Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County.
The thermometer on the back porch read 57 degrees as I wiped the condensation from its dial. The cool night air that accompanied last night’s cold front set the dew in thick and heavy.
I pulled on my rubber boots over knees and anticipated a wet walk to the squirrel woods.
I made my way around the familiar soybean field, like I have hundreds of times before over the past 25 years. The beans have thrived this summer with the heat and humidity and look to be a bumper crop as I wade waist deep through the edges. Thighs soaked, I finally get to the path that leads to a small grove of black walnuts and hopefully a squirrel or two.
The morning sun has peeked through the clouds and soon will burn off the fog that has settled in the ditches and swales.
I take up my hiding spot and wait.
I peer skyward towards the tree tops, watching and listening. The shake of a tree limb and the raining down of the water droplets from the leaves can only mean one thing. I catch a glimpse of a fox squirrel as he leaps limb to limb on his way to one of the walnut trees in search of his breakfast.
Like a trapeze artist with no net, he jumps from one branch to another, catching himself and then launching on to the next step. He finally comes to rest high up the walnut and searches out a fat nut and begins to gnaw and peel away at the green casing.
The recent rains and heavy dew make my approach silent as I maneuver closer for a shot. The plump rodent is sitting perfect for me, his back facing my direction, his bushy tail hanging down. A chip shot with my .22, but I’m packing my longbow.
He’s probably too high to shoot, but I decide to risk it. I pick my spot, draw my bow and feel the string come back to the corner of my nose right where it meets my cheek. I unconsciously exhale and without thought, the string slips free of my fingers and sends the blunt tipped arrow on its way.
The arrow smacks the limb right at the old squirrel’s feet and sends his racing through the trees! A narrow miss!
I try to keep track of where he’s ran too, but after a couple of acrobatic leaps, the squirrel vanishes into the canopy.
In all the commotion, I hadn’t noticed squirrel number two hopping along the ground towards the stand of walnuts. Now this is more like it: I pull another arrow from my quiver and nock it to the string. I side step behind a large red oak to hide from my target and it cuts the distance between us. I can hear the squirrel’s claws digging into tree bark as I sneak a look. The bushy tailed varmit is climbing up the trunk of one of the walnuts, still oblivious to me. He pauses for a moment and the arrow, as if on its own zips on its way.
A distinct thunk echoes back to me and only means one thing – the squirrel’s pause became his undoing. The blunt tipped arrow performed exactly as it should upon inspection of my prey.
I loop the squirrel onto my belt and hope and wait for another shot and another squirrel to add to the freezer.
At some point this winter, I’ll introduce them to mashed potatoes with biscuits and gravy and think back to a cool August morning with a bow in my hand. But for now, I’ll sit in the green woods, listens to the mosquitoes buzz and the birds sing and soak in as much as I can.