By Clay Champlin © 2008
The only thing I hate more than guns are squirrels. That's why when my cousin, Puddin' Tooth, asked me to a squirrel hunt I was torn. But it was a day merely to murder varmint, it was a contest. Seven hunters threw ten bucks into a hat to be split between whoever comes back with the biggest and most squirrels. Another five dollars and you could get in a side pot for who could get the most coyotes. While my hatred for squirrels and firearms balanced themselves out the lure of gambling was too much for me to resist. I drove to the middle of Wisconsin intent on killing for sport and money, but doubting if I could actually pull the trigger.
Hunting in Wisconsin in late autumn is not to be taken lightly. Many steps need to be taken by the rookie hunter.
"Do I need any special clothes? Like hunting trousers," I asked my cousin the night before heading into the hinterlands.
"Did you just say trousers?" I could tell he wasn't pleased.
"I don't know all of the terminology yet."
"If you say trousers I may shoot you, and I have all of the gear you need," he gummed at me.
Puddin' Tooth got his moniker because of his diet and, thus, the texture of his teeth. At a young age he referred to dentists as "fuckin' commies," and oral maintenance an activity for "bone smokin' fags." He also has a penchant for all things pudding. The sugar had slowly eaten away the enamel on his teeth, and today his mouth is nothing but mushy nubs. His diet consists of soup, applesauce, and 14 to 25 Snak-Pak pudding cups every day. He loaded up with six vanilla cups for our hunt.
I brought long underwear, boots, jeans and a sweatshirt. I was provided with a canvas hunting jacket with a warm woolen liner, camouflage gloves which had just a thin layer of insulation over the index finger for easy trigger pulling, a hat with pull down ear flaps, and a gun. The .22 caliber rifle was Puddin' Tooth's grandfather's and, after a few beers on the eve of the hunt, I fired a few rounds off to get used to the feel. The gun made the sound of a ladyfinger exploding, and we could hear the lead ricochet off trees in the distance.
I quickly found that the hardest thing to do was target acquisition. The telescopic sight mounted on the gun was tricky. My head had to be a precise distance away from the eyepiece or I wouldn't be able to see anything. When I would finally see through the scope I had jostled my position enough so my orientation was so far off I had to lift my head to see the target. Then I would start the awkward process all over again.
Where I live in Chicago there's a squirrel every nine feet. I can see three of the little bastards outside my window dancing on the power lines right now. Not a care in the world. Should you walk by a tree in my neighborhood there will be a minimum of 47 squirrels hanging out, barking at passers by. If toting a 55-year old, low caliber rifle were legal in the city, I could bag a hundred a day. I thought if there were so many squirrels in the dirty city, the woods of Wisconsin must have so many I may step on a few.
Puddin' Tooth and I had not seen a squirrel in the first hour and a half we'd been trudging through the woods. We would trudge, sit, and look. Trudge, sit, and look. Over and over and over. We didn't talk much. That could scare away the prey, and we were still reassembling out brain cells from last night's inebriation. Finally, I saw one. This little fucker was sprinting like he had some place to go. Like he was missing the kick off to the Jets-Patriots game. When I thought about it like that, I envied him. At this point, I wished I were sitting in a warm tree watching football, being fed acorns by my squirrel wife. Alas, I was merely a hunter trying to kill him before he made it home. Without a word I pointed at the little grey dot bounding across the forest floor. Puddin' Tooth sprung to his feet, and we were off tracking the beast.
The first time I had a squirrel, or anything for that matter, in my crosshairs he was covered by brush. I was planning to go through my entire life without shooting something, but as its little furry head popped up and down I anxiously awaited a clear shot. Just as the moment of truth arrived, I paused. Was I ready to gun down another creature for amusement? The people in these parts will use the dead critters' meat for stews and jerky, the bones for stock, and the pelts for coats and blankets. It's not like I'm killing in vain, but I'm killing nonetheless. During my deliberation I heard a pop. The squirrel stood erect, twitched twice and fell off the back of the log. I looked 50 feet to my left and there was Puddin' Tooth lowering his rifle, with a big mush-mouthed grin.
"Where do we put it?" I asked looming over the kill. Puddin' Tooth picked up the grey squirrel by its tail, handed it to me and turned around. I had noticed earlier that the vest he was wearing over his camouflage outfit was stained with blood all over the back. "Put it in here," he said as he opened a flap on the vest revealing a large pouch. "But get take my damn Snak-Paks out first." The bullet entered the squirrel's neck, blowing out the back portion of its head. Surprisingly, it wasn't very bloody. Very gross, yes, but there wasn't that much blood. As I shoved the critter into the back of the vest, I was amazed that a garment like this exists. I would like to meet the guy who has the patent on the hunting vest with a varmint kill pouch. I bet the gunny sack industry has seen a large drop in sales since this baby hit the market. I mean, who wants to lug around a sack full of dead rodents when you can wear them?
We trudged, sat and looked for another four hours spotting only one more squirrel. I don't know if I was sick of wading around in the mucky, cold forest, or maybe I was pissed because I was hung over and was never offered a Snak-Pak, but I shot at it twice without thinking. The orange squirrel, that was considerably larger than our first victim, just kept running up the tree until I heard another pop. It made a sickening thud when it hit the ground. Puddin' Tooth had blown the back of its head off with the single bullet. He examined his handiwork and tried to console me by saying, "Looks like you nicked her in the leg." If there were animal police we both would have been arrested on the spot. A courtroom full of woodland creatures would find us guilty, but of two separate crimes. The judge, possibly an elk, would sentence poor Puddin' to life. I would only get 5-10 with time off for good behavior because I didn't kill a squirrel, but I wanted to.
As kids, any time my brother and I encountered a wooded area we would dive into the forest to play 'guns.' Guns was a simple game. It was just like playing "Cops & Robbers" or "Cowboys & Indians" with out the pretense choosing sides. We just cut to the chase and started shooting at each other. We used cap guns, sticks that looked like guns, or just extended our index finger and thumb from our fist to make our weapon. I don't remember the rules or if there was a winner, but I do remember having a lot of fun. As Pudddin' Tooth and I trudged, sat and looked, I realized this was just like going into the woods as a kid. Only I was playing guns with real guns.
At the weigh in Puddin' stood in front of the five other hunters and pulled the two squirrels out of his dead squirrel carrying vest. He thought he was beaten: Only a pair of kills, and they weren't that big. Surely the others had more luck than we did. The group stood in silence for a few seconds. Someone finally spoke up, "Jesus, I didn't even see that many squirrels!" P
uddin' Tooth was the big winner taking both pots. He gave me his last Snak-Pak.
I don't know if I'm officially a hunter now. I can say that I have been hunting, but I don't think I'd readily want people to know the game I was after was a squirrel. Plans have already been made for next year's event, and I expect my hatred for squirrels and guns to be at the same level. Only next time, it will be easier to pull the trigger.
Clay Champlin is a freelance writer from Chicago. His blog is The Clay Show.