The Honey Tree

Bob Spencer

Chuck Phelps and I went squirrel hunting this morning, our first hunt together. It won't be our last.

We arrived at the farm at sunrise, to find a very unusual August morning for Kentucky. The overnight low was 56 degrees, the first in 47 years to fall into the 50s. A beautiful, clear, calm and crisp day, high of 75 degrees, more like fall than seemed possible. Dew was impressively heavy, and we were both soaked to the knees before we got into the woods. I had hunted the same place twice this week, and had seen only 2 squirrels. I took Chuck to a vantage point from which I showed him exactly where those squirrels had been, one in a white oak, the other in a walnut. Since he was my guest, I was most anxious for him to get some shooting.

We parted, and I began to hunt up through a strip of the woods lot which had produced in years past. The heavy dew caused a constant rain of water drops, confusing at first, until I realized they don't really sound like cuttings. Cuttings hit more than one leaf on the way down, dewdrops never do. Cuttings make a more solid sound, too, less of a 'splat'. I still-hunted for about 2 hours, expecting to hear Chuck shoot at any moment.

Slanting yellow early morning light spotlighted hundreds of delicate and intricate spider webs bejeweled with dew, and when the angle was right, made the trees sparkle. It was surreal having cold hands in August.

When I reached the end of the strip, having seen only a chipmunk and a Cooper's hawk, I crossed the corner of a field into a small patch of woods, maybe 4-5 acres. Immediately I saw a gray squirrel, in the tall tops of some slender ash trees. The trouble was, he saw me, too, and raced away, disappearing about 50 yards from me. I eased into a good spot for watching the place where he pulled his Houdini, and sat at the base of a tree. After not more than 5 minutes, I saw a fox squirrel on the ground in the fence row. That squirrel was traveling, and headed straight for me, hopping along the ground, much too close to shoot. He came straight on until he wasn't 3 feet from my boot, then casually made his way up a small tree, crossed into my tree and continued his trip, moving from one small tree to another. When he got about 25 yards away, and by dent of a lot of squirming, twisting and leaning, I got off a shot, and he tumbled down. Number one.

Since that squirrel was so determined to travel in that direction, I followed a hunch and did the same. I hadn't gone 50 yards when I became aware of an absolute rain of cuttings coming from close ahead. I eased along, and saw a very big white oak, which seemed to be what they were cutting on. Not so. Growing right next to and under the canopy of the oak was a fair sized hickory, and it looked like it was snowing from its top, so many cuttings were falling from different places. At almost the instant I understood what was happening, I saw a big fox squirrel sitting in plain sight in the hickory at about 20 yards. Up came the Kentucky fowler, and down came the squirrel. Number two.

Amazingly, there was no change in the cutting at the shot, and I saw that the tree was swarming with squirrels. Making all deliberate haste, I reloaded the 20 ga. flintlock with the same 70 gr. FFg and 90 gr. equivalent of #5 shot. Picking out another squirrel, this one about 30 yards up, I popped that one. The second squirrel from the tree fell not 15 feet from the first. Number three.

Moving with crisp, military precision (yeah, right!). I reloaded again. The squirrel I picked out this time was absolutely straight up, and I weaved like a willow while trying to get the front sight to settle on him. Just as the shot went, I lurched backward, had to take a step to keep from falling, and I missed him cleanly. The squirrel had a fresh nut in his mouth, and he never dropped it. As I hurriedly reloaded yet again, he moved into an adjacent tree, watching me intently. Reloaded, I tried to get on him again. And tried. And tried. The last I saw of him he was in the very top of a huge oak and moving fast, with that nut still clamped in his mouth.

My attention swung back to the hickory, where the cuttings were still raining down, and I picked another squirrel. Clatchpoofboom, and down tumbled another. This one landed half way between the other two, straight in line. Number four.

In about 15 minutes, I had killed three squirrels from the same tree and one on the way to it, the flintlock had fired every time, the squirrels all died before they hit the ground... I wouldn't know what more to ask for. I believe there were 7 squirrels in the tree when I found it, a real honey tree.

I'd been hoping Chuck would hear the skirmish and come to help, but no such luck. Although cuttings were still dropping steadily and there were at least two more squirrels up that hickory, maybe three, I decided not to shoot any more. I took some pictures, then sat down for a smoke and a think. I'd seen honey trees before, but not for several decades. It's a heady thing to experience, and I'm thankful I had one more chance at one.

I met Chuck at the car, and he had had no luck. I told him about the tree, then took him up and showed it to him from a distance. He hiked over to it, and in about 3 minutes I heard him shoot. Another fox squirrel falls to a flintlock smoothbore. He saw no more, so we called it a day, took some pictures and headed home.

To top off a day so nearly perfect up to that point, Chuck stopped at the house and we chattered like squirrels for a big part of the afternoon. I've never really had a BP hunting buddy, and I can't tell you what a pleasure it is for me. Thank you, Chuck, for a very special day. Your being there made it so.

After Chuck left, I set about cleaning the fowler while whipping up a luscious squirrel stew with my other hand. The smoothbore went to its place to await further forays against the dastardly squirrel, and the stew was polished off with a new gusto. Life is good.

I don't usually shoot fox squirrels, since I have a soft spot for them, left over from my youth. Also, I rarely will take more than 2 squirrels of any kind. Just don't eat that many, anymore. This was too good an opportunity to pass, though, a situation I'll undoubtedly never encounter again. To have it happen with a flintlock smoothbore fowler was almost too good to believe.

Copyright © B. E. Spencer 1997

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