Early in our relationship I had to learn that when Jason said we were going out at night, I needed to ask, "How much mosquito repellent do I need?" A good follow up to that would be, "What boots do I need to wear?" Not all of our dates included treeing raccoons or dragging a hog to the four-wheeler, but there has definitely been plenty of variety over the years.
To many people, Jason and I seem like complete opposites and in many ways we are, but those of you who are or have been married know it takes more than love and shared hobbies to stay together. In spite of our differences in personality and interests, we have found what truly binds us is our common perception of family and how we want to raise our children. Even when naming our children, it seemed natural to both of us that we would name them after family members. Being named for granddaddies and great-granddaddies, Rolley Len and Willie Cason have a long family heritage we hope they will embrace and hold dear as they get older.
My dad, R.J., spent most of his youth in Woodland. Living in a small town in Randolph County rather than in a city meant an abundance of opportunities for my dad, granddad and uncles to hunt and squirrels were a common target. Not only were there ample amounts of them, but hunting them was relatively easy—no matter your experience level or weapon choice.
When squirrel hunting, Dad likes nest-shaking or still-hunting while sitting in a pretty oak bottom. Nest shaking is exactly what it sounds like. A hunter shakes dangling vines leading toward squirrel nests as they walk from tree to tree. The shaking will cause the squirrels to run up the tree. Still-hunting is also self-explanatory. You sit and wait for a squirrel to show up in your range. A hunter can find a comfortable spot where they can appreciate the sounds and sights of the woods while waiting.
Both of these squirrel-hunting methods are ideal for teaching kids about gun safety, how to properly handle a weapon and how to care for it. Children learn, just like in many other sports, hunting is not just about the final score. Besides learning how to aim and shoot, children who hunt need to learn how to safely load the ammunition, clean the gun and transport it without endangering anyone. As you prepare your children for the world beyond high school, it is important to remember they need to develop critical thinking skills, engage in authentic learning experiences and understand the relationship between a person’s actions and the possible consequences. Preparation and execution of a hunt can teach your kids discipline, organization, patience and even foster a maturity in them.
Another reason squirrel hunting is great for kids is, although squirrels have regular feeding times, you can hunt them any time of day so you can squeeze it into your schedule more easily than you could other hunts. Also, kids do not have to sit still and silent while squirrel hunting. Nest shaking in particular is a great way to get your kids moving and build their physical endurance. Once they start spotting nests, they may not even realize they are getting exercise.
Hunting skills like this are traditionally passed down from father to son through modeling and plenty of practice. Jason’s dad, Len, taught him how to squirrel hunt using the nest-shaking technique when Jason was very young. Jason has already begun to continue the tradition with Rolley Len by taking her with him on hunts. The gun Jason first used to hunt squirrel was a 410 single-barrel shotgun passed down from his Great-Granddad Willie Kirk. It won’t be too long before it is in the hands of the fifth Willie Kirk in the family, our son Cason.
Now, Jason and Len both prefer to hunt using dogs that will tree the squirrels. Jason said lots of hunters who use dogs get as much enjoyment from watching the dogs use their skills to track and tree than if they were tracking the squirrels themselves. Dogs that can strike on a squirrel can be a valuable hunting instrument and an inexpensive means of entertainment for the whole family.
While my dad has always liked hunting, he said the best part of squirrel hunting was my grandma making squirrel dumplings. Younger generations who may only see the occasional playful squirrel gallivanting across their yard or bouncing along a telephone wire may have a hard time thinking of them as food, but squirrel is a pretty common game meat. Similar to traditional chicken and dumplings, a recipe for squirrel dumplings can be adjusted to suit your family’s personal tastes. Some people may like the broth to stay soupy and thin while others like it as thick as biscuit gravy. Either way, you can easily add or subtract ingredients to make it your own.
How you choose to prepare the actual dumplings can affect your presentation, their tastiness and your family’s reaction to the dish. Jason likes thinner dumplings and I prefer them fat and round so we compromise with a plumper but not ball-shaped version. We have also let Rolley Len use cookie cutters to make the dumplings into shapes. Letting your kids make the dumplings in shapes like stars or leaves can make fixing supper fun and help get your children hooked on cooking early. If you use cutters instead of making dough balls, just roll your dough out to the desired thickness.
Just as hunting skills are passed from generation to generation, so are cooking skills and recipes. My husband does at least 95 percent of the cooking at our house. This is great for me for all of the obvious reasons, but, also, my family and I have the benefit of having food prepared for us by someone who does it out of love for the food and love for his family. He was raised to be a provider, not just financially, but most importantly as a nurturing element of a family.
So many people are unemployed in Alabama who truly want to work. The economy has always had an effect on the family dynamic. Families come together in the best ways during the worst times. If you find yourself faced with financial challenges this fall, take it as an opportunity to change your point-of-view or at least try to find a change of scenery. Even hunters of larger game still take time for squirrel hunts for both the experience and the meat. Not only might you find a relaxing hobby to get you through tough circumstances, you might just shake down your next meal.
There are many public lands where you can go squirrel hunting starting in October. For information about seasons, limits and locations visit www.westalabamahuntingtrail.com/hunt-seasons-limits.html and www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/land/wildlife-areas.
2 dressed squirrels, quartered and soaked overnight in lightly-salted water
2 quarts water
2 cups flour
1 cup whole milk
2 T Crisco shortening
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil 2 quarts water in a large stew pot. Remove squirrels from the overnight soak and add to the boiling water. Let boil until tender, about an hour. Remove meat and bones from the pot and pick any remaining meat off the bones and set aside. Strain the broth with a fine mesh strainer and return the strained broth to the stew pot.
Mix flour, milk, shortening, salt and pepper until well blended. Add milk or flour to mixture if you need to adjust the dough consistency. Knead mixture into a ball then roll out onto a floured surface to desired thickness. Cut dumplings into your preferred shape and size. Bring the broth back to a boil. Add dumplings to broth and cook for 15 minutes. Add squirrel meat back to the pot and let simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, Makes about 8 servings.
Note: We add English peas just before serving and Rolley Len likes to also add whole kernel corn to hers.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.