The Squirrel Hunt by Gary Benton
Pa walked into the house, poured a cup of buttermilk and asked, “J.D., do you think Paul would like to do a little squirrel huntin’ about now?”
Grinning, he replied, “Ain’t nothin’ in the world Paul likes to do more than hunt squirrels, unless it’s cat fishing!”
Emptying his milk glass, pa wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand and said, “Well, get your gun and stuff. We’ll change and stop by his house on the way to the woods. I know a good spot back over by old Lady Light’s place that ain’t been hunted in years.”
“Looks like a big mess of squirrels for dinner tonight! I’ll get everything ready and meet you in the truck.”
Pa laughed as he watched his son run to his bedroom and thought, he’s a good boy and he’ll do well in life. He surely loves to hunt too and that’ll help keep ‘em in shape as he gets older.
Less than an hour later, they pulled up at Paul’s house and J.D. ran for the front door. As soon as he knocked, Paul answered, “Hey, J.D., what you doin’ over here on a Sunday?”
“Pa and I thought ya might want to go squirrel huntin’ with us.”
A big smile flashed on Paul’s face as he replied, “Let me ask my pa, but I done my chores, so I reckon he’ll let me go.”
A few minutes later Paul was back with his .410 shotgun in his hands and his hunting cap on his head. As the two boys moved for the truck, old Blue let out a few loud barks, and Paul said, “Pa said I could go, but I have to be back home by dark.”
As he opened the door, J.D. said, “Shoot, we’ll have a bushel basket of squirrel’s way before dark.”
Once in the truck, Paul looked at the floor and saw a huge rusted out section on the floorboard, and glanced at J.D.
J.D. smiled, placed his feet up on the dash and said, “The windows don’t work neither, but it’s paid for.”
Pa laughed, looked at the two boys and added, “Yep, paid for and it’ll keep us dry, unless the puddles splash up through the floor as I drive. I’ve had this old thing for nigh on twenty years and while the heater don’t work, it’s slowly rusting apart, it does start every time I turn the key.”
He placed the truck in gear, pulled onto the highway and said, “Let’s go get some squirrels. Just the thought of fried squirrel with white pepper gravy and mashed taters, along with some biscuits, makes me hungry!”
The ride down the country road, after they’d turned off the highway, was rough, since the shocks on the truck were shot too. The boys laughed at the way they bounced in the seat and at one point Paul had to grab the door to keep from hitting the roof. Finally, they pulled into the woods, cut the engine and climbed from the cab. Pa looked around and warned, “Now, you two keep your eyes open for snakes once we get into the trees.”
“Snakes?” Paul asked.
“Yep, they got copperheads out here and near the water you’ll find some cottonmouth’s too.”
“Ya scared of snakes?” J.D. asked.
“Let’s just say I don’t care much for ‘em, but I don’t have nightmares about ‘em or nothin’. As long as I can see ‘em, I’m fine.”
“Now, how do you boys want to do this? I like to still hunt.”
J.D. shook his head and replied, “I ain’t much for sittin’. I like to move around a bit.”
“Well, then you two take Blue and hunt the ridge line while I sit my butt on a log and see what comes along. I’m gettin’ too old to be runnin’ these woods.”
“Where you goin’ to go to sit?”
“’Bout a hundred yards straight ahead, so y’all remember where I am. I don’t need no buckshot in my rear-end.”
“We know better than to shoot at anybody. We’ll go down the ridge to the crick and then hunt on the far side.”
Blue, excited by the thought of a hunt began to bark loudly.
“Sounds good, and ya better get to movin’, before Blue has a heart attack.”
The boys laughed, released the chain from Blue’s collar and started walking down a rutted and pot-holed logging road. The dog moved forward about fifty feet and began to sniff the ground from side to side.
“He’s a good dog, ya know that?”
Paul smiled and replied, “I don’t know if he’s a good dog or not, but he’s a heck of a squirrel dog. The last time me and you used him we got ten bushy-tails.”J.D. grinned.
Just as they started down the slope of the ridge, a squirrel broke for a huge oak, and Paul’s gun barked once and the small animal fell. Walking to the squirrel, Paul placed it in his hunting vest pocket, smiled and said, “Well, I got the first one!”
“I’ll get the most. First don’t count.”
Stepping back onto the road, the two continued to a small stream when J.D. said, “I’m gonna go over the ridge and see if I can find any by an old acorn tree I know about. Should be a mess of squirrels by them acorns.”
“Should be, but do you want to take Blue?”
“Naw, I’ll likely sit by the tree for a long spell and Blue can’t sit still long enough for me to even see a squirrel. He’s a mover, Blue is.”
Reaching into his pocket, Paul pulled out two walky-talky radio’s and handed one to J.D. as he said, “When you’re ready to leave, just give me a call.”
“Where did you get these?”
“I got ‘em for my birthday last week and they work pretty good most of the time. Now, iffen you get too far away or it starts to rain they’ll quit workin’. So, stay there by that acorn tree and I’ll be able to talk with you. I’ll give ‘em a test once I figure you’re at the tree.”
