Hunting Small Game Hunting

My Best Hunting Memories of 2021 Are All Close to Home

Despite an exciting year of big game hunting, my best memories of 2021 are from watching my son hunt squirrels at home
Tyler Freel Avatar
Jed archery squirrel 2

The author's son Jed with one of his archery squirrels. Tyler Freel

The year’s end is widely-considered a time for reflection and a stereotypical regurgitation of one’s personal highlights. As we close out 2021, many people just want it to be over, as if the flipping of a calendar page truly means a fresh start. I’m just hoping for a break from plowing and shoveling snow, and although I don’t really believe that a new year really means anything other than what we make of it, I do find it nice to take time to reflect on the somewhat arbitrary chunk of time that we call 2021 and dwell on some of the good memories made. Life gets busy, and it’s too rare that I simply sit and enjoy the memories I’ve made.

This past year held plenty of blessings and challenges, as well as some great hunting memories. I’ll admit to being spoiled with opportunity here in Alaska, and I was able to take several black bears (including one of my biggest boars with a bow), got my ass kicked on a sheep hunt, shot a bull moose at 25 yards and filled the freezer, killed a big bull caribou with my bow, and watched my wife shoot her first caribou. I was able to take my first bull elk and aoudad, and had an all-around bang-up year. I have a lot to reflect on, but even so, my favorite hunting memories from 2021 are from watching my five-year-old son hunting squirrels with his bow.

Faith Freel's first caribou
Lots of hunting memories were made in 2021, including the author's wife Faith taking her first caribou Tyler Freel

My oldest son, Jed, has been shooting bows alongside me since he was two. I started him out on a tiny wood longbow, and eventually he graduated to a bigger one. At three and four, he accompanied me to the archery range on winter days and popped balloons at five yards, and spent lots of time shooting dinosaur targets in our garage. Last winter he turned five, and not long after he asked, “Can I try shooting that bow?” He was referring to an old hand-me-down Bowtech Rascal compound that had been hanging on the wall for about a year, just waiting for him to grow into it.

Shooting it was awkward for him at first, but soon he figured out how to use the sights and make a repeatable shot.

“Keep a stiff hook on the string and keep pulling,” I would tell him. “Just let that pin float there.

Jed archery squirrel 1
The author's son Jed with his first archery squirrel Tyler Freel

Before long he was shooting shockingly well. Every so often, I would gradually sneak in a few turns to increase his draw weight. When spring arrived and the snow melted, a bumper crop of red squirrels began their annual tradition of raiding my bird feeders. Since there’s no closed season here in Interior Alaska, you must salvage either the hide, tail, or meat from squirrels. I figured they would make for some fun hunting for Jed, and he could keep them at bay. We set up some arrows with small-game points and I almost couldn’t believe it when he clipped one on his very first shot. That squirrel got away, but Jed and I were both hooked.

he Opportunities were abundant, and breakfast was always abandoned the instant when we heard the high-pitched chatter of one of those red bandits. If we were lucky, I’d see the squirrel first and tell him to calmly go get his bow and slowly sneak around the house for a shot. If I didn’t remind him, he would usually fumble around with pure excitement and banzai-charge through the back door, spooking the squirrels—which began to wise up quickly. I’ll never forget the first squirrel that his arrow solidly struck, dropping it instantly. He was in excited and in disbelief, and I was even more excited than him.

Our daily “mini-hunts” went on for most of the spring, and it was a consistent source of pure joy and entertainment for me. We had lessons in safe shooting, stalking, and looking for arrows. We did lots of looking for arrows. All together I think he killed a dozen squirrels, and I couldn’t think of a more fulfilling morning than watching him stay cool as a cucumber while executing a good shot—then come unglued with excitement when his arrow connected.

I’m blessed with the opportunity to create lots of good hunting memories here in Alaska. But in 2021, my favorites were watching my five-year-old hunt squirrels with his bow. I think it’s safe to assume that as he gets older, my opportunities will become his opportunities, and I think I’ll be okay just watching.