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Preacher and the Squirrel Hunt

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
For several years during my early teens, while growing up in Northeast Texas, my family and I attended church services every Sunday, morning and evening, in McLeod. We lived near the Rambo Community in the backwoods country of Southeast Cass County just a few miles from McLeod.

Since my Dad and I were avid hunters, we always kept a real good squirrel-hunting dog around the farm. Squirrel and dumplings, or fried squirrel were often mighty fine meals at our house during those lean years. A good dog could help supply many meals for the family, whether it was squirrel, raccoon or 'possum. Plus, sometimes with the right kind of dog, we might even bag a wild hog. But, that's a whole 'nother story.

The dog we had during the time of this story was Poochy, the little white Feisty dog that had been given to me by our family friends Bessy and Bud Stevenson several years before at Huffines. They gave me, a six-year-old kid at the time, the puppy just for spending the night with them. Poochy had become a fine little squirrel dog and he lived to be thirteen years old, giving my family and me many years of hunting enjoyment.

During the 1940's and '50's it was customary for rural church families to invite the preacher home with them for dinner after church service each Sunday afternoon. That was always the "decent" thing to do since there were no public eating establishments for miles and miles around. On this particular Sunday, it was my parents' time to play host. So, after church, the preacher drove along and followed us out to our country home.

We were all enjoying conversation with the preacher while lavishing the wonderful fried chicken dinner Mom had prepared. Soon the subject of squirrel hunting arose. Just outside the window was Poochy, lying there in the yard anxious to go hunting. Before long the preacher asked, "Is that a good squirrel dog out there?" Dad said, "Yep! That's a mighty fine little dog and we'll bag 8 or 10 every hunt." And that's all it took to pique the preacher's most sincere interest to go hunting.

After a while our guest said, "I would like to go hunting. I've never been. Will y'all show me how to squirrel hunt?" Oh boy! That was it! Dad always loved to give lessons to an unlearned, uninitiated, but otherwise highly educated professional man.

So, soon after dinner, Dad and I got our squirrel guns, squirrel tote bag and some shotgun shells for the hunt. The three of us headed out for the nearby woods. We had an extra gun for the preacher to carry, too. Poochy was all excited, jumping around and yelping, ready to go hunting. Most anytime you walked out of the house with a gun, he knew it meant the hunt was on and he really got hyperactive and psyched up.

After walking for awhile in the woods, we observed Poochy sniffing a squirrel "trail" along the ground. Dad would say, "Let's slow down here for a minute and give him time to search out that trail." Meaning the dog was searching the scent "trail" path a squirrel had left on the ground. After a lot of sniffing the ground and the air, Poochy could tell which tree the squirrel had last gone to and he could be high up in the branches.

As we waited and watched the dog, he soon "treed"; meaning Poochy had decided which tree the squirrel was in. So he sat down to bark up that tree. He would intently look up in his chosen tree, barking loudly while excitedly scratching at the trunk. All those actions indicated Poochy was certain the squirrel was in that tree.

Walking up near the selected tree, we all began to search the entire tree for the squirrel. You may have at one time or another, heard about a "lying" dog. Or maybe some old timer say something like, "You're just lying like a dog." Sometimes a dog would "lie" and tell you a squirrel was in a tree when he actually wasn't. Or, he might just be confused by the movement of the squirrel. Those little bushy-tailed rodents would sometimes "tap" a tree and move on. "Tapping" a tree means that the squirrel will run and hop on one tree then move on along, maybe tapping several other trees. That excessive movement often confuses a dog. But not my little Poochy! No! Never! I cannot recall a time in my hunting experience with Poochy that he lied. Not one time! He was always sure.

As Dad and I stood in one place near the chosen tree, the preacher slowly began to circle the tree, looking all around for the squirrel. As he moved to encircle the tree, the squirrel would move or slither around the tree to avoid him. That made the squirrel move in our direction and we could then see him. Taking a shot with his "Long Tom" squirrel gun, Dad would knock him out. Falling to the ground, we picked up our prey and put it into the hunting bag. Moving on along, we followed Poochy until he treed again.

The next five or six times the dog treed, preacher would circle the tree and either Dad or I would knock the squirrel out as it turned in our direction. The preacher had not killed a single squirrel. Before long he asked, "Why haven't I bagged a squirrel yet? What am I doing wrong?" Dad told him, "Just wait until the dog trees next time and I'll show you what's happening."

We walked through the woods for another 15 to 20 minutes and we soon heard Poochy tree again. As the three of us walked up near the tree, Dad said to the preacher, "Now you wait right here. Stand here and watch that tree real good while I walk around it." As Dad circled the tree, the squirrel turned in the direction of the preacher. He quickly saw it and raised his gun, knocking the squirrel out. With a great big East Texas smile on his face, preacher suddenly became one happy hunter.

Soon, our young man-of-the-cloth confessed, "Now I see what y'all been doing to me. I just killed my first squirrel, ever. I think I've got the hang of it now. Come on boys, let's go get some more."

For the remainder of the hunt, Dad and I managed to turned the squirrel in the preacher's direction and let him knock it out each time. He then had an enjoyable time squirrel hunting. An experience he would tell his family and friends about for a long time.

It was lots of fun back then, watching the dog work, barking and treeing squirrels. Then, shooting and knocking them out of the tree. Plus, lest we forget, the main benefit was getting food for the family.

Returning home with the bag limit for the day, our Sunday guest told my Dad he had really enjoyed the experience and would like to do it again sometime, real soon.
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" >
December 1, 2006 Column
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