Last month Roy Denney invited me on an opening-day squirrel hunt on his Gladeville farm, but I gave him a million reasons why not.
That’s approximately the number of seed ticks I picked during a walk in the woods a few days before.
There may have been a few chiggers mixed in for good measure. My ankles were raw from all the scratching.
I told Roy to check back after the first bug-killing frost.
It was tough sitting out opening day, which was always special when I was a kid growing up in the mountains.
I talked my bride into postponing our wedding by one day because her suggested date conflicted with the opening of squirrel season.
To be honest, there was a little more to it than that. Three boyhood buddies and I were heading off in different directions that fall – one up North to work, me and another off to college, one to Vietnam – and we figured that weekend might be the last we’d all get to spend together.
As it turned out, we were right. That was 51 years ago, and all four of us have never been together again at the same time. After our morning squirrel hunt we met back at the farmhouse for grilled burgers, and to toast my next-day nuptials.
I’m sure my future in-laws were starting to wonder what their little angel had got herself into – having to postpone her wedding for squirrel season. But it worked out, and we spent 51 wonderful years together.
Back to squirrel hunting: Back then, I don’t recall being bothered by seed ticks. Same with poison ivy. Nowadays if I so much as glance at one of the three-pronged poisonous plants I immediately break out.
Along with more ticks and chiggers and poison ivy, it also seems a lot hotter than it used to during early squirrel season. And the skeeters are much worse. Some claim the increased heat is due to global warming, but that doesn’t explain global-skeetering.
On top of all that, the hills and ridges seem a lot steeper than they used to.
I squirrel hunt for fun, and struggling up a steep ridge, swatting skeeters and unable to see the tangles of poison ivy because of the sweat running into my eyes, is not my idea of fun.
I’m drawn to the nostalgia of squirrel hunting. Like most young hunters of my era, I cut my teeth on squirrels. It was challenging to slip through the dewy early-morning woods and try to ambush a nut-gnawing bushy-tail high stop a shagbark hickory.
Nowadays, kids skip squirrels and start out hunting big gobblers and mossy-racked bucks.
They literally don’t know what they’re missing.
I try to get in a few squirrel hunts every fall, and I plan to go as soon as the days cool off. To me that’s what it’s all about – a crisp autumn morning, the woods damp and hushed, the trickle of hickory nut hulls through the leaves …
And no ticks, chiggers and skeeters.