SPORTS

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October 18, 2002

A bad day hunting

The other day, I went squirrel hunting with a buddy, his brother-in-law, and the brother-in-law's nine-year-old son. It turned out to be a bad hunting day, although thankfully, not a tragic one. Tragedy would involve falling out of a tree and breaking a collarbone, or getting my body peppered with buckshot. Nonetheless, this particular Sunday was a bad hunting day, since I didn't get any squirrels. Squirrel hunting normally involves a fair bit of walking in a forest, followed by a great deal of sitting and waiting. While the squirrels on the U of C campus are plentiful and friendly (hunting them would not be sporting, and given the junk they eat out of trash cans, not worth it, either), squirrels in the forest are neither. They usually stay forty feet up, jumping from branch to branch. Hitting one is fairly hard. They make good stew, though, and if you get a couple, you can make a hat or some mittens with the fur. If I can accumulate five or so pelts, I intend make a winter coat for my daughter.

I found myself a nice little place to sit near a stream, figuring they had to appear near the water sooner or later. I was wrong. I sat there for over an hour. I saw one squirrel, for all of half a second, as he ran across a fallen tree from one side of the stream to the other. I didn't have nearly enough to time to put my shotgun on my shoulder and squeeze off a shot.

I did see three different hummingbirds, zipping from flower to flower, tanking up on nectar. I saw a dozen blue jays. Heard them, too, letting out their shrill metallic cry. I saw a little woodpecker bouncing from tree to tree before starting to drill for bugs. I saw some sort of finch, small, with yellow sides, really pretty, and I heard a hawk. I didn't see him, but I've seen lots of red-tail hawks at this particular state park where I hunt, so I'm willing to guess he was a red-tail. I listened to a little stream babble and gurgle. The sky above the forest roof was clear and blue; there were no people around, just me and the green earth.

Later we moved to another spot. From here, I could see several spider webs under construction, still covered with morning dew. These spiders worked from the outside of their webs inward, so there were still large holes in the centers of these webs. The oaks were dropping their acorns. A few poplar leaves fell when the wind blew. I sat on a fallen tree, looking towards the top of the forest, expecting to see a squirrel moving from tree to tree. I heard a bit of rustling to my left. It's amazing how the smallest critters can make the largest noises, and the largest ones are amazingly silent. A deer, which can weigh 150 or more pounds, makes almost no noise as it moves. On this occasion, a young squirrel, probably born this spring or summer, was kicking up dry leaves. He suddenly appeared, on the same fallen tree where I was sitting, five feet away from me. I turned toward him, slowly put my shotgun to my shoulder, and aimed. I then noticed that he wasn't very big at all, maybe a third the size of the adult squirrel that my buddy's brother-in-law had shot an hour before. He was orange-red. This squirrel was too young; absolutely no meat on him. "Shoo, get out of here." Gone, just like that, the last squirrel I saw that day.

A half hour later, I met up with my friend and his brother-in-law. We drove home. We talked about our families. He has a five-month-old daughter, who will start crawling soon. My daughter is two and talks continuously. We talked about the birds and plants and things we saw. Some deer signs, lots of flowers. The river looked healthy, and there were some geese in the fields. He saw a heron. We drank coffee from our thermoses, ate sandwiches from paper bags, talked about pheasant season, and headed for home.

A bad hunting day isn't such a bad day.