There are a small handful of experiences and people that I can honestly say molded me into the person that I am today. I talk about Pappaw so much it is only too obvious that this man had a profound impact on me. He was a soldier of God, first and foremost, and led his life as closely to his religious principles as possible. Everything else in his life centered around this crucial part of his life. He loved his family fiercely and took great pride in his kids, grandkids and great grandkids. Pappaw also came from a family that lived hard. They farmed, raised and butchered their animals and hunted to supplement that diet. Growing up in Southern Ohio, small game was abundant and by the time I came around, he was a squirrel hunting master in my eyes.
I’ve mentioned squirrel hunting with Pap several times, but I’ve never delved into the Corbet Jenkins squirrel hunting method and what it was like to hunt with him. I was the first grandson Pap got and I had him virtually all to myself for 5 years. I became his shadow and squirrel hunting apprentice. I spent the next, well, 20+ years trying to be better than him. Even at 80, he was better than me without question. I wholeheartedly believe there is one reason he was such a good squirrel hunter. It has little to do with physical attributes. Pap was the master of patience.
Slow and methodical. That is what squirrel hunting with pappaw was like. It is going to be hard to put into words, but let me give you an example. I mentioned our preferred hunting grounds, the river bottoms, and it was just a small strip of woods surrounded by corn and the river. When we parked our truck we would get out and shut the doors (EASY) and be standing on a tractor path on the perimeter of the woods. With his 20ga Browning A5 nestled in the crook of his elbow, he’d look into the Buckeye and Hickory trees and whisper “There’s squirrels in there.” Then we would proceed to stand on the tractor path until I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d nudge him and he’d say “Ok, let's get in there”. We would proceed to take 2 tentative steps forward. We were still in the freaking tractor path! But that was hunting with Pap. Slow, slow, slow. Looking back there was definitely a reason for that.
He was slow and deliberate because he wanted to be as quiet as possible. Big fox squirrels are smart and can be hard to hunt. If they see you, they will climb to the top of those big, old Buckeye trees and just lay down on a branch. So, Pap was careful how he walked and always looked where he was stepping. My young self was not so careful. I would step on a branch and it was like his whole body was being scrunched by invisible forces. His head would drop, shoulders would raise up to hide his neck and his face twisted like he was sucking a lemon. Inevitably I would get the “Oh, oh, oh. SHHHHH. Quiet now”. I couldn’t even sniffle my nose. I learned to always just wipe it on my Jersey glove (which was standard issue along with a hat and long sleeves no matter what time of the year it was).
After one incident in particular, I found this “quiet” concept to be hypocritical. One morning the only Pawpaw tree in the area had dropped its harvest and Pap was quick to capitalize. In our usual fashion, standing on the tractor path, he filled his hands and pockets with Pawpaws. Gun in his elbow and whispering “There’s squirrels in here” he began to break apart and Hoover out the contents of the fruit. After he had sucked out the contents as loudly as possible the only thing left was to spit the seed onto the ground. I can’t tell you how many Pawpaws he ate or how long it took. After what seemed like 38 years, he said “Ok, let’s go” and took a step. Yeah, we were standing in the pile of discarded Pawpaw husks and seeds.
His slow methodical style is still hard for me. I find myself moving way too much and think “Pap would be beside himself”. I realize that being slow and taking those tiny steps allows me to see things I would normally miss. One morning he spotted a squirrel and pointed to a tree. I couldn’t see anything and tried to creep in closer hoping the change of view would reveal the squirrel’s location. I searched and searched, finally turning to Pap and shrugging my shoulders. With an almost disappointed sigh, he raised that Browning and BAM! The squirrel fell at my feet about 10 yards in front of me. I packed the squirrel to him and he just grinned. He told me he saw the tail. I was looking for the entire squirrel, not just a body part. I always wonder how many game animals I have walked past just because I was going too fast and just not being observant.
At the time, hunting that slow felt like agony. I was young and bursting with energy. I thought I could just chase down the squirrel if it spooked. Pappaw was trying to teach me a lesson though. Not just about hunting but about life. Slow down and really notice things. Doing something faster doesn’t necessarily mean you are better. When you slow down, life looks different. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about our time in the woods. I know he is in a better place, but I would give nearly anything to squirrel hunt with him again. I have many stories that I’m going to share with everyone. Also, I take some joy in knowing that one day soon I’ll be able to have my boys behind me wondering “Why in the heck are we standing on a tractor path instead of in the woods?”