“Take me ‘bout fifteen minutes to get in position and talk to me early so we don’t scare the squirrels away.”
“I’ll call in fifteen minutes, just to make sure they work.” Paul glanced at his watch and made a mental note of the time.
Shifting this rifle to his left hand, J.D. started across the stream as he said, “Good luck!”
Paul laughed and replied, “Luck? I don’t need any luck because I have my supper in my vest! But, good luck to you. As he walked, J.D. glanced up at the sky and noticed dark gray clouds moving overhead, be good huntin’ if that rain is comin’ tonight.
The walk up the ridge line was much harder than the young man had remembered and he stopped at the top to get his breath. Blue, still running in circles, suddenly began to bark. Moving toward the dog, J.D. spotted a squirrel chattering madly on a low limb. With one shot, the animal fell to the ground where it lay unmoving.
“That’ll show Paul I’m his equal in the woods, won’t it Blue?”
The dog, who’d be over the squirrel sniffing, looked up, blinked a few times, and wondered off into the woods.
J.D. picked up his game and using a piece of bailing wire tied it to his belt. Opening his shotgun, he watched the empty shell fly though the air and then he inserted a new shell. Walking to the spent shell, he picked it up and put it in his pocket, knowing pa reloaded their ammunition.
Moving deeper into the woods, he shot two more squirrels and then noticed he’d not seen or heard a thing from Blue. Additionally, Paul had not contact him yet. Pulling the walky-talky from his coat he pushed the transmit button and said, “Paul, can ya hear me?” Nothing but static answered, so he tired once more, but with no results. Shrugging his shoulders, he placed the walky-talky back in his pocket and started walking again.
Paul, mad that he could not contact J.D., remembered the range of the small device was limited to about a quarter of a mile. One of the newer toys on the market, it still had many bugs to work out, so he placed it in his pocket and continued walking. J.D. knew the area and was a safe hunter, so Paul didn’t give any of it another thought. He’d meet them back at the truck at dusk.
Suddenly, right in front of him a copperhead snake slithered across the trail. At first, he raised his shotgun, going to kill the serpent, but then changed his mind, because the snake had not bothered him. I hate those things, he thought as he moved quickly away from the spot were the snake had gone.
Working his way to the top of the ridgeline, he heard a loud crack of thunder and looking up he saw dark gray clouds twisting and turning. Lordy, I hope we don’t have a twister come through here! There came a gust of wind followed by light drops of rain. Pulling his walky-talky he pushed the button and said, “J.D. can ya hear me?”
“I hear ya. Is it rainin’ where you’re at?”
“Sprinkin’ so we need to head back to the truck. It’s gonna rain in buckets in a just a few minutes.”
“Uh, I got a slight problem here.”
“What kind of problem?”
“I got turned around and ain’t sure where I am.”
“Well, iffen the sun was out ya could just head east.”
Another loud boom of thunder sounded, followed by J.D. saying, “Ain’t no sun out, it’s rainin’.”
“I know that. Give me a minute to think on this a spell.”
“Okay, but hurry I’m gettin’ wet.”
Silence followed for a couple of minutes and then Paul said, “Fire your gun three times and that will tell me where you are.”
“Okay, ya ready?”
“Yep! Fire away!”
At the exact moment J.D. fired, the sound of thunder filled the air as long fingers of white streaked across the sky.
“Did you shoot?”
“Yep, you hear anything?”
“Thunder, but that was it.”
“Dang, not good, ‘cause I ain’t got be two shells left.”
“Save ‘em and I’ll go for your pa. Stay right were you are until I get back.”
“I hear ya, but it ain’t like I got some place to go ya know.”
“I’ll be gone for a bit, so wait for me.”
“Okay, now go.”
Placing his walky-talky in his coat pocket, Paul moved down the ridge toward the truck. As he moved he thought, I wonder how J.D. got lost here? He’s been hunting his area since he first picked up a gun.At the truck, he placed his gun in the cab and then made his way into the woods. It was but a few minutes later he saw J.D.’s pa sitting on a log.
The old man heard Paul shuffling through the leaves, turned and said, “Heck fire son, why don’t ya just bring a marchin’ band with ya the next time.” Then seeing the worried look on the young man’s face he asked, “Somethin’ wrong?”
“Yes and no. See, J.D. has gotten turned around in the woods and ain’t sure where he is.”
“How do ya know this?”
Pulling his walky-talky from his pocket he said, “I talked to him a little bit ago. He’s fine, but says he ain’t got no idea where he’s at.”
“Was he foolin’ ya?”
“He didn’t sound like it and I don’t think he’d joke about something like that in this rain.”
Shaking his head, pa said, “Well, see iffen ya can talk to ‘em now.”
“J.D. ya there?”
Static filled the air.
“J.D., can ya hear me?” No response.
“Okay, let’s go back to the spot where you talked with ‘em. Maybe we can get a-hold of him there.”
The walk to the spot was muddy, the rain started falling harder, and the temperature was going down. Pulling his walky-talky, Paul noticed his breath as he said, “J.D., come in!”
