A long-standing Tennessee tradition resumes Saturday morning with the opening of the statewide squirrel season. It’s a great time to introduce another generation to the great outdoors during the predawn hours.
Dads and granddads blazing a trail down old logging roads or sand ditches in the wee hours, dodging spider webs and low-hanging branches.
For many youngsters, it will be their maiden voyage into the outdoor arena. A guiding hand will help them cross fences or logs while all the while making sure safety is at the top of the list.
Answering a lot of “what’s that” questions will be adults making a big impression. The outing will be a lot more than just shooting a few squirrels but the opening day of squirrel season is the catalyst that makes it all happen, bringing folks together on this special occasion.
Blue jays will squawk at the arrival of intruders to a sleepy, dark woods despite all efforts to slip around and perform a silent entry. Youngsters will step on those dry sticks and a cracking sound will announce their entrance to the world.
Finicky squirrels headed to a hickory tree might be sluggish in their arrival and allow the hunters to arrive and get set up as daylight slips through the thick forest canopy.
A mistake or two is allowed as some noise might signal an alarm but within minutes the critters of the wooded jungle return to chirping as the world wakes up from a late summer sleep.
Watching, looking and listening are as much a part of the trip as taking that first shot. At the hands of a mentor, the youngster absorbs it all.
Now it’s time to apply the basics of gun safety and practice. From the back yard to the wild woods. Careful loading of the gun and double checks of the safety. Cautious pointing of the muzzle.
Staying still and scanning the treetops, watching for any sign of movement as the busy tails bounce from limb to limb on their morning breakfast commute.
Some scouting prior to the season opener helps determine where the grays are cutting acorns. Finding the fresh cuttings help target the ridges and trees where the prey is sure to show up.
If everyone is lucky, it will be a quiet morning free of gale winds or perhaps the aftermath of a rainy night where drenched limbs loaded with raindrops help reveal the path and destination of careless, clumsy squirrels.
Swatting away a few annoying mosquitoes may require another application of repellent or perhaps a spray or two around the ankles to ward off ticks but proper preparation is all part of the learning curve. Minor inconveniences on the path to being an outdoorsman.
From the high canopy comes that falling sound as a huge scaly bark acorn fumbled by a young squirrel falls victim to gravity and makes a thud in the midst of peace and tranquility.
Up above is a squirrel shredding away, dropping little bits and pieces of the nut that has lured him to this locale.
Whispers from ole’ dad or granddad and a hand on the shoulder help pinpoint the prey’s whereabouts. Buried in the foliage and using every limb and leaf to his advantage is a finicky gray squirrel delivering quite a challenge for a young hunter anxious to pull the trigger and feel the recoil.
An empty hunting coat yearns to feel the bulge of that first squirrel. On the road ahead will hopefully be many more steps and many more outings. However, there will never be another “first squirrel” so times like these are precious for all involved.
One day you’ll reminisce and wake up to discover that time has darted far too fast. The one who introduced you to the opening day squirrel woods had long passed but the memory is rekindled in the eyes of a youngster anxious to begin a new journey.
In your memory is the vision of an old gray-haired gentleman handing you the gun and presenting the shells just before that first shot of the morning.
Down the creek a spell is a placid puddle where the old spring mirrors an image of an aging outdoorsman guiding a juvenile as they kneel and pause on the path of life. Funny how history sometimes repeats itself.
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is email@example.com.