Friday, October 5, 2018

Eat More Squirrels?

      What you really want is a young fox squirrel, if you are going to hunt squirrels. And if you aren’t going to hunt squirrels during the best of October, what the heck is wrong with you? 

       You don’t want an old squirrel, especially an old boar fox squirrel that looks like he’ll weigh three or four pounds. Once I was walking along a wooded ridge-top in early fall when a young fox squirrel fell from a limb above me and landed with a thud not more than ten feet from my shotgun barrel.  He didn't waste any time leaving but he would have been a goner if I had wanted to pull the trigger.

      The little rascal had hidden in that treetop well enough to keep me from seeing him but his curiosity had caused him to lose his balance and his dignity at the same time.  I shouldered my shotgun as he fled but I let him escape.  I just couldn't do it because when you shoot a squirrel running away from you the meat on the back legs and loin are ruined. 

       Dad, when he was teaching me to hunt, said it is never good to shoot a rabbit or squirrel when it is running away from you.  You don’t want the best of the meat, which is the back, loin and hams, to be full of shot and blood.   Of course, Grandpa didn’t want a squirrel headshot either because he wanted the head intact when he fried it so he could crack the skull open and eat the brains. Yuck! I was a little bit better fed than he was! 

           I learned a great deal about the outdoors when I was a kid, chasing squirrels in the fall after school. If you grew up in the rural Midwest chances are good you too learned to hunt by searching the branches of an oak-hickory woodlot or creek bottom for squirrels. ‘Bushytails’ are efficient teachers.  And there was a time when every country lady knew how to cook them.  Squirrels were at one time the main diet in fall and winter of backwoods families, in a day when deer and wild turkey were scarce as silver dollars. 

    Right now, squirrels are as thick as flies up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, carousing the late-summer hickory trees and leaving the cuttings of gnawed up hickory nuts all over everything.  A good white oak acorn crop is coming on, and soon they too will be fattening squirrels up here in the woods.

       On a crisp, still October morning, you can actually hear the grating of teeth on hickory nuts and the sound of small bits of hickory hulls falling to the forest floor.  As the weather cools a bit more squirrels stay out later in the morning and come out earlier in the afternoon. Find a supply of hickory nuts this time of year and you'll usually find squirrels. 

   There are four methods of squirrel hunting that work all over the Midwest. In a future column I will write about the other three, but in those long ago days of my youth, the favored way of course was 'still-hunting'. I'd take my old Iver-Johnson 16-gauge single shot down to the Tweed bottoms just off the river and walk an old wagon trail where gray squirrels were abundant. 
       Grays are good eating too but so much smaller you need to have more of them for a meal.  There were always about three or four times as many grays in heavy woodlands. The fox squirrels liked fringes of woods around fields and fencerows.

       Occasionally I'd spot a squirrel by moving slowly along but when I'd reach a certain spot on a rocky hillside I'd find a big flat boulder and sit still enough to be taken for a part of the rock.  Within 30 minutes, gray squirrels would forget there was an intruder and begin moving about.  When one presented a good shot within 40 yards or so, my old shotgun would roar and the forest would be still again. 

    I learned if you stayed put, marking your downed quarry, that in 10 or 15 minutes things would return to normal again and squirrels would begin to scurry about. A still hunter could sometimes take three or four squirrels from one spot.  And there was always much more to see, as other wildlife passed along the paths, and birds flitted through the nearby branches. When things were slow I would lay back on that rock and go to sleep, dreaming of hunting moose and bear in Canada someday. 

       Still-hunting had many rewards.  And, for those few who still want to work their way through the woods in October, the many rewards are still there.  Part of those rewards is the search for fall mushrooms. Some of the best of the edible mushrooms are found right now.  But truthfully, if you have ever eaten a couple of young squirrels fixed in any one of a dozen different back country old-time recipes, you have missed something.

Outdoor note… I have an eight-page report on the deer disease called CWD, now said to be something which has infected humans.  The eight pages consists of scientific research reports from several wildlife biologists and doctors who have dealt with the disease, and anyone who eats deer or elk meat needs to read it all.  It might scare you a little, but the truth is necessary here. You need to have the facts.  To get a copy, send two stamps and your address to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613.

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