Profiles of Mountain People

Squirrel Hunting and Johnny Cash

“When me and Harold would get in from school, we couldn’t wait to get our school clothes changed and head into the woods to squirrel hunt, especially when the leaves started falling. The season hadn’t opened yet, but we didn’t pay any attention to that. On the way to the Cleanout, we’d pass by a bunch of big Beech trees with lots of holes in ’em. After we got several squirrels, we’d head for a favorite spot on top of the ridge where we often camped with a bunch of our friends. That’s where we could look down on Jimmy’s and Birdie’s Cafe. When we heard “Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”playing, we’d be real quiet so we wouldn’t miss one word.

If it had rained recently, we’d build a fire in a big, hollow tree stump, and that thang would be warm for several days and we could warm the next evening. It never got out tho, and after it cooled or went out, one day we found some wild dogs living there. I took one of the babies home with me and it died. The mother had run off, and after we left, came back and carried the little ones someplace else.”

— Ken Roper 2018

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Tipper

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 15, 2020 at 9:04 pm

    The Best Day of Squirrel Hunting in My Life

    One year, must have been in the middle 60s, Beanie’s uncle Lloyd was having trouble with squirrels in his cornfield. It was late July or early August and the ears were starting to fill out good. Lots of creatures like corn at that stage but local hunters kept deer, coons and possums at bay. Squirrels though were abundant in the surrounding hills and they all knew were the fresh corn was.
    Lloyd told Beanie he would furnish the shotguns and shells if he would alleviate some of the problem. Of course, he invited me to the event. Early that morning we walked up through Hightower Gap and down to Lloyd’s house unaware that a massacre that was about to happen and we were going implicated in it. We pocketed the shells and shouldered the shotguns and marched off to the cornfield.
    The road curved around the field on the western side. On the eastern side was a stand of pines. We sat down between the road and the field and waited. It wasn’t five minutes before we saw a cornstalk shaking. Beanie sneaked down a row of corn toward the quivering beacon. Boom! In a minute here comes Beanie with his gun in one hand. His other hand held the tail of a corn thief caught in the act.
    So, he sits back down, and we wait. In a few more minutes another stalk was shaking, and it was my turn. I slipped into another row and crept slowly toward the commotion out in the field. There he was in the top of a cornstalk and just as my buddy had done before, I preformed the execution. I carried back my victim and laid him beside the first one.
    Now it was Beanie’s turn again and he served himself well. Another criminal eliminated. Another bandit busted. On and on it goes. Each taking a turn and each returning with another member of the gang of robbers to add to the pile.
    We stayed there way up into the morning killing and piling up squirrels. We finally tired of the slaughter. We gave up, at least for that day. When we went to count our spoils, they totaled twenty-three if memory serves me. I think I got eleven and Beanie got twelve. I know he got the first and the last one and we took turns.
    There was no way we were going to carry twenty-three healthy cornfed squirrels, so I stayed by our horde while Beanie went back down to Lloyd’s house to get something to carry them in. Directly he comes back with a couple of towsacks. We divided the loot between us, him taking twelve and me eleven, and off back down to Lloyd’s we go to return the shotguns and give him the squirrels. “Thanks boys, you saved my corn crop. I’ll take two or three.” We gave him three. Beanie gave him two and I gave him one.
    Now, off we go back up toward Hightower Gap with two sacks of ten squirrels each. My grandmother’s house was the next one up the road, so we stopped in hoping to convince her to lighten our burden. “We brought you something!” “What you got?” “Squirrels, how many do you want?” “You get them nasty things out of my house! Don’t you know they are full of wolves this time of the year?”
    Our good intentions had not been well received. Onward we trudged stopping at every house on the way. Those who were home declined our graciousness. We were stuck with twenty squirrels! Or Beanie was. When we got to his house, we put down the squirrels and stood around talking for a while. It was getting on toward dark and I needed to be getting on toward home so off I went. I broke into a trot and was out of earshot in just a minute. If anybody yelled “Hey, you forgot your squirrels!” I never heard it.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Daniels
    February 15, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    I love the stories of heritage, past precious memories of youth, family times and traditions! I appreciate this wonderful platform given for people to come together and share!!

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    February 15, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    I grew up with 4 ugly brothers in wise country va. They would kill squirrels, get them ready for Mommy to fry, then they would chase me and rub the bloody end of the tail on ME. THAT’S WHY I Call THEM THE UGLY BROTHERS! We did eat the brains…I read years ago, squirrel brains have lots of DDT….this might explain my brothers personality.

  • Reply
    Dee
    February 15, 2020 at 11:55 am

    Well my daddy loved to bird hunt and train bird dogs but when he was younger and I was a little girl I would follow him through that magical forest, crossing sparkling clear little creeks, as he hunted squirrels. He was an ace shot and always hit his mark. He would clean the squirrels and Mother would fry them up and make milk gravy. It was a wonderful meal to me. I’m in my late 70’s now but I will never forget how delicious those meals were. I always thought of my parents as survivors. Their knowledge of the plants and trees in the forest and how to hunt and to grow food, plus make most things they needed made me feel like they could have survived out in the forest if they had to.
    I’ve read the history of the Overmountain Boys and even visited that area, plus stood in that little valley of Paul Mall where Sargent York lived. I saw the little church he and his wife attended and as I stood and looked all around across that area, I thought it was one of the most beautiful scenes of tranquility I had come across.

