I gratefully watched the squirrels jump into another tree to my left. A young female angled out from me on a low limb. I took careful aim with my CVA .36-caliber black-powder rifle, tickled the trigger and sent a pumpkin ball flying. The lead found its mark.

I soon heard Cline shoot 20 yards up the ridge. He too had found a family chasing each other’s tails. Another young squirrel had barked at him while he watched the chase. A slow turn and quick aim made an easy shot for the old college professor.

Bang! Cline shot again.

The day ended with four squirrels in our game pouches, meaning fried squirrel for dinner. That afternoon we caught crappie from a nearby farm pond. I filleted the eight fish and looked forward to an incredible dinner.

My mother fried the young squirrels and crappie fillets with a cast-iron skillet full of fried potatoes. I added a batch of jalapeno brown beans that I had cooked the day before – probably not the healthiest meal by modern standards, but darn good.

That evening I lay in bed, thinking about the day’s hunt. My mind wandered to a past hunt many years ago with my cousin, Ronnie. We had 4.10 shotguns and had not seen a squirrel. We decided to throw cans in the air to see who could hit the most. I shot my final shotgun shell in disgust. Ronnie had outshot me and owned bragging rights. We took a few steps to the left and a squirrel sat on a limb chattering at us. We were out of shotgun shells.

Our family tradition of squirrel hunting in the fall has created a lot of stories – some good, some sad and some downright scary. But I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the memories.