. . . But when they stopped, usually on the side of a tree facing away from me, they may as well have vanished into thin air.
I headed in the direction of the nest and spooked the squirrel from it's hiding spot on the other side of a tree. As it ran higher into the canopy I took my first shot. Missed it. This was to be expected since I hadn't fired a gun in almost two years. It was jumping into another tree when I took my second shot. Missed it, but I turned it away from its nest and into the limbs of another tree. I took another shot and missed again. The squirrel was gone. I knew it was still in the last tree, but now it was going to be a waiting game. If you sit for 10 minutes, not making a sound or a move, there's a good chance the squirrel will show itself.
I had lost track of the other two squirrels while missing shots at the one in the tree in front of me. I now saw one of them hightailing it out of the area over the snow. That meant there were two in the trees in front of me. At least I knew exactly where one was, I just had to wait for him to show himself. After what seemed like an eternity, the squirrel suddenly appeared about 20 feet up the tree, hanging upside down with its head stretched out looking for me. I took my time, lined up the bead on the tip of the barrel with the squirrel and pulled the trigger. It dropped to the ground.
It was a pretty clean shot even though I was over a hundred feet away and I was in no hurry to run over and pick up the squirrel. There was still another one around and a little more waiting might get him to appear. Another eternity went by and I gave up on seeing the other squirrel. I headed over to pick up the dead one.
It was gone. On the ground was a splotch of blood, so I knew I hit it. With that much blood loss it couldn't have lasted long so I looked along the blood trail for the squirrel. There was nothing around. The red blood stood out brightly against the clean snow and I followed it for about 20 feet, still no squirrel. Then another 20 feet away I saw it. It was dragging itself across the snow moving pretty quickly for being wounded. I could see that I had hit it in one of its legs.
I took another shot and missed. I was up to 5 shots at one squirrel. It went behind a tree. I got to the tree, looked on the other side and nothing. It was gone. I looked beyond the tree for marks in the snow and saw nothing. I looked up the tree and figured that was a long shot based on how the squirrel was dragging itself across the snow, nothing up there. Then I noticed that the tree was basically hollow, for whatever reason it had a hollow area that went up the inside of the tree.
There was nothing in the base of the hollow so I assumed it went up the inside. The tree came back together about 4 feet up then opened up again into a narrow slit. It looked like the hollow easily went 10 feet up into the tree. Then I saw its tail. It was behind the point where the tree came back together and the tail was hanging down into the opening. This posed a dilemma. Do I grab a wounded and probably extremely pissed off squirrel by the tail and haul it out of the tree?
I stood back about 10 feet and fired a round into the tree fully expecting to see a dead squirrel drop into the bottom of the hollow. The tail disappeared and nothing dropped down. I fired another round a little higher up figuring it was running up the inside of the tree. Still nothing. I fired another one a little higher and still no dead squirrel at the bottom of the hollow. I was now at 8 shots at one squirrel and had nothing to show for it. I took the barrel of the shotgun and stuck it in the hollow of the tree, the squirrel dropped down to the bottom of the hollow, hissing and snarling and curled into a tight ball.
This was just great. Even with thick gloves on I was in no hurry to grab an extremely pissed off squirrel out of the bottom of a tree by the tail. I decided to back up and fire one more round, finishing the poor thing off for good. I reached into my pocket for another shell and with the thick gloves still on, loaded it into the shotgun. The shell went in, or so I thought. I let go, the cover closed and the shell popped out into the loading chamber. This couldn't be good.
I tried pumping the round into the chamber. It wouldn't work. The gun was jammed. I looked over at the squirrel. It was watching me, waiting for me to do something and still snarling. I thought unjamming the gun would be easy, but the shell wasn't cooperating. I broke down the gun, laying the pieces on anything that wasn't covered in snow. I thought for sure the shell would fall out once the gun was all apart. That didn't work. It looked like I had to somehow force the shell up into the chamber. There was a gap between the latch and the rest of the gun about the thickness of a knife blade. I could slide the knife in, work the shell forward and push it into the chamber. Only I didn't have a knife. I quit carrying knives with me about two years ago when it set off a metal detector and I had a lot of explaining to do.
But I had my car keys!
The car key was working, kind of. Since the end was basically rounded and not pointed, I couldn't get a good grip on the shell. I would get the shell half way into the chamber when it would slip back out. I knew it was going to work, I just had to be patient. When I took the key out after another failed attempt, it was bent starting about a half inch from the end. That couldn't be good. I've bent car keys back into shape only to have two things happen, they break or they no longer start the car. I knew I was screwed if either of those things happened. There was no way I was going to convince my wife to drive out here with a spare key. So I did the only thing I could think of to do. Bent the key back in shape and continued to use it to force the shell up into the chamber. I just turned it a little so it wouldn't bend anymore, I hoped.
