You could set your watch… my dad going to the local general store the day before squirrel season started to get his yearly supply of ammunition. None of it, including dad, is available anymore.
“I’m going to Getaway,” he said that Friday afternoon, after school.
“Squirrel season starts tomorrow. I thought you might want to go with me to find some shells.
That’s really all the incentive my dad had to offer to get me in the car for a drive to little Getaway, Ohio, about five miles away, and a trip to Ervin Humphrey’s general store. Grape-ette soda was ten cents a bottle in 1962. A large bag of Snyder’s potato chips was twenty-five cents. But best of all, Ervin had the best inventory of .22-caliber rifle and shotgun ammunition this side of the county seat, Ironton. September meant hunting, and the slopes and creek bottoms of Lawrence County in those days were prime ground for squirrels, rabbits, and quail…and every ten-year-old longed for the day when they were old enough to carry a gun and participate. . But first, everyone up and down Symmes Creek went to Humphrey’s to stock up on shells.
Dad always had the same. He liked to hunt with his shotgun, so he bought a box of Winchester Super-Speed #6 high-power rabbits and squirrels…and a box of #5 for the annual trip to Madison County (London, Oh) for a Pheasant Hunt in November. The big roosters always took a little longer to take one down, he said, and Dad knew how to do it. He was an excellent shot.
Of course, no trip to Humphrey’s was complete without local gossip, and the men of the community would sit around bags of food and trade stories… that Dad would get what we came for so we could get home. The sooner the better: a restless night’s sleep and rising at dawn to reach the hickory forests that dotted the foothills above Symmes Creek.
When he finally decided to buy, Mr. Humphrey asked me what Dad was shooting this year.
“A box of 5 and a box of 6 – Super Speed”, I blurted out, unable to hide my anxiety.
He smiled as he reached into the shelf and took a box of each, sliding them across the counter to Dad.
“They’ve gone up a bit this year,” Mr. Humphrey frowned. “They cost up to $2.50 a box… 10 cents a shell.”
Dad didn’t bother to complain. He just slid a ten dollar bill across the counter.
“I’ll also need a hunting license,” he added, an additional $4.75 cents at the time.
Soon we were out the door, getting in the car and heading home.
“I thought I’d go to the big walnut tree on the floor tomorrow morning,” Dad said. “For some reason, you see both fox and gray squirrels there. I think it’s because the pond is so close, between the woods and the cornfields. The ‘foxes’ also like corn. As warm as it has been, I bet they get food and water before the day starts.
He always had it figured out. Dad was an excellent squirrel catcher, and he preferred a shotgun to the .22 rifle he had in his closet because he liked to load it… and he taught me, “If you miss, don’t worry about the buckshot that goes a mile and hurts someone.” “. Security First.
After a restless night I woke up to the smell of Mom frying bacon. And when we left home at 6 in the morning it was not yet dawn. Dad hunted in blue denim overalls and stuffed six red Super Speed cartridges into a deep pocket. The big hickory on the floor was a quarter mile walk away and within fifteen minutes of climbing the hill and getting drenched in the morning dew, we were just in time to grab a seat…wait!
He preferred to sit with the sun at his back because it made identification easier, and when we settled on the edge of a nearby sassafras grove, it didn’t take long for things to come to life.
We immediately heard the noise of a squirrel running up the side of that big shell-bark hickory. She wanted to alert him, but Dad already knew. “Shoosh,” he whispered, his eyes fixed on the top of the tree and the telltale rustle in the leaves. I saw it first, I think… a narrow limb that was bent over as a fox squirrel the size of a house cat scrambled to its tip to capture a breakfast treat. The range was probably 30 yards, perfect for the full choke barrel of his old Ithaca 12-gauge; and that gun shot well. He knew the routine: At that range, hold about six inches in front of the squirrel cutting so you don’t ruin the carcass meat. He waited…waited…and waited patiently for the squirrel to turn and offer him the proper opportunity.
In the rumble of old Ithaca I saw the great fox shudder and then cling to the branch. But Superspeed had done its job and a second later he was crashing through the branches and into the sedge and ragweed that grew under the tree. The cattle had trampled it, and where it fell I could clearly see the squirrel, it began to chase it. Dad extended his arm to me to stop me.
“Not yet,” he warned. “Expect.”
In a couple of minutes of silence I saw what I was waiting for. There was not one but three squirrels in that tree at the time he shot the first one. At one point one of them began to slide down the trunk towards a lower extremity. Dad intercepted him just before he disappeared from sight at the back of the tree. Still, he held me back.
“There are two more up there,” he smiled. “We’ll wait,” she said, handing me the two spent shells.
There is nothing more pleasing to a hunter’s senses than the scent of a spent shotgun shell: intoxicating. Nothing before, or since, has he smelled like this. And while he was wrapped in a sensory reverie, “boom”, the old 12 gauge barked again… and “boom”, for the second time.
Now the squirrels seemed to be raining from that hickory tree.
“You can go get them now,” he said, opening his gun and pulling out two more smoking Winchesters. Within 30 minutes of sitting down to watch, we had our limit of squirrels, two red and two gray, and on our way back to the house.
“That’s not a bad morning job,” Dad said. “There are plenty of shells left for the rest of the season, and probably enough for a Thanksgiving rabbit hunt. Rabbits don’t need that much killing. The #6s will work just fine,” he explained.
I thought about him again last week, the first day of squirrel season, and that annual ritual of going to Humphrey’s for a Grape-ette and the shells. The store has been closed for years, boarded up when I walked past it this summer.
And believe it or not, I still have one of those boxes, dated 1964… I’m pretty sure it was the last box of shotgun shells he personally bought.
For the unheard of price… $3.25!