“Paul? Gettin’ cold now.”
The old black man took the radio and asked, “Boy, what do you see around you?”
“You’re in the woods you dang fool! I mean any fence lines, tall trees, or anything that will help us find you.”
“There’s a huge pine in front of me and fence line behind me.”
Glancing at the trees around them, all they could see were huge pines. “Well, ya moved off a ways and it’s hard to tell where ya are. Is ole Blue with ya?”
“Nope, he ran off at the first crack of thunder.”
Glancing up, Paul said, “We gotta find ‘em pretty quick, the weathers gonna get worse and it’ll be dark soon.”
“I should just leave ‘em out there all night and teach ‘em a lesson. He got to meanderin’ around and not payin’ attention to where he was goin’, that’s what happened. Now, me and you have to spend time out in the cold rain lookin’ for the young fool.”
Taking the radio from the old man, Paul said, “J.D. get you a shelter up and a fire goin’. We’re gonna look for ya so maybe we’ll see the light from your fire. If not, you’ll have to wait for dawn and then move south to the truck. Do you have any food?”
“You mean I might have to spend the night out here? Yep, I got a squirrel.”
“Yep, iffen we don’t see your fire you’ll spend the night.”
“I don’t like the idea, but I might not have any choice, huh?”
“Nope, because it’ll turn as dark as a graveyard in just a few minutes. Oh, I saw a big copperhead this afternoon, so keep your eyes open for ‘em.”
“You saw a snake?”
“Big boy too.”
“Thanks, just what I needed to hear.” J.D. replied and then scanned the ground around him.“I’m goin’ now, but you call when you get the fire burning good.”
They moved up under a stunted pine and squatted against the rain. Long minutes passed and finally J.D. said, “I got a problem here Paul. The woods too wet to burn.”
“Get some dry stuff from under the bigger trees.”
“Won’t make no difference.”
“I ain’t got no matches either. I used them all.”
“This is just Jim Dandy!” Pa stood and all but yelled. Paul noticed it was so cold that a white cloud poured from the old man’s mouth as he spoke. He jerked the radio from Paul’s hands and said, “You stay where ya be and then move to the truck come sunup. There ain’t a thing we can do until we have some light.”
“Pa, I didn’t mean to get lost!”
Feeling the fear and sorrow in his son’s voice the old man said, “Boy, you ain’t the first feller to ever get lost and ya won’t be the last. Just tough it out and then come sunrise walk to the truck.”
“Okay. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Morning came cold and wet, but at the truck a fire burned, coffee was brewing and Paul was scared of what his pa would say when he returned home. He was supposed to have been home before dark, so it was likely his dad called the police.
At that moment, Sheriff Clyde Moreland came bouncing down the old logging road and came to a quick stop behind the truck. His lights were flashing the siren going full blast, as he stepped from the car and made his way to the fire.
“Howdy do, Clyde,” Paul said as he stood.
“Son, you’re in a heap a trouble for not comin’ home last night.”
Looking down at his feet, Paul said, “I know I am, but we had an emergency. J.D. is lost in the woods.”
“That so,” Clyde asked gazing into the eyes of J.D.s pa.
“Yep, he got turned around a bit and had to spend the night in the woods. He’ll be here directly.”
Returning to his car, Clyde reported to the station he’d found Paul safe and sound, but they had a lost boy in the woods. Within thirty minutes, six patrol cars pulled up and the officers started for the fire.
“Who’s missin’ Clyde?” A tall lanky man called Slim asked.
“J.D. Davis and most of ya know the kid. Now, I want Wilcox and Jones to move off to the west, while Harrison and Slim, you two move north. Lee, you and Jonas move east.”
Slim frowned and asked, “Which way you goin’?”
“I’ll stay here and man the command post.”
“Command post, this ain’t no command post.”
“It is if I designate ‘er one and I just did that.”
Grumbling at having to search in the muddy woods, the officers moved into the trees. Thirty minutes later Paul picked up his walky-talky. “J.D. are you movin’ yet?”
“Yep, I’m on the hill behind ya and I can see the truck. Why’s all them police cars there?”
“Lookin’ for you.”
“Uh-oh, not good. I’ll be there in about ten minutes. Have Clyde call them officers back.”
Shaking his head, Clyde picked up his radio and said, “The search is called off the kid is safe.”
Static filled the air, but no one replied. “I repeat, the search is off, return to the command post.” Nothing was heard.
“How much did that radio cost Clyde?” Paul asked.
“Nigh on three hundred dollars, why?”
“I paid two for mine and works just fine.”
“Find something to do boy, I’m a busy man.”
When Paul and his small group left an hour later, Clyde had called the Mississippi Highway Patrol and ‘possum patrol to help find his deputies. No one ever answered the radio calls and as they left, J.D. warned Clyde of the swamp monster that lived on the south side of the woods. The Sheriff just shook his head and continued to call to his men. But, deep back in his mind, he decided right then and there, he’d not leave camping to look for anyone. The officers were found one-by-one, but the last one was not discovered until the next morning. He was hungry, tired and kept saying something about a swamp monster he’d seen.