A sunny September Saturday morning in the squirrel woods has bonding written all over it.
It's about hunting squirrels, but only in a way. Squirrels in September still are lazy, having laid on summer fat and not yet having been spurred by chilly blasts into a frenetic winterizing of their treetop quarters.
Too, their presence so early in the season often is disguised by the heavy green canopy of still unshed leaves. They are hard to see and shots are even harder to come by. An occasional warning bark or chattering back and forth bespeaks their presence, somewhere up there. But often that is all.
So in a deeper sense a September squirrel hunt is about how a father and a daughter, free at last from a hectic week in the office and at school, share some quiet moments and build some indelible memories. That is the way Tim Ayer and his 13-year-old daughter, Samantha, see it. Their vision is 20/20.
It is her first squirrel hunt and a perfect place for training a young hunter. It is safe, solitary, uncluttered.
They sit hunkered against a thick oak, or a hickory, in the "back 40" woodlot at home. The toes of their boots and the shins of their camouflage field pants still glisten with dew from their slow, whispered walk along the edge of the field from the house. But they are warmed by breakfast and by the climbing golden autumn sun, which dapples the woods with scattered rays.
Says Sam afterward: "My dad and I just went squirrel hunting. Even though we didn't get any squirrels we had a blast talking and being in the woods together. I have hunted deer before, but this was my first time hunting for squirrels so I have a lot to learn. My dad showed me what squirrels eat and told me how they build nests to survive through the winter.
"We took turns sitting and watching, then walking slowly and exploring. When we were done and walked back up to our house, I laughed when we saw a squirrel sitting in our driveway watching us. I can't wait to try this again."
Such a shared experience, thus, is a treasure without price. Tim knows it, too.
"The first thing I think about is that our lives are so fast-paced. Between school and all the activities she has, she is growing up so quickly. But in the squirrel woods I get to see her be a kid again.
"Everything is so new out there for her and it's such a different experience. I just see a new side of her. I think that it's really the best quality time we spend together. We're both quiet and sharing the experience in the moment together."
No adult hunter, man or woman, need envy Tim Ayer, by the way. If you do not have potential young hunters are home, feel free to borrow a nephew or a niece, a grandchild, or the kid next door. They will remember you for it.
Young hunters in most other states nowadays are given plenty of opportunities to experience the hunting tradition on special hunts dedicated just to them. All they need are the adult mentors willing to lend their time and experience.
In general all young hunters must be accompanied by a nonhunting adult and must abide by all regular hunting hours and bag limits. A valid 2005 Ohio youth hunting license and any appropriate permits are required. Following are the special youth hunts scheduled in Ohio this fall:
Waterfowl: Next Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8 and 9, for ages 15 and under, statewide. This is a week ahead of the openers for the general duck and goose seasons in the state's North Zone.
Controlled hunts are being offered at two state wildlife areas in the region, Pickerel Creek in Sandusky County and Killdeer Plains in Wyandot County. Call Ohio Wildlife District 2 in Findlay for details, 419-424-5000.
Small game: On Oct. 22 and 23 and Oct. 29 and 30 statewide, for ages 17 and under, for rabbit, pheasant, and all other legal game in season, such as quail in open quail counties.
Pheasant releases are set for prior to the hunt dates at the following state wildlife areas in the region: Resthaven in Erie County, and Oxbow in Defiance County.
White-tailed deer: On Nov. 19 and 20 statewide, public and private land, for youths ages 17 and under accompanied by a nonhunting adult. One deer of either sex can be bagged in accordance with existing bag and deer-zone limits.
Wild turkey: Statewide on April 22 and 23 for ages 17 and under. A special drawing hunt for youth only is planned for the Lake La Su An State Wildlife Area in Williams County. Call Wildlife District 2 for details.
Controlled hunts: Several controlled or draw-only hunts are offered for young hunters throughout the season for deer, turkey, and waterfowl. The annual application period is June 1 through July 31. Details are available from District 2 or by visiting the state Web site, www.ohiodnr.com.
Last and not least, prospective first-time hunters must first pass an approved hunter education course. An updated schedule of such courses is available at the state Web site by clicking on fish and wildlife, then hunter education under hunting resources.