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A squirrel chirped out warning somewhere in the forest. Another answered, closer, stuccato above our camp. The Old Man made a hiss to quiet us, needlessly though, for we all strained into the branches, trying to see the squirrel. Then it ran out onto a low, open branch, stood on its hind legs and chattered again. The Old Man said, "get the shotgun" so I did. He loaded one barrel and handed it back to me. "He's close. Aim for his head. Put the bead on his head." He relaxed then, but I didn't, and he said, laugh- to the others: "It'll knock him on his ass."

"No it won't," I thought, hoisting the heavy weapon, "and I'll get him too." It was hard to steady the big twelve gauge but I yanked the trigger as the squirrel began another series of chirps. It blew off of the branch and landed a dozen paces behind the tree. As I moved after it the Old Man's voice blocked me. "Unload it." I hurriedly broke open the breech slipped out the warm, smoking cartridge, closed the breech again and handed him the gun.

He walked over to the squirrel. "You gut-shot him," the Old Man said, then roared in laughter, "Hell you won't even have to clean him."

The abdomen and ribcage were blown, clean away. Only the spine and some fur and meat on the back joined the squirrel. I picked it up and went down to the river to skin it and wash it out. I kept the tail as a trophy even though it was a gut shot. I noticed the little black pads on the squirrel's paws resembled tiny hands, like my own, then cut them off ,with the skin, and threw the works into the current. I picked up a rock to throw after it, paused, watching as the mass was swept away, then dropped the rock and returned with the meat to camp.





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