Squirrel hunting season is upon us, and if you don’t know that you are luckier than I am.
I have five sons and right now, three of them are obsessed with hunting vermin.
Yesterday afternoon, as I was walking two of the boys back home from their piano lessons in the neighborhood, we stumbled upon another son, our 13-year-old, who came marching in our direction. He passed me while he was looking up and over my shoulder, honed in on a squirrel in the towering tree limbs above.
Within the next 10 minutes, I witnessed that boy and his two friends shoot three squirrels. They then took the varmints to the friends’ nearby home where they expertly skinned and filleted the pests and fried them in a black iron skillet.
We don’t live in the country, so to be sure none of our dear neighbors had a problem with this urban hunting, I did a quick poll. It was pretty low-key – I asked two ladies sitting out on their back porch if any of this bothered them. They were actually thrilled to be witnessing the thinning out of their overly-populated pecan trees.
Turns out one of the other neighbors had offered the boys five dollars per (dead) squirrel, thanks to a near-infestation in the trees at his house.
Later that afternoon, the dad of the other boys suggested our guys check with a few more neighbors to make sure no one was upset about their tactics. In the meantime, my husband, an attorney, was researching rules and regulations about all of this.
The overwhelming consensus was: use your brains and let your aim be true.
In this day and age, raising boys is tough. There are so many rules and regulations and fears and constraints that make being a boy so much more of a challenge than years ago. Progress is good, don’t get me wrong, but I am acutely aware that my husband and I, as we raise our five sons, are raising tomorrow’s men.
We want to give them every opportunity to grow in virtue and character and yes, strength and manliness. We want them to use the brains God gave them and treat others with respect, and to enjoy the wonderful world around them.
And so, our boys hunt. They fish. They wander the neighborhood (filled with people who know them and love them and will call me in a second if they see something questionable), and play outside for as many hours as the sun will allow. They play basketball in the driveway and soccer in the backyard and any other outdoor activities that may come their way. We take advantage of close friendships with our neighbors because a big part of boys being outside is having a neighborhood safe and suitable for children.
The other day when my son the Squirrel Hunter was talking to the neighbors about maintaining the squirrel population, he noticed that most of the older men in the neighborhood had good experiences in hunting and eating their prey. One man, Mr. Bill, raised six of his own boys and told my son he had no problem with him hunting on his property as long as he wasn’t just killing for sport. In fact, he would be happy to show the boys how to cook up a delicious stew and enjoy their success.
So here we are, roasting and ingesting squirrel, and my boys tell me it tastes like chicken. They dip it in batter or slather with barbecue sauce. Then they sit around the fire and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
And I watch from a safe distance. I’m as supportive as I can be, all the while admitting to myself (and a few close friends) that the world of boys continues to mystify and amaze me – and completely gross me out.
(Rachel Balducci is the author of How Do You Tuck in a Superhero and blogs at Testosterhome.net. She is married to Paul, and they have five lively boys and one sweet little girl.)