The big hunt

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Did you hear about the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s new event? I had not heard of it either. Earlier this month, the AGFC launched the Big Squirrel Challenge to celebrate small game hunting in our state.

Our youngest son enjoys tromping around in the woods. When a friend approached me about this unique hunting event to teach her youngest son about gun safety and hunting, we decided to do it together.

The inaugural Big Squirrel Challenge started on Jan. 7 and went through Jan. 8. We decided to meet up out at our farm on that Friday after school. One of our biggest obstacles was finding .410 shells so the boys could carry a small shotgun for our excursion. As parents often do, we had to make some adjustments to our plan. My son ended up carrying a .22 rifle and her son opted for a 20-gauge shotgun. What most impressed me about both boys was their knowledge of firearm safety and their desire to protect us as we stomped through the woods.

They arrived at the farm before me, so we were separated into two groups to scour the woods for big fat squirrels. It was a chilly afternoon. The first wildlife they encountered were four whitetail deer. That is usually how it goes – when you are deer hunting you see squirrels and when you are squirrel hunting you see trophy deer.

As I traipsed through the woods with my son, we alternated between stopping to sit and listen for squirrels and walking along the trails looking for signs of wildlife. For a while, my son took out his new knife and whittled on a stick he found during our exploration. We did not have a lot of time after school before sunset was imminent. We ended up meeting up with our friends to talk about our big hunt. We did not see a single squirrel. We did see crooked trees and deer droppings. We enjoyed time with our kids and getting some much-needed fresh air. Our friend who lives in town sent us pictures of squirrels they had hunted in their backyard that were big and fat. They had taken them out with a pellet gun.

When I went to the feed store the following day, I asked a local hunter the best way to hunt for squirrels. He advised that it needed to be warmer and to stick close to creeks where they like to hang around. They were nestled up in their nests and unwilling to come out that day. The weather was not cooperative for our excursion this year, but I am sure it will not be our last.

Since then, my children have been hiking the woods regularly. Exploration outdoors through the eyes of children is always an adventure. I was in the house folding laundry one day when I heard two of my children bursting through the front door. They were breathless and seemed panicked. They regaled me with a tale of the youngest being chased through the wood by a big fat skunk. I was cracking up. I am so thankful he was able to outrun it.

The best laid plans do not always go the way we expect them to. Enjoying the experience of discovery is fun too. I will be saving a few more squirrel casserole recipes in anticipation of the next hunting challenge, neighbor.

Jody Harris is a freelance communications specialist, gardener, ranch wife and mother of four. She and her family raise Angus beef cattle and other critters on their northwest Arkansas ranch. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Jody, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’

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