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Into the Outdoors: Squirrels

Last week’s column featured autumn colors. As a follow-up to that column, I am featuring a photo by East Brady photographer Jodie Beabout, who was kind enough to let me do it.

As promised last week, we are going to look at squirrels. These little critters are furry and cute. However, they have the misfortune of being fun to hunt and delicious to eat.  Now that the leaves are falling, the squirrel-hunting situation should really start looking up.  

Squirrel hunting is about as easy as it gets.  Even with my balance issues after Covid, I can do it. Just go into the woods, pick what looks like a good spot, and sit down. If you are in a good patch of woods, the bushy tails should show up. I have found morning and evening to be the best times. If, after a reasonable amount of time, you get no action, move somewhere else. I have read a lot about calling squirrels. I spent a fair amount of money on squirrel calls and experienced zero success.

Still hunting is yet another approach to obtaining a tasty squirrel meal. This method is the most effective when the leaves are wet. You simply walk along, stopping occasionally and looking for squirrels. When done quietly, this method can be extremely effective.

Perhaps we should take a look at the various squirrels found here in Pennsylvania.  The best known, of course, is the gray squirrel and, in my experience, the most commonly encountered. Black squirrels are just a color variation of the gray squirrel, but far less common. In my many years of squirrel hunting in Pennsylvania, I have only seen two black squirrels, one of which is mounted on my wall. Once, though, in a city park in Ludington, Michigan, they were running everywhere. The fox squirrel, named for its red tint, is usually much larger than the gray and black. The best areas to hunt them are in woods bordering cornfields. They love corn. Due to their size, it doesn’t take as many to make a hearty meal. Finally, we have the red squirrel. These are bigger than a chipmunk, but much smaller than even a gray squirrel. They are good to eat, but it’s a lot of work for a very small amount of meat.

I will have to admit that I find cleaning squirrels both tedious and somewhat disgusting. I couldn’t tell you how many different methods I have tried over the years.  Nowadays, I just cut a slit in the back of the skin, insert a finger or two, and pull in opposite directions. Sometimes, it takes a pretty hard pull, especially with fox squirrels.  Then comes the fun part. You have to remove the guts. For such a small animal, their insides smell really bad. Next, rinse them out really well. I usually halve or quarter mine.  Soaking them in a mild solution of vinegar, salt and water get the blood out, along with any gamy taste. After that, you can cook them right away, freeze them, or can them.

With the leaves going away, the opportunities for squirrel hunting are greatly enhanced. The weather is also still tolerable. Get out there and have a good time.

Next week, among other things, we will look at some squirrel recipes.


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