Column: beautiful days are the quarry, harvest is a bonus

Published 2:43 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2022

A creek bottom with oak trees, freedom to roam and a loyal dog by your side. Those were the dreams of a young boy who held onto every word from Where The Red Fern Grows. 

Crisp air and golden autumn leaves fall to the sandy creek bed where they collect waiting for the next rainfall. Those same dry leaves and branches crunch or crack with any movement from a bird, a squirrel, Hunter or a raccoon. 

I hear a rustle and look up. A large fuzzy blob hangs out on a limb, its silhouette pops against the leaves. Binoculars provide a clearer image of an animal suspended between canopy and safety, its gray and furry but there are no other identifiable features. 

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Crunch, crunch, crunch the rubber boots carry one along the sand. Angles change as you look to the same limb, first struggling to find the fuzzy blob but it is there, it hasn’t moved. Frozen in place, you watch carefully through the glass and move carefully to not spook it. 

Up the bank I climb listening and looking for fuzzy blurs of squirrels getting busy. They have cut acorns all week and are slowly moving back to the ground. A blue sky starts to transition to golden sunset. 

No rabbits or bushy tailed squirrels pop out as I walk, the cold metal of my Springfield 67D draws the heat out of my fingertips and hands. It is almost the time of year gloves are essential. 

Vines and dead limbs snap as I try to slip back to the creek. I think I hear a squirrel chipping away at an acorn in the treetop. Scanning the trunk with Leopolds I spy black lines on a gray tail. “It’s a raccoon, I know it is,” I tell myself. 

The coon is clinging for deer life to a tree trunk slowly making progress up the tree as I walk down the creek. Golden rays of sunlight illuminate its spot, it looks majestic against a backdrop of brown and green leaves, the pale trunk of a white oak and a clear blue sky. 

A squirrel distracts me as it makes its way to the nest tree. Scanning through the brush, I raise the 12 gauge waiting for a chance but it never comes. A cold breeze brushes through the field as the final slice of sun disappears beneath the horizion. 

I made the decision to walk out with the remaining amount of daylight I had left. Looking back to the tree, I noticed the coon had disappeared. 

Sunday afternoon I slipped down to the creek bottom in hopes of finding some squirrels. I could hear them cutting nuts and scurrying around a stand of hawthorns. I convinced myself that the camo vest I had on would make up for a white shirt and blue jeans. Afterall, it was a gorgeous day with a nice breeze. My heart warms as a little gray bird flutters around the hawthorns and sings its song. 

Through my binoculars I caught a glimpse of a gray fuzzy tail on a limb. I looked again, it had either disappeared or was a mossy oak branch all along. 

I take a seat at the base of a giant oak tree with bushes providing cover. Patiently, I listened and scanned the trees. It took a while before I noticed something, a furry gray tail set against the backdrop of a branch. Standing, I moved slightly to the left to confirm it was in fact a squirrel laying on his belly trying to make himself as flat as possible. Unfortunately for him, it was too late. 

My heart raced and my ears rang. Adrenaline shook the once steady hands as I looked through my binoculars. No squirrel in the branch, I wondered if I had missed. It took about 10 minutes to cover 30 yards as I tried my best to be stealthy. I spotted the brown tail of a squirrel guarded by vines, “I knew I got him.”  

Raccoons may not be my quarry, but a beautiful fall day and squirrels sure are. 

It is always worth going to the woods, the harvest is just a bonus.