As I considered the soggy dawn, I reminded myself that the rain was melting the ice. My morning had not begun well. I took an accidental detour getting to my treestand and when I finally arrived, I was confronted with an ice-covered ladder. Climbing this ladder should not have been added to my life experiences. I finally reached the penultimate rung, gazed at the top of the treestand platform, and let out a sigh of relief.
Do you know what happens to a metal and wood object when it is carelessly laid on a slanting, icy surface? I did not, until I watched in horror as my rifle tried to slide off the platform. I was a very relieved squirrel hunter when I was able to grab the quickly departing firearm. My next task required removing my camo-chair from the confines of its carry bag, while not sliding down the ladder, or letting the rifle cascade from the stand. This accomplished, I leveraged myself onto the platform, skated to my chair and slowly sank into its nylon embrace.
We have already covered what happens to a rifle when placed on an icy, slanting surface. It should come as no surprise that chairs held up by contact points covered in metal, containing a 160-pound squirrel hunter, result in essentially the same movement. Speaking of movements, I am grateful not to have had one. The chair stopped when it collided with the trunk of the tree, but not before one of its legs slipped off the edge of the platform. I managed to hop-slide the chair to a position so that two of the legs were wedged into cracks between the boards. I started breathing normally again. Then it began to rain.
Dawn found me soaked and with teeth chattering. Yet, as the light increased, I heard the small-feet-on-dry-leaves noise, so frustrating when you are pursuing deer and you look for the ‘deer’ making the noise only to find your stare intercepted by squirrel eyes, but so exciting when your goal is a meal of fried squirrel. I rotated slowly in my chair and held the cross hairs steady on the squirrel’s head. At the shot the squirrel glanced around and then bounded across the leaves to a tree 50 yards from my stand. O.K., so not quite steady enough.
Miraculously, it only took five minutes for Sciurus rustling to again commence. My initial shot did not even cause the squirrel to flinch. But, when I squeezed off another round, the squirrel jumped into a ravine. I was ready to swear, stomp and spit, but a treestand is a bad venue for a temper tantrum. Instead, I climbed to the ground and slowly made my way to where the animal had disappeared. I was just short of the shallow depression when 25 turkeys erupted into flight. For the second time in less than four hours, I nearly had a catastrophic bowel movement. As my heart rate lowered, a familiar sound made it into my addled brain. In the trees across the ravine was a highly-agitated, Eastern Gray squirrel. It was clinging to the side of a hardwood, twitching its tail and vocalizing the species-specific chatter/screech. The noise stopped, but the twitching intensified, as I slowly raised my rifle. At the report, the animal tumbled from the tree. With the morning’s string of misadventures finally severed, I pushed through the brush to retrieve my first trophy.
I slowly made my way deeper into the forest. The flickering of grey and white drew me to a huge pine containing six of my prey. I tiptoed to the last tree separating me from the squirrel playground. My first target was flat against the tree trunk with its head cocked in the characteristic pose that hints at deep thought. At the crack of the rifle, the animal detached from its purchase and seemed to float to the thick bed of needles surrounding the tree. The other squirrels were too intent on their playtime to notice either the noise of the .22 rifle or the loss of one of their group. The next five shots were in vain, but the sixth again produced an earth-bound body.
With the significant reduction of their playmates, one might think that the squirrels would have desisted from their sport. Instead, an individual descended from the pinnacle of the tree and held still long enough for me to claim yet another victim. With 50% of their comrades gone, the three remaining squirrels were finally behaving as if they noticed their diminishing ranks. However, before they were able to depart, a fourth squirrel lay beneath the pine.
The walk back to my truck was an occasion for thanksgiving. I had not broken my neck by climbing to the top of an icy treestand. I had avoided soiling my pants, twice. And, I would be able to prepare a fantastic meal of fried squirrel for my family. As I gazed at the pile of animals that many of my friends call ‘tree rats’, a smile slowly crept onto my face.