DIFATTA: How a squirrel hunting trip shaped my hunting, writing career

By PHIL DIFATTA,

If it's not raining cats and dogs (or more recently, horses and cows), spring is a great time for hunting and fishing in Mississippi.

Yep, you read what I said. Not only can you fish your favorite spots, but thanks to a spring squirrel season created not too long ago by the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, hunting sportsmen can also get in a few more shots before cleaning their guns and storing them for the summer.

The spring squirrel season in Mississippi is relatively short, however. It runs May 15 – June 1, and the daily bag limit is four, half that of the fall season. But having a spring season at all is a wonderful opportunity for us old codgers to hunt and, more importantly, to introduce kids to hunting. It's not too cold for the kids, and it's not too hot. It's just right - usually.

Thinking back, I vaguely remember my first squirrel hunt the middle of last century. Really! My older brother, Chuck, home on leave from the Air Force, took me hunting somewhere near Eastabuchie in the dead of winter. Man, it was colder'n a well-digger's (rear end) in Montana. I thought I was gonna freeze my wormy butt off, plus my hands were so cold I figured my fingers would break off at any time.

But when we spotted a bushy-tail within range, all thoughts of the cold and my numb fingers vanished. Never mind that the shotgun was way too powerful for me and kicked me on my (backside). I simply picked myself up, safely laid the gun down and sprinted to my squirrel, all while Chuck kept yelling, “No, no, no.”

When I picked up the squirrel, the little critter, not totally deceased, bit a chunk out of my right hand, and that's when I realized why Chuck was yelling. But suddenly the pain of the bite didn't matter anymore. What really matters is from that point on in my life I was hooked on hunting. And it's all because someone, my brother, rest his soul, took time from his time to take me hunting. 

That's how my hunting/writing career began. It's not always peaches and cream when you take a kid hunting for the first time. There are certain things you must remember, like matching the caliber or gauge of the weapon to the age and size of the kid. Chuck didn't have much choice, so I ended up on the seat of my pants because I was too small to handle a 12 gauge, but today folks can choose guns ranging from a .22 rifle, a .410 shotgun to a 12 gauge. I don't recommend a rifle for beginners because of its range and marksmanship requirements, so if the kid is small, a .410 or .20 gauge shotgun should be just right.

I have only had the pleasure of hunting with a good squirrel dog once in my life, but from that experience, I'd say that's the way to go. It beats sitting on your duff, waiting for the squirrels to come to you. Besides, if you're stationed up against a stately oak tree deep in the woods this time of year as you wait for the squirrels to come out to play, chances are that a few ticks and mosquitoes may find you before the squirrels do!

But not everyone has access to good squirrel dogs, so I suggest you carry an ample supply of tick spray and a ThermaCELL for mosquitoes. In fact, both are essential.

PineBelt News outdoor writer Phil DiFatta may be reached for comment, story ideas or photos at pdifatta@hotmail.com. You may also text photos, with contact info, to 601-596-4475.