BARTELSO — We arrived in “Paradise” — Gene Morgan’s description of Winkeler’s Bend, my family’s property on the Kaskaskia River in Clinton County, almost 90 minutes later than anticipated.
A number of unforeseen circumstances — such as forgetting to set the alarm clock — accounted for the delay.
Despite the logistical issues, it was only about 7:30 a.m. when the oil and chip road yielded to gravel on the final leg of the journey. And, judging from the squirrels bolting frantically in front of the car as we negotiated the narrow forest road, it wasn’t too late to hunt.
This squirrel hunt had been planned nearly three years ago, the first time Morgan eyed the towering hickories lining the steep banks of the Kaskaskia.
“I’d love to squirrel hunt there,” he repeated frequently over the past 36 months.
Finally out of excuses, we both circled Sept. 28 on our calendars.
It’s not that I’m opposed to hunting squirrels. I certainly have no qualms about eating squirrels. My hesitation came from the remote possibility that I might actually shoot a squirrel and have to clean it. I’m getting squeamish in my old age.
Morgan, in the meantime, was anxious to get a couple squirrels in the bag.
That helps to explain the difference in armament for the morning hunt. As I pulled a .22 rifle from my gun case, Morgan slid a 12-gauge shell into his gun.
With guns loaded and expectations set at wildly different places on the dial, we took to the woods. Morgan headed south along the edge of the river, I headed north, headed to a sandbar that has hosted numerous family fishing outings.
I wasn’t more than 100 yards from the car when Morgan’s first shot echoed through the woods. Hearing the shotgun blast caused an easy smile to cross my face. This was going according to plan — Morgan was getting in some squirrel hunting and I was enjoying a shaded walk on a cool fall morning.
Yet, not everything went according to plan. Walking along the path, my foot rolled over on something. Looking down, I realized the path was littered with hickory nut hulls. There were hickories on either side of the path.
It seemed like a good place to rest, to pretend to squirrel hunt.
Then, I heard it, the unmistakable, angry chattering of a squirrel. And, he was close.
Scouring the treetops produced no suspects. Yet, the chattering grew louder, more insistent. It was like being heckled by a squirrel.
Turning toward the river, I found it, a chunky fox squirrel perched in the “V” of a tree right on the river bank. There was an uneasy moment when our eyes met, but I took aim and fired once. The squirrel was apparently uninjured and no bark was thrown for the tree. It’s safe to assume I shot high.
The squirrel bolted up the side of the tree. From 25 feet below I watched it leap from tree to tree until he disappeared into the canopy.
While still staring up, another shotgun blast rang through the air.
The hunt turned out just as planned.