My First Black Powder Squirrel
Stopping in the corn field while at the edge of the woods, I began to load. Last weekend, I purchased on a handshake an older Pedersolli double barrel 12 gauge percussion shotgun, and this was the first time I had loaded it. I used the recommended loads from an old Dixie Gunworks catalog. Eighty grains of FFg black powder, a thick card, a thin Wonder Lube felt wad, one and a quarter ounces of number five chilled shot, and an overshot card went into both barrels with slight resistance from the improved cylinder chokes. The other resistance I had was from my brother-in-law who razed me that he had already loaded eighteen rounds into his semi-automatic .22 and smoked a cigarette before I had finished.
It was October in the Preble County, Ohio woods. Some freshly fallen leaves crunched slightly as we walked into the woods. We went though brush and stopped at a creek bed and listened. We consulted and separated. I took to my favorite spot while he explored another part of the woods. In another early season hunt, I had shot a squirrel with my Remington 870 Express here. Hunting was slow during this first black powder hunt. Hours passed without seeing anything. I heard squirrels in the distance but none nearby. The woods entertained me with its color and beauty. I had decided at that point that if I did not see anything all afternoon, I could still label this as a success.
Time quickly passed in the way that time spent hunting, fishing, and playing with the kids before they grow can only do. When my children grow older and responsible, I hope we will do this for our lives together. Memories of childhood small game hunts came flooding into my mind. I thought again of being in nature's cathedral, sensing with all senses the area around me. I remembered the blend of smell of autumn leaves lingered with gun oil. I remembered the feel of a cold gun awkwardly balanced in my lap, my back against a rough tree and the feel of the cold as it went around my clothing. I remembered reaching out across the hills with my ears to pick up a warning of approaching game.
These things remembered, I perceive them again. I surprise myself with the amount of time I spend remembering other hunts while I create more memories. That way, each hunt seems more enjoyable than the last.
A sound of a rustling leaf. I very slowly turn my head. Twenty yards away, a squirrel dashes on a small fallen tree. I feel my heartbeat in my ears slightly. I never get this excited about a squirrel. It is the first game seen all afternoon. It is possibly my first black powder squirrel. He patters across the fallen tree, his claws hitting the bark, the only sound deceiving him. I hunt a ghost, a spirit. I slowly swivel the shotgun on my lap and pick it up to a low port position. I pull back the right hammer. It clicks. The small click seems like aloud clap in the woods and to my sharpened senses. In my mind, I loudly swear. The world shrinks. The woodland spirit, the fallen tree, the forest floor between us is the only thing that exists. The spirit stops and listens. I debate cocking the left hammer and decide not to risk another noise. I am very still. I debate raising the gun. In that second (seconds?) of indecision, the spirit disappears behind a tree. I shoulder the gun. Time that I can not quantify passes. Could the spirit fly away invisibly? A stupid thought, yet one that is strangely appropriate. He barks. From my youthful memories, I hear the voice of my grandfather say "Wait, they will come to you." I obediently wait for an eternity.
The squirrel leaps back to the fallen tree. I place the bead on the squirrel's head and pull the front trigger. I have shot more than a thousand balls from my flintlock long rifle in shooting ranges but I found myself surprised at what happens next. Time slows. The shotgun boomed. Sparks followed by copious smoke erupts from the barrel. I cannot see though the smoke. I find a hole in the smoke and notice that the squirrel was not effected. I curse myself for not being able to pattern the shotgun at the range before this hunt. Left hammer back. Remember, rear trigger. The squirrel jumps to the side of another tree. The spirit is confused by the presence of black powder smoke in this century. Bead on. Pull trigger. He drops.
The woods are still. Smoke from the two shots, my ancestor's smoke, hugs the ground and slowly dissipates. I get up and walk to the tree a short distance from where he lays. I mechanically reload. I poke him with the barrel. He lays still. In reverence to the natives of Southwestern Ohio, I sprinkle pipe tobacco in him to release the spirit back to nature. I may meet it again. I can not apologize but promise him that his death will be dignified by being placed to good use.
He is added to my memories, my first black powder squirrel.
Jeff Kerns is a "perpetual pilgrim" and a fairly new black powder shooter. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he says that "I don't shoot well, but I shoot often."