To Catch a Squirrel

“The faithful dog — why should I strive
To speak his merits, while they live
In every breast, and man’s best friend
Does often at his heels attend.”
— C.S. Van Winkle, 1821

Story Shannon Bardwell | Photographs Luisa Porter

With Charlie at his side, Bryant Wiygul said, “God has been really good to me. He’s blessed me with good dogs and good kids.”

It was a gray winter day when Bryant and his dog Charlie loaded into the Ranger for an afternoon of squirrel hunting. Bryant Sr. explained that Little Bryant, who long ago outgrew his nickname in wisdom and stature, would come along. “Takes two to squirrel hunt,” said Bryant.

Charlie, a feist, climbed into the front seat next to Bryant. Little Bryant followed on a four-wheeler. No one was happier than Charlie for a day of squirrel hunting. The first stop was the Wiygul’s cabin near Duck Blind slough in western Lowndes County. Charlie led the way through the muddy bottomland while Bryant described the day Charlie found his calling.

Bryant had tried out a few dogs, hoping for a good squirrel dog — Girlie, Dusty, Chaka, Tiny, Buddy, Cuz, Bud and Charlie.

Bud, a black-mouth mountain cur, was Bryant’s best hunting dog ever. It took Bud about two to three years to be a good squirrel dog. But by the time Bud was 5 years old, he was diagnosed with cancer and Bryant’s heart was broken.

Columbus dog breeder Robert Malone had been breeding squirrel dogs since the ’70s, and he suggested Bryant take Charlie, who was just a puppy. Bryant was conflicted, not ready to abandon Bud but not wanting to be left without a good squirrel dog. He took Charlie home.

That winter Brad Brown and Jennings Cox suggested they take young Charlie and go walk “Buckeye Place.” While the threesome was engaged in deep conversation, a squirrel fell from a tree and landed right at their feet. The squirrel took off and Charlie followed in hot pursuit. “That was Charlie’s training,” said Bryant. “It was a God thing. What are the chances that a squirrel falls from a tree and lands at your feet?”

The only commands Charlie had to be taught were heel, sit, stay, come and fetch.

“In a few years Charlie will be every bit as good as Bud,” said Bryant.

When asked what makes a good squirrel dog, Bryant responded, “It’s all in the bloodline. You breed good squirrel dogs, and it increases the chances that you get a good squirrel dog. These dogs have the desire to please. You give them plenty of love and praise, and they’ll kill themselves for you. I’d say that Charlie knows me better than anybody, and I know him. He’s a one-person dog, and that person is me. He won’t even let my grandson, Farrell, near me.”

Bryant shook his head and pointed to Charlie, “That dog’s jealous.”

Whether in the house or the truck, Charlie is at Bryant’s side. Bryant chuckled when he said, “Why, when my wife Patricia comes to bed, Charlie growls at her.”


MAMMIE LLOYD BELL’S DUTCH OVEN SQUIRREL

4 squirrels, cut into cooking pieces
2 cups flour, reserving 1 tablespoon
¾ cup olive oil
1 ½ onions, sliced
2 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
1 stick butter
Salt, pepper, garlic salt

• Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
• Season squirrel with salt, pepper and garlic salt.
• Dredge squirrel in flour.
• Brown squirrel in olive oil, remove from skillet and place in Dutch oven.
• Add onion to skillet and sauté, remove from skillet and place in Dutch oven, on top of squirrel.
• Stir 1 tablespoon flour into 2 cups of water.
• Add flour/water, chicken broth, olive oil from the skillet, butter, salt, pepper, garlic salt to Dutch oven. (Liquid should almost cover squirrel.)
• Cover Dutch oven, place in oven and cook for 2 ½ hours.
• Add more water during cooking for desired thickness of gravy.