Home Hunting Into The Timbers

Into The Timbers

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by Marc Gray
Gray’s Mountain Feists

I have been squirrel hunting just about my entire life. It has been a part of my family history since before my relatives walked through the Cumberland gap all the way out to Missouri. We are a people that made our way west and back east again. One of the original Gray farms is in Russell County, Virginia. My dad has some great tales of squirrel hunting with his folks and my kids have tales of hunting with me. It is a legacy that I am fighting daily to keep alive, competing against the world of video games, online realities, and the next cool social media craze. We get this small window to make an everlasting impact on these kids, to hook them on hunting before anything else can get them. We make the most of it. Our kids have been hunting in six different states and, if I have my way, we will keep taking them to new areas.

There is pride in knowing that we are teaching the next generation how to stay self-sufficient. My kids know how to spot a squirrel, get it to turn in the tree, train a dog, where to take the shot, how to dress it out, and a couple of good ways to cook ‘em. They get just as excited as the dogs when they see the rifle, vests, and dog box loaded into the truck. They know we are headed for the woods and are going to have an adventure. No squirrel hunt is the same. You could take the same trail hundreds of times and each time there would be something new to discover, but we rarely venture the same path. It could be today we hunt the trail in reverse. The dogs could take us straight up the side of the mountain or down toward the water. The squirrels could be timbering out today which makes for a fun chase scene with the dogs in the lead and the kids right behind.

The pride when they know the dog has treed and they spotted the squirrel first, the sound of the gun pop, and the squirrel falling out of the tree. Then, who gets to put it in their vest and carry it? That’s a fun part and sense of accomplishment. If you have ever been hunting with kids and don’t get a squirrel, they will let you know their level of disappointment. They are harder on you and the dogs than you could have ever been.

You know Dr. Suess wasn’t wrong when he talked about all the places you’ll go. Squirrel hunting has opened a door to my kids that I hope never shuts. They have learned to navigate the outdoors, they are learning to identify trees, plants, and animal behavior. We are spending time together as a family, quality outdoor time. The kids need to be in the timber. It’s a way for them to use nature to calm and center themselves, although they don’t know that’s what it is doing. They just know it’s an adventure and they can’t wait to see what happens.

When my dad talks about his squirrel hunting stories, it’s a way for me to connect with people that are no longer alive. He talks about his brothers and his dad, and my grandfather. He talks about the people in Browning, Missouri, a small town where everyone knew everyone else. He beams with pride to talk about who could skin them faster, who cooked which parts over others, who could hit two squirrels with one shot, and so many other funny stories. It takes us back to a time when the town was more than what it is today. It takes us back to a family that we can only see in photographs now. When I take the kids to hunt the places dad hunted when he was a kid, I can see the stories come to life, and of course I tell them to my kids so that they can connect to their Papa.

Squirrel hunting with Feist dogs isn’t just about the hunt that day or weekend. It isn’t just about how many you lined up on the tailgate. It’s about so much more than the game you bring home, or even what you almost brought home. It is a way to keep history alive. It is a way for my kids to bring their great-grandfather along with them on a hunt. It’s a way to see the landscape for what it use to be, and how to navigate what it is today. The dogs’ names have changed over the years, but the training and goals are still the same. From Dad’s stories of Ol’ Ring to my stories of Daisy and Ranger, to my kids stories of Rose and Trapper, the adventure and thrill is still alive and still working.

The kids can tell you that Ol’ Ring was the best darn dog that Papa ever had. He could tree a squirrel, find a rabbit, and shoot the gun (just kidding, he couldn’t do that). He would bring you the animal with such a soft mouth, he left no teeth marks or anything. They can tell you that Daisy treed her first squirrel when she was six months old when the temperature was 16 below in South Dakota. They will tell you how in just a three year span Rose survived being caught in a foot trap, bit by a copperhead, run over by a truck, and being lost in the wilderness for three days on her own, in coyote country.

For us its not just about being in the woods or just training the dogs, its about giving the kids the stories and connecting them back to their roots. We have had to move often in the past twenty years because of the job market. We have had to follow the best career moves, thankfully concluding that the best move was for us to go back to our roots and farm again, but I know I wouldn’t have felt this connection or draw if my dad hadn’t had the experiences he had and if he had never put that .22 in my hand and took me to the timber.

My best advice is to get them in the timber, the dogs and the family. Get them in the timber as often as you can. Even the worst days out will make for a story one day. Allow the history to come alive to pave the way for the future. I am thankful my grandfather took my dad, and I fully expect to one day be taking my grand children to the timber with the line of dogs I have been raising them since 2009 to share stories about their great-great grandfather, their father or mother, their great aunts and uncles, and how it all happened one day on this squirrel hunting trip in the timber.

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