These kids weren’t even born when I joined the Crutchfield family’s annual squirrel hunt in 2005.
The children are Karter Felty, 13, of Poyen and Carson Kelly, 11, of Prattsville. They are the nephews and cousins of Wayne Crutchfield and Paul Crutchfield of Poyen, two original members of an event that has been going on since the 1980s. Brian Couch of Prattsville is also a longtime member of the group and an extraordinary storyteller around a campfire.
Felty and Kelly joined the group in 2017, when we hunted near the Fairview Recreation Area with Federal Judge Joe Volpe and his son John Volpe of Little Rock. We hunted in the Hurricane Creek wilderness area and as usual didn’t see many squirrels. That had become a custom, but we didn’t mind when only adults hunted. The boys need more action, so we had to redouble our hunting efforts.
My sons hunted with us for several years, as did Wayne’s son, Austin Crutchfield, and several of Crutchfield’s nephews that age. The distractions of late adolescence and early adulthood led them to new activities. My daughter Amy and Paul Crutchfield’s daughter Sydney hunted with us for a few years, but eventually they too outgrew us. Now Felty and Kelly have injected a new jolt of youth into the group.
It’s a running joke that I always tell the group that I’ll be arriving at camp on a Friday around 7 pm I usually arrive around 10 or 11 pm I was scheduled to arrive around 8 pm. More lost than I’ve ever been It was only two miles down the road to Richland Creek Recreation Area, but I haven’t been there in several years and couldn’t find the unmarked trail in the dark. I did a big circle on dirt rounds all over Newton County until I got to Mt. Judea, about 20 miles down the road. I had no idea how I got there or how to get where I wanted to go, so I camped at Carver Access on the Buffalo National River.
By daylight I easily found my way to Richland Creek and reached Crutchfield’s campsite in time to devour what was left of my breakfast.
The campground was full. That surprised me as remote as it is. There was a family camping in a beautifully restored 1966 Airstream. Another guy camped in a teardrop caravan that put mine to shame. It had integral solar panels, air conditioning, and a kayak rack. Others were in tents. The atmosphere was quietly festive amid a shower of leaves that were beginning to show signs of color change.
The boys wanted to fish in Richland Creek, which flows just behind the camp. I had all my creek fishing gear in the truck, so I gave them a bag of baits and proper jigheads, and they were gone for the rest of the afternoon.
For years, Paul Crutchfield used an old single-burner Bernz-O-Matic propane stove to brew coffee. He went crazy on Ebay and bought a real sporting goods store with vintage Bernz-O-Matic camping gear.
Bernz-O-Matic, known today for their torches, made some really cool camping gear, including a two-burner stove that uses a separate Bernz-O-Matic canister for each burner. Bernz-O-Matic flashlights are the best I have seen. You’d think one flashlight is as good as another, but my best Coleman can’t compare to Crutchfield’s Bernz-O-Matic.
Couch and I sincerely admire the Crutchfield team, much to their satisfaction.
The boys returned from their fishing trip just in time to change into their squirrel hunting clothes for the afternoon squirrel hunt. Since muzzle-loading deer season was open, we all wore orange vests and caps. We were afraid it would be a liability, but we saw a lot of squirrels for the next couple of hours.
Couch and I went unarmed, talking as we kept an eye on the eager boys advancing.
We hadn’t gone very far when Felty saw two squirrels running through the trees.
“Cut them down and keep them on your trees,” I said. Felty and Kelly went around a tree, but the squirrels disappeared. From a distance, I saw a squirrel slowly crawling towards the top, stopping just below a V between two branches.
I called out to Felty and pointed to the V.
“I don’t see it,” Felty said.
“It’s stuck to the trunk, but it’s there. Shoot the V and you’ll hit it.”
Felt shot. The squirrel flinched, but climbed onto a branch where Felty hit it with a third shot. The thunderous reports puzzled the second squirrel, who was in an adjacent tree. As he ran up a branch, Felty swung at him and dropped him with a single shot.
“That’s what shooting school traps does for you!” Couch yelled, hitting Felty in the back.
“Instinct and reflex,” I said. “That was a pretty good shot, man!”
The kids caught several more squirrels, but we couldn’t see them through the thick foliage.
Wayne Crutchfield taught them how to skin and clean squirrels after dinner, a thin chili burger made with venison I brought.
The next morning was windy and we considered not going due to poor hunting conditions.
“The kids don’t care, and the squirrels don’t care either,” I said. “They do what they do, no matter what. They’re just going to be a little harder to watch.”
The squirrels were active and quite careless, actually. The boys got to shoot a lot, but nothing fell. Nobody was disappointed. It was everything a squirrel hunt should be.