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Published: October 3, 2004


VILLE PLATTE, La., Oct. 2 - Before 7 a.m. Saturday, Jason Cary, 10, walked into an oak and palmetto forest with his father. Within 10 minutes, a fox squirrel began to bark and skitter from branch to branch.

"Dad, look, it's right there," Jason said, raising his 20-gauge shotgun and shooting an orange-hued fox squirrel with a tail a foot long.

Squirrel season opened at dawn Saturday, and within minutes the report of shotguns boomed through this part of Evangeline Parish. Elsewhere, squirrels might be viewed as rats with good public relations. Here squirrel season's opening celebrates and preserves a distinct local custom at a time when many of the estimated half-million Cajuns have been assimilated into the broader culture.

Ville Platte High School shut down at noon on Friday. Sacred Heart High School did not open at all. Friday night schoolboy football - a consuming passion in this Cajun prairie town of 9,000 - was pushed back to Thursday night this week.

Friday, instead, was a day for preparing, for loading pickup trucks with guns, pots, stoves, generators and all-terrain vehicles, and for heading into the woods.

While fathers and sons hunt this weekend, wives and daughters shop in Baton Rouge, 70 miles to the east, or in Lafayette, 45 miles to the south. But some women cannot resist the woods, including Alycia McDaniel, the homecoming queen at Pine Prairie High. "Excitement rushes through your body when you see a squirrel and you say, 'I've got to shoot it,' " she said. "I like the trophy of it. It's not a deer, but I like to go with my boyfriend. If I kill more than the boys, they clown on them."

Squirrel hunting is a lesser-known tradition than the piquant Cajun food and fiddle and accordion music. But in the Ville Platte area it remains a vital rural ritual, like the local radio show spoken in Cajun French, the running of Mardi Gras on horseback, and the tapping of Easter eggs, end to end until they crack, in a game called pâque-pâque.

It is with apparent justification that Field and Stream magazine last month christened Ville Platte as Squirrel Town U.S.A. Some residents would rather take off from work this weekend than at Christmas.

"If you are a nonhunting burglar, at noon Friday you could get rich in Evangeline Parish," Ricky Vidrine, a hunting guide from Pine Prairie, said earlier in the week.

Evangeline was the heroine of Longfellow's epic poem about the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in the 1750's. Their descendants who settled in south Louisiana became known as Cajuns, who once hunted for subsistence more than for sport.

Today, although squirrel meat is prized for its sweet taste in a brown sauce or in a gumbo, and brains are considered a delicacy by some, this opening weekend is "about the outing, not the killing," said Stephen Mayeux, senior vice president of Citizens Bank in Ville Platte.

It is a treasured bonding experience between fathers, sons and grandsons, some as young as 5. They sleep in tents, campers and wooden lodges called camps. Many prefer the camaraderie to the squirrels. They gather to hunt, watch or listen to the Louisiana State University football game, tell stories, cook, drink beer, play music and deal hands of poker and the Cajun game of bourré.

"That weekend is the one sure time you knew you were going camping with your dad," said Mr. Mayeux, who grew up in a family of 12. "There's no doubt in my mind, when my son has his son, he's going to bring him squirrel hunting. I can't imagine not having this as part of my life and my children's lives."

Jody Bonnette said it felt "like the seventh game of the World Series" to have his 10-year-old son, Brody, experience his first squirrel hunt. Each shot two on Saturday morning in Avoyelles Parish north of here. Although nobody in his group bagged the daily limit of eight, Mr. Bonnette said: "We got enough to eat tonight. We're O.K. We'll cook, drink a few beers and tell some lies."

Despite the bonhomie of hunting, he said, it stings when outsiders sometimes snicker at the closing of school for the opening of the season.

"These boys learn more about life and the outdoors than they get in two months of school," Mr. Bonnette, manager of Cary's Sporting Goods in Ville Platte, said.
The New York Times
 

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"These boys learn more about life and the outdoors than they get in two months of school."
I say take it nationwide. All these kids around here seem to learn is how to cook meth, wear baggy clothes and green or purple hair. This sounds lots healthier.
 

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Schools might as well close here at the begining of squirrel season and deer rifle seasons because NO ONE is ever there, not even the cheerleaders lol.

I've still got six more days before I can go squirrel hunting :(
 

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If I need a Shelter
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Ah got a Pic to go with this



big rockpile
 

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I enjoyed reading your post. It was very well written. I'm all for annual squirrel reduction. Would you care to share a recipe?
 

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Yeah, I think the article kinda missed the whole picture. My brother doesn't have any sons and he takes his daughter hunting regularly. This past year there were more women at the deer camp than men. :D

Ok, granted it did talk about the homecoming queen but, I think that it is totally pervasive and that thing about the women going shopping didn't cut it from my worldview.
 
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Sounds like this could become a good vacation trip and join the action.
 

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gobug said:
I enjoyed reading your post. It was very well written. I'm all for annual squirrel reduction. Would you care to share a recipe?

Having cooked a lot of "hunted" animals in my past, I would think you
cold probably use any rabbit recipe you have. Especially in a spaghetti
sauce.

I am new to this board, mtman's sis, and he told me about it. He knows
how much I love this type of living and hope to be living out my dream
one day. Of course, that type of cooking I did was a "liftetime" ago
with my ex, who was an avid hunter. I do have a question to ask....I know in my heart I would never be able to butcher any animal I had and was feeding...am as close to a vegetarian as you can get...I am ashamed to say I do backslide every now and again...these days, I am throwing things to the squirrels just to see how close I can get them to me. THe question I have is, can you actually be a homesteader and live off the land with a few animals or chicks..free range of course, just for your own eggs? Any vegetarians who do it successfully?

I am really enjoying reading all the posts here, and I have to say, I am learning a lot.....
OH! before I forget, someone had asked about green tomatoes and what to do with them. I read you can put them in a brown paper bag
and they will ripen....

thanks for listening,
Wrangler Jane
 

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MacCurmudgeon
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One of the three things about Kentucky that I miss up here in Northern Minnesota is squirrel hunting. I miss the mountains and the hardwood trees, but I get lonely for squirrel hunting.

I started hunting squirrels with my Daddy before I can remember and I wouldn't trade all of the deer seasons in the world for hunting Grey or Fox squirrels.

There is nothing better than a day in the squirrel woods carrying an old .32 calibre muzzleloader and a horn of blackpowder, unless it would be an evening by the fire sipping a wee dram of single malt after a good supper of homemade bisquits, fried squirrel, and squrriel gravy.

There are squirrels up here too: Greys in the towns, and little Red squirrels in the country. These little fellows don't even try to run or hide. They just sit on a limb a few feet away and bark. I can't call that hunting, and it would be no sport in trying to harvest them. :(
 
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