Photograph by Dan Saelinger
In our December-January “Trophy” issue, you’ll find a series of short essays titled, “My Trophy,” from the F&S writers and editors about the stories behind their favorite personal—and in some cases, obscure—trophies. There’s not a single head or rack in the collection. Instead you’ll find stories about fish scales, elk teeth, an old-school walkie-talkie, and more. You can see every photo and story in this gallery.
Now we’d like to hear your stories and see your trophies. (Again, we’re more interested in the smaller, more personal trophies you have than the fish and antlers hanging on your wall.) Email a photo and short story (100 words or less) of your trophy to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll include our favorites in a separate gallery of reader trophy stories. In the meantime, I’ll be the guinea pig and share my trophy story below.
A Squirrel Tale
If you pull a certain essay collection from the shelf in my living room, an uncharacteristically bulky bookmark all but forces you to open to a story about squirrel hunting. This doesn’t happen by accident. I find a new bookmark for every book I read, and once I finish the last page it stays inside that book for good. For this hardback, I never second-guessed what the bookmark would be: a preserved squirrel tail.
The gray squirrel that once flicked that tail was the first animal I ever killed. My colleague Mike Toth invited me to hunt with him on a WMA near his New Jersey home, and 10 minutes in I spied a squirrel at the base of a tree and fired. We shot one more that day, and Toth generously sent me home with all of the meat—as well as the tail of the first critter.
It was a wildly fun day, but once it ended I found myself searching for ways to prolong the experience. Cooking and savoring my first wild-game meal (squirrel potpie) was one way to do that. Deboning and preserving the tail was another. My wife found it a little gross that I used an animal part as a bookmark, but it seemed perfectly natural to me. And now, whenever I open that book to a story about squirrel hunting in Kentucky, the tail takes me back to my own story about squirrel hunting in New Jersey.