By Ben Gruber
This Chirstmas marked the third year of the “new” Gruber family tradition. We meet up at the Gruber homestead in southwest Wisconsin for family time. After the usual feast and exchanging of gifts — and maybe a nap — everyone gathers down at the shop to dig out the rim-fire rifles and find appropriate clothing. Then our group of six to 10 people heads out to the oak-forested hills for a squirrel hunt. It started after Christmas breakfast one year when the weather was too nice to sit around inside.
This year clouds and rain dominated our hunt. My wife and I, my brother and his fiancee, my sister and her boyfriend, and my father headed out after a huge breakfast.
In 2015 we set the standard high with a harvest of 17 bushytails. This year, it was not to be. The weather had the squirrels holed up in their nests, cozy and comfortable. We did not see a single squirrel.
I do love chasing squirrels late in the year like this. Snow cover and a lack of leaves make it easy to spot them in the trees, and sneaking up on them is much easier.
We walked about half of our 120 acres and could not find one. Along with the weather, this year’s lack of an acorn crop may have had an effect as well. We gave it an hour and a half, and then other family commitments and a lack of action meant an early end. We were looking forward to cooking some squirrels with wild rice too.
The sun peaked out the following morning, and I grabbed my gun and snuck out to the woods and managed to get three and salvage some pride, not wanting to be bested by a tree-dwelling rodent.
Despite the lack of success on our annual tradition, it is still a fun deal and one we now look forward to. It is tough to beat a family tradition that gets everyone outside and enjoying the woods together. We already discussed a change in format for next year, perhaps introducing some friendly competition between couples.
I am certain that our little tradition falls outside the norm, but that is part of what makes it enjoyable. We get to enjoy the beauty of our family woods, usually with a nice snow cover. It is a great time to see what the deer and turkeys are up to, how they coped with the hunting seasons, and what might be left for next year.
Give some thought to starting an outdoor holiday family tradition. Maybe it is snowshoeing, ice fishing, or hunting. Make a point to get outdoors, share some fresh air, and make some memories.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.