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When I was about 12 years old my father gave me a shotgun. He decided to do so when he discovered that I had been borrowing a gun from an older boy and gone huntin’ on my own. Game was plentiful in those days and within a half hour after school was out I could be scaring up rabbits. I also had a trap line. I used snares and deadfalls, which I made myself and baited with apples.
(Reminisces of Kentuckian William Dorman)
Boyhood and hunting are so intricately intertwined that it is difficult to imagine one without the other. This is evident in all areas of Kentucky especially in Owen County where entertaining stories of hunting squirrel, rabbit, fox, deer, and turkey are shared time and time again.
In early America, hunting was not only vital for supplying food to the pioneers, but it was also necessary to prevent the killing of livestock by limiting the number of predators. Hunting small game helped keep those populations from starving or dying from disease.
A law passed in 1798 stated that each white male over 16 was to kill a certain number of crows and squirrels each year. Due to the number of wolves attacking and killing livestock a bounty was placed on their heads. The head of a young wolf under the age of six months brought $1. Over that age, the bounty was $1.50.
In a paper which she presented many years ago to the Owenton Woman’s Club, Owen County teacher Miss Maude Hill, described the wildlife of the county:
“In 1819, the woods of Owen abounded in bears, panthers, wolves, deer and wild turkey. Food, especially meat was plentiful.”
A 1969 News-Herald article, written by Miss Marcella Chandler of Frankfort, related the following account of her grandmother Mahala Dearinger Adams, who was born and raised in Monterey.
She told me that when she was a little girl the people of Monterey took their hogs out on the hills around the town to butcher them. They would bring the meat back into town and leave the remains. After dark they would hear the screaming and fighting of many animals who gathered to feast off these remains. She believed some of these animals were panthers and wildcats.
Adams also recalled the time she, her husband and their two small sons were traveling from Monterey to Owenton in a horse and buggy.
“Suddenly the horse gave a snort and reared. When I looked to the side of the road, an old tree had fallen and on this tree lay a large cat-like, yellowish-brown animal. The horse started running and ran all the remainder of the way into Owenton like demons were after it and even stood trembling after it was in the stable.”
This animal was most likely a cougar but these large fierce cats were often called “panthers” by early settlers.
For young boys who didn’t own a gun the deadfall trap or snare were popular ways of hunting.
Lela Maude Hawkins of Monterey recalls the times her brother Harry Clark Karsner, would set his deadfall trap in the evenings and rush out in the mornings before school to see if he had caught a rabbit. At times these traps might lure in a curious skunk or other small unsuspecting animal.
The deadfall is a heavy rock or log that is tilted on an angle and help up with sections of sticks, with one of them serving as a trigger. When the animal moves the trigger, which is baited, the rock or log falls on the game.
Hunting squirrel has been a popular sport for generations of Owen County families, and also for others who would travel great distances to hunt squirrel in this area.
Before he moved to the county many years ago, Darrel Baker would drive from Dayton, Ohio just to hunt these local bushy-tailed, chattering, tree-hugging characters sometimes referred to as “tree rats.”
The reminisces of one Kentucky gentleman may bring back memories to others of that first squirrel hunt.
As a kid, I can think of no better way to learn to hunt than focus on squirrel hunting. It teaches noise and movement discipline and elements of stalking. Plus shooting discipline. I say that because, with my dad, you’d better only use one shot to bring down a squirrel. He’d only allow me six shotgun shells (six was the limit then too) when hunting squirrel. So this means you had to be sure of your target and not blast everything up in the tree tops that moved. If I had five squirrels and no shells, boy, I’d be in big dutch!
Along with the thrill of the hunt was the thought of a mouthwatering meal which would feature squirrel, turkey, deer, or rabbit. As one youngster recalled:
Then with Dad coaching every step I got up and finally took aim on a Grey sitting on a limb cutting on a nut. Dad said”take aim and shoot when ready son” and I did BOOM! That squirrel fell and I had just bagged my first squirrel. We continued and I got one more and Dad four. We then headed home where we cleaned them and I ate what I thought was the best supper mom ever had fixed, Fried Squirrel, gravy and biscuits! The perfect ending to a perfect day except the massive bruise on my right shoulder, however that was nothing more than bragging rights to my buddies. That was the start of a lifelong passion for hunting small game.
Many Owen countians in the 1800s and early 1900s depended on the family father and sons to supplement the food supply with fresh game. Whatever wasn’t needed would be shipped to market and sold.
An 1886 article in “The Democrat” stated: “Gratz citizens shipped 300 rabbits to market aboard the steamship Blue Wing. A week later, 1,000 were shipped.”
Don’t miss our next historical society meeting, August 14, at the IOOF hall, 6:30 pm. Our special guest will be Ernie Stamper who will present a program on the beginnings of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church at Pleasant Home. Come and join us for fellowship and a bit of Owen County history.