After about 20 minutes of screwing with the shell, it finally worked. I got it up into the chamber. Put the gun back together, pumped it and out popped the shell. I looked down at the squirrel hoping that by now it would dead. It was staring back at me, a low growl like sound coming from it. "Son of a bitch, just die already damn it," I heard come out of my mouth. With my gloves off this time, I picked up the shell, loaded it into the chamber, stood back and was going to finish off the squirrel.
Only from this angle I would have had to shoot it right up it's ass. The hind end is where the bulk of the meat is and after all this effort, I wasn't going to destroy a perfectly good squirrel out of impatience. I walked up to it and grabbed it by the tail not having any real clue what I was going to do next. The squirrel immediately curled upwards, trying to grab onto and bite into my gloved hand. I made a backward bowling motion with my arm and released the squirrel to go flying through the surrounding brush. It hit the ground and began to drag itself across the ground away from me. I loaded the shotgun as I walked after it, stopped and fired from about thirty feet. Missed it again.
The squirrel stopped and laid in the snow. It was obviously tired. While rabbit hunting, I've had to put a wounded rabbit out of it's misery by placing the butt of my gun on it's neck and pressing down till it died. I've done that numerous times. I don't recall ever doing that to a squirrel, but then I don't recall ever taking more than one shot at a squirrel. I placed the butt of my gun on it's neck and tried to press down. The squirrel immediately flipped onto it's back, grabbed onto the stock with it's front paws and bit into the butt of the gun.
I lifted the gun straight up into the air expecting the squirrel to let go and drop back to the ground. Instead, it grabbed on tighter and tried lifting it's hind legs up to get a grip on the gun. It was clawing and gnawing on the stock while growling wildly. I pumped the gun straight up and down violently a few times, like I was churning a vat of butter. The squirrel refused to let go. I lifted the gun, grabbed the barrel like a baseball bat, and swung it hard. The squirrel flew off through the brush like a line drive down center, hit the ground and took off crawling again.
Son of a bitch, I heard some one say out loud.
I reluctantly followed the path it was taking only to find it had disappeared again. A little searching found it hunkered down in the rotted out root ball of a fallen tree, hiding behind the tangle of roots that had been exposed. I backed off a little and was going to take another shot at it. There were too many roots in the way and the squirrel was crawling around among them trying to stay away from me. I picked up a stick, there was no way I was reaching my hand into the root ball, and tried for a few minutes to prod it out of its hiding place. Eventually it worked and the squirrel started crawling across the forest floor again.
When it was about 15 feet away I took another shot. Missed it again. I was starting to wonder if I wasn't shooting blanks. By now the frustration, anger and embarrassment of the whole thing was starting to get to me. All I heard in my head was damn it, damn it, damn it over and over again. The squirrel had finally given up too. It now lay in the snow looking around. It was breathing hard. I backed off a few feet, sighted down the barrel and took another shot.
The squirrel shivered a few times then lay still. I could see that it's breathing had stopped. I walked over and looked. A clean shot had given it a reverse mohawk right down the middle of the top of its head.
I leaned the gun against a nearby tree. Took off my gloves and dropped them in the snow. My hands were shaking. Damn it, damn it, damn it was still being repeated in my head. The embarrassment of the whole situation had me standing there feeling almost ashamed at all that I had just done. My heart was pounding in my chest. The thought rushing through my head was . . . so much for being a conscientious hunter. This was humiliating.
I sat down on a nearby log, took out a cigar, lit it and sat looking at the dead squirrel. It's auburn fur stood out starkly against the bright white of the snow. In my head I was apologizing to it for the torture I just put it through. It had been about an hour since I took that first shot. It had taken 12 shots to kill this squirrel. No animal should be put through that.
My heart slowly started beating normal again. My hands were no longer shaking. I picked up the squirrel and stuffed it into the back of my vest. Without stopping again, I hiked the mile back to the check in station. Doubts were raging through my head. Of ever bothering to go hunting again. Of just what kind of a hunter was I.
On the way home I stopped to clean the squirrel. As I washed down it's flesh with water, scrubbing away the blood and remnants of fur, I had a squirrel stew recipe in my head. This was why I hunted. For the opportunity to eat wild things. To feel like I live in a world that is more than just packaged dinners and trips to the grocery store. This whole hunt was just an aberration, a once in a life time screw up. There's no way it could ever happen again. I wouldn't let it.