    • Reply
      tmc
      February 15, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      Dee, our Dad raised us up on bird hunting, one of my favorite meals growing up was fried quail, biscuits and gravy, never acquired a taste for squirrel, 2 of our best dogs came from a place in Tennessee called Cripple Creek Kennels, easiest dogs to train ever. We don’t hunt quail anymore the population dropped off so bad until wasn’t worth it anymore, it was a hard thing to give up when you were used to going all your life.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    February 15, 2020 at 11:12 am

    When my husband used to hunt, I fixed fried squirrel many a night. Our girls were little, and I’d pick the meat off the bones, and they’d eat it as fast as I could pick it. I never ate the brains, but I heard a much older friend say that the brains were good.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    February 15, 2020 at 9:54 am

    TMC, The brains were good. I boiled the head right along with the rest of the squirrel. cracked the skull with a spoon and enjoyed it. There are also some tasty bits of meat in the jowls. I would gut shoot them to make sure the head was uninjured. I never used a shotgun for any kind of hunting – a 22 for small game and a 30 30 for larger game. One deer fell to my 22 with a head shot through the eye while he was looking at me. I trapped rabbits as well as taking them with my 22. I hunted and checked traps on the way to and from school. I stood my rifle in the corner each morning, put my shells in the teacher’s desk, retrieved both in the afternoon and hunted and checked traps on the way home. The teacher was one of my customers – especially for rabbits.

    • Reply
      tmc
      February 15, 2020 at 2:31 pm

      Jackie, my Mamaw tried her best to convince me also, I could eat the meat if I had to, just never acquired a taste for it, now we were raised with bird dogs and quail I could hold my own, fried quail was my favorite.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    February 15, 2020 at 9:28 am

    I’d have to be mighty hungry to eat squirrel. I’m trying to block out the memory of Mom making squirrel gravy and me eating it when I was young. Listening to Johnny Cash sing is almost as revolting as eating squirrel. I used to like Johnny until I read Vivian’s I Walked The Line and The Man In Black.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    February 15, 2020 at 8:58 am

    I hunted squirrels. first with my father and then by myself when I got home from school. My father had a Winchester Model 12 and I had a Stevens side-by-side. Both were 16 gauge. But I soon preferred by Remington .22 rifle. We still-hunted so a patient hunter would usually get a good shot at a squirrel sitting still. I loved fried squirrel, especially the gravy. Sometimes my mother made squirrel & dumplings with the same recipe as chicken & dumplings.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    February 15, 2020 at 8:39 am

    Love all these great stories. All of my family hunted squirrels and my favorite food was squirrel pot-pie. That was a great Sunday supper.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 15, 2020 at 8:16 am

    My Grandma (yes, my Dad’s Mom) was well-known in the county as a squirrel hunter, though She never talked about it out side the family – that I ever knew anyway. She took it up during the Depression as a matter of necessity when she was a single Mom with four children at home. Squirrels were a reliable meat in the table through fall and winter. She used to keep a tally each year on the calendar she got from the drugstore or the funeral home. The numbers I remember were well over 100 per season which by that time was in the early 1960’s. She used an old cheap shotgun from Sears. It had a plastic stock and forearm. The ejector spring was broken and she had to pick the spent shells out. I never heard her remark on it one way or the other. I can see in my mind the old pocket knife she used in skinning. The blade was worn thin in the middle and fat in each end. Lord only knows the cumulative total of squirrels that represented but I’m sure it was well over 1000, more than likely something like 2000.

    To me, she represents what country folks do in hard tines; garden, fish, hunt, trade, make do and do without. I’m sure variations of that were the common thing throughout Appalachia then. And I don’t think it is dead yet, nor will be. We can still ‘do what we have to’.

    • Reply
      Wanda Devers
      February 15, 2020 at 10:53 am

      I remember Mama saying her mother set traps to catch rabbits during the depression times. I wish I had asked more details about the traps, etc. They were better off than many and her mother was a resourceful person. During part of that time my grandfather ran a tree nursery–I now wonder if it was a WPA project. I know Mama has mentioned the young men being there. She talked about helping package, address, and ship trees all over the world.

      The WPA built cabins at one of the manmade lakes in West TN area that are still viable & are rented almost full time. They are near the Pinson Mounds at Chickasaw Lake. Each cabin has an original stone fireplace and a kitchen & bath. If you ever pass through the area and need a place to stay they are inexpensive and it’s a beautiful area but do it early as they are usually booked in advance. They have pet friendly cabins too.

      Well, I went off on a tangent–maybe yall can tell I’d like to spend some of the spring visiting the area & staying in one of those cabins!!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 15, 2020 at 7:50 am

    Squirrel hunting loomed mighty large in my youth, but it’s also worth remembering that squirrel hunters played huge roles in American history. The “Overmountain Boys” who won the Revolutionary War battle of Kings Mountain had become sharpshooters through “barking” squirrels (a way of shooting into the bark of the tree so they could recover and remold the lead of their bullets). They turned the tide in the Revolution. Our country’s most decorated citizen soldier was Tennessee’s Alvin York, again a fellow who learned to shoot and acquired skills of stealth through hunting squirrels. Then there’s the consideration that there is no finer way to become a skilled woodsman–acquiring stealth, patience, persistence, marksmanship, and the ability to read sign–than through squirrel hunting. Add to that the fact that in the days before the demise of the American chestnut squirrels were wonderfully abundant and figured prominently in mountain diet, and you have to reckon that bushytails and their hunting are a bright part of our high country past.

  • Reply
    tmc
    February 15, 2020 at 6:38 am

    My Mamaw loved squirrel, and so my brother and I would keep her plenty to eat along, she even ate the brains, yuck. We had some really good woods around our house and that’s what I’d do as soon as I got off the bus, it gave me just enough time to run in get my gun head to the woods and set down and wait until it was too dark to see, might just get one or two but by the weekend I’d have enough to carry her to put in the freezer.

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