For your reading pleasure, a passage that wasn’t good enough for my book. (I have been cutting mercilessly, especially the parts that are about me more than they’re about the river). – Wes
I had deluded myself into thinking that I could scrape by the way earlier people had along the Sabine River, with a garden and a gun.
Though I had never been much of a hunter, I had inherited a good rifle from my father, and I borrowed a twelve-gauge shotgun from a family friend. I shot a few ducks in a flooded creek bottom, then found a tall hardwood tree that seemed like a good place for squirrels. Long about dusk, one of them revealed himself. I fired but missed widely. The rodent scurried to the back side of the tree. I could see his head peeking out, so I fired twice more. Two more misses. With all the stealth I could muster, I crept to the other side and got him good. In all, it took four shots to kill one squirrel. It was nighttime now in the woods. I grabbed the dead rodent by the tail and — since I’d forgotten my flashlight — felt my way back to the road. I was trying to clean him on the front bumper of my jeep, in the headlights’ glow, when a game warden pulled alongside me. I recognized him. He was a young guy who had stopped me a week or two earlier when I had been hog hunting with my friend Buddy.
“Was that you firing all them shots?” the warden now asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, feeling sheepish. “I kept missing him.”
“Huh,” is all he said.
I asked if I was cleaning the squirrel correctly. Its carcass had become a gunky mess of hair and blood on my bumper.
“That’s about like how they do it,” he said. “Can I see your hunting license?”
He unfolded the piece of paper and looked it over. Not a single tag had been used. Not for white-tailed deer. Not for turkey.
“Why, you ain’t shot nothin’,” he said.
The young warden watched as I finished cleaning the squirrel, then told me to be safe and headed back to his truck. By then, about half of the squirrel’s fur had stuck to the blood on my hands, drying in clumps, so I walked down to the creek to wash it off. I couldn’t see the water, but I knew from memory that I was getting close. I took one step too many and fell over a small ledge. The icy water was so deep my toes didn’t touch bottom. I flailed and grasped for anything on the bank to pull myself out. Water was filling up my rubber boots. I grabbed a tree root and jammed the toe of my boot into the mud, and slowly I climbed up from the water. As I rolled onto dry ground I saw the game warden drive past, with no idea what had just happened. I was thankful, because it spared me any further embarrassment.
The following day, I redeemed myself — sort of — when I felled two squirrels with one shot. I was able to accomplish this feat because one of the squirrels had mounted the other. Because they were mating. In a tree. In a pasture beside my backyard. A couple of weeks later, I shot three more squirrels in a flood bottom to console myself after an unsuccessful duck hunt. By now, I had enough squirrels for a stew.
One day when Buddy’s wife wasn’t home, I brought over the six carcasses, and we started cooking. As I snapped green beans and chopped potatoes and onions and other vegetables, Buddy fried a slab of bacon, dredged the squirrels in flour and browned them in the drippings. Before long, the pot was simmering, and a rich aroma wafted through the house. It smelled delicious. We let the squirrels stew for a couple of hours, then lifted the lid to take a look.
What we saw then made our stomachs churn. Dozens of half-inch hairs were swimming in the pot. We ladled some into bowls and found even more fur. The hairs clung to the meat, and they stuck to the vegetables. Buddy swallowed a few bites.
“It has a good flavor, but I’m just not that hungry,” he said.
As I pulled a particularly long strand of hair through my teeth, I realized I wasn’t very hungry either. I offered to divide up the leftovers with him, but Buddy insisted that I take home the entire pot. His family wouldn’t get around to eating it, he said, and I was a bachelor who could use a few home-cooked meals. Thanks.