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Into the Outdoors: Small Game Hunting

Well, another rifle deer season has come and gone, and the second round of small game hunting is in full swing. As I’ve stated before, this is one of my favorite hunting seasons of the year. Although I’ve heard and read that squirrels are often not active in the winter, in my overall experience that has not been the case. In fact, I’ve bagged them when the ground was covered with snow. Winter warm spells, however, can represent some of the best hunting to be found. For some reason, the squirrels get really active during such periods. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to forage for food. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the hunting is good. In the winter, my favorite squirrel recipe involves cooking the critters in a slow cooker until the meat separates easily from the bones. After discarding the bones, I then simmer the meat in brown gravy and serve it over rice or, even better, noodles. This really takes the chill away on a cold day. The same recipe works equally well on rabbits, too.

Still another one involves homemade vegetable soup. Just follow the above steps, but use the squirrel meat instead of beef. You won’t believe how good it tastes until you try it.

I still read a lot of complaints about the legalization of crossbows for archery hunting in Pennsylvania, even though it has been several years now. Since I’m not an archery hunter, I don’t really have a personal stake in the issue. When you come right down to it, though, I find it hard to come up with a reason for not legalizing crossbows. After all, they were on the scene long before compound bows. Having owned one in the past, I can attest to the fact that they are not the equivalent of a rifle. They’re not even close. Consequently, if they open the doors to more hunters, who are a dwindling population, why not legalize them? It just doesn’t seem like a “go to the wall” issue. Perhaps the legalization of crossbows will increase hunting license sales, and the Game Commission could quit whining and trying to sock it to the rest of us in the form of a license fee increase that they do not deserve.

The Christmas Season is fully upon us. There may not be a better time to introduce someone, young or old, to the joys offered by hunting and fishing. The late small game seasons are in, there’s still some good open water fishing left, and the forecast is for a good ice fishing season. I’ve been told that the walleyes are hitting pretty well on the Allegheny, and the fact that there are still boats out on it would seem to bear this out.

Despite its seeming starkness, this is also a good time of year to spot wildlife. The other day, I spotted a bald eagle flying over the Allegheny River. The magnificent bird was no doubt on a fishing foray, as the river is, of course, still open. Also, as food supplies dwindle in the woods and fields, more and more songbirds will be visiting wintertime feeders. Cardinals and bluejays are especially beautiful. Goldfinches, often mistaken for sparrows in their winter plumage, will also pay regular visits to feeders. Of course, at a winter bird feeder, you have to figure on an occasional visit from birds of prey. More than once, hawks have swooped down and grabbed an easy meal from our feeders. Cooper’s hawks seem to be the most common, although others will grab a bird or two as well. Some people find this to be disturbing, but in reality, it’s just nature at work.

Recently, my old friend Dave Lewis, who is an ardent student of nature, sent me info on the benefits of a critter we usually think of as a pest. In the near future, we will look at them.

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