Leon Archer

The Sportsman’s World: September 8, 2012

Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

There were few things in my adolescent life that I looked forward to with greater anticipation than the day when I could begin hunting.

By the time I was 13, I already had years of fishing experience under my belt and I had just started finding girls interesting, but my hunting experience was composed of harassing starlings and English sparrows with my Daisy BB gun and following my brother around while he was hunting.

I got to carry the game he shot and I jumped on the brush piles to scare out rabbits for him. It was all great fun, but man, how I yearned for the day when I could carry something besides a BB gun.

The time finally came in 1955. I got my hunter training, which took about two hours, and I purchased my junior hunting license. I did pretty well on rabbits, but grouse had the odds on their side.

The one game animal that I could harvest nearly at will was the grey squirrel. Squirrels were plentiful and once they were treed, they were in great peril. I sometimes hunted them with a 22 caliber rifle, but usually I had a shotgun in my hands instead. In either case, squirrels were not hard to bring down out of the tree tops.

My daily bag often consisted of one or two cotton tail rabbits, three or four squirrels, and on a good day, an unlucky grouse.

I had grown to love my mother’s southern fried rabbit and squirrel and by the time I started hunting, my brother was in college, so I became the major provider of game for the family table.

During the fall and winter, it would have been unusual not to have a game dinner once a week and of all the small game my mother cooked, squirrel was far and away my favorite, even if the pieces were smaller.

By the time I was 18, I had become much more proficient at locating grouse with a load of number 6’s, rabbits were not much challenge since I had my beagle, Hy-flyte Lindy, and squirrels had become mere targets of opportunity.

I had taken a good friend and trapping buddy, Larry Smith, under my hunting wing. His dad was not a hunter, so I sort of became a mentor for Larry and he got the opportunity to bring down most of the squirrels as we scoured the outdoors for game.

I enjoyed those hours we had together in the field immensely. Even today I count Larry as one of my closer friends.

I know that there are a lot of people — mostly non hunters —  who don’t consider squirrels as anything but a cute little critter that raids their bird feeder and gets squashed on city streets almost as often as ‘possums, but they are so much more.

Squirrels fed our distant ancestors when other food was scarce and in colonial Kentucky, gun makers created the highly accurate squirrel rifle.

Squirrels have planted whole forests as they buried and then lost track of uncounted acorns and other nuts. The squirrel may not have been as impressive as the buffalo, but their numbers were much greater throughout the history of our country.

Today, in America, praise the Lord, we seldom face starvation or want and we don’t need the squirrel to take the edge off our hunger, but he still remains a very popular game animal.

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