And Why Some Yankees Don't Squirrel Hunt
[Editor's note: The author is a lifelong "Yankee." His comment is meant to be tongue-in-cheek.]
Why some Yankees don't squirrel hunt . . .
Let's look at the subtitle here, shall we, and jump right into this. There are lots of reasons why people, and yes, Yankees - those folk living north of the Mason-Dixon Line - perhaps in the majority, don't squirrel hunt. For those of us who dearly love chasing bushytails, it's a Catch-22 type of thing. Sure, I enjoy being able to go anywhere north of that line, walking into a state-owned woodlot in September, and having the place entirely to myself.
Selfish? Perhaps, but the solitude is a refreshing deviation from the combat fishing I find on Pacific Northwest rivers or the madhouse that is Iowa public duck hunting.
But no squirrel hunters is, moreso, an alarming development. Where are the dads? The uncles? The grandpas that I grew up with in the squirrel woods of my youth? Where are the .22 rimfires? The .410 single shots? The lightweight camouflage pants and olive drab t-shirts, all reeking of Deep Woods OFF? Where are they, and why don't they squirrel hunt anymore? I'll tell you why.
Myth - Squirrels Aren't Glamorous
Fact - Let's face it. The vast majority of today's hunters, those who even know little about squirrels and squirrel hunting, don't see squirrels as glamorous. They're not a 190-inch whitetail. Or a 40-pound king salmon. Or a 3-year-old gobbler. Or a limit of drake mallards. Squirrels, unfortunately, have lost their place at the award ceremony they once enjoyed. They're simply not cool anymore. Well, they're - the hunters, that is - wrong. Squirrels and squirrel hunting is cool. It's one of the very first hunting opportunities offered each season. It's peaceful. It's quiet. It's relaxing. And it's the perfect situation in which to introduce young or inexperienced hunters to the world of the outdoors.
Squirrel hunters get to wear camouflage clothes, shoot awesome little guns and commune with Mother Nature. What could be cooler than that?
Myth - Squirrel Hunting Isn't Challenging
Fact - There are actually few things more difficult or challenging than trying to kill a limit of gray squirrels, or a single gray for that matter, on a highly pressured southern public hunting area with a .22 rimfire once the leaves have fallen. They see you, and they're gone, blazing a path through the treetops at a fast clip. Under these conditions, it's all about concealment, stealth, patience, and marksmanship. Boy, that sounds an awful lot like whitetail hunting to me. Or turkey hunting.
Want a real challenge? Trade that scoped Ruger 10/22 for a single-shot rimfire with open sights. More? Try a .32-caliber muzzleloader. Or hunt an open woodlot in the snow. There's a challenge now.
Myth - Squirrel Hunting Isn't Exciting
Fact - I'm sorry, but if the sight of a big fat fox squirrel sliding out on a hickory limb overhead doesn't raise your blood pressure a little bit, well, maybe it's time to take up something new. There's a reason why West Coast salmon and steelhead fishermen have gone back to using bobbers, and that's because watching a bobber disappear under the surface is exciting. Remember that as an 8-year-old, only with bluegills, pumpkinseeds, and the round red 'n' white plastic cork? Squirrel hunting is the same thing in an old school sort of way.
Hunting to the hunter is exciting, regardless of whether the quarry are whitetails, wild turkeys, or Canada geese. Or at least it should be.
Myth - Squirrel Hunting Opportunities Are Few and Far Between
Fact - I spent 17 years in eastern Iowa. During that time, I spent hundreds of hours chasing squirrels on any number of public hunting areas near our home. How many squirrel hunters did I encounter in those 17 years? Exactly none. Not one. Mushroom pickers, archers, hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, but not a single dedicated squirrel hunter. And this was public land. When I asked permission to hunt squirrels on private land, more often than not I got that Why would you want to do that? sort of look just prior to being told yes.
The bottom line is that while deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting opportunities, particularly free-for-all opportunities, may be extremely limited - if not absent or at the very least, costly - places to hunt squirrels are widespread. And often devoid of people, which is nice if you're anti-social like me.
Myth - Squirrels Are Small, Tough to Clean, and Unfit to Eat
Fact - Squirrels aren't the biggest kid on the block. And there is, I think, an art to separating a squirrel from its hide without ending up with something that looks like a hairy hotdog [see sidebar video below]. As for being unfit to eat, nothing could be further from the truth. But one at a time now. Squirrels aren't big. An adult gray squirrel will weigh in at a pound; a big fox squirrel at 2 or a little more. But compare that to 5 ounces - OUNCES - for a mourning dove, 6 ounces for a bobwhite quail, and 14 ounces, give or take, for a green-wing teal, and we're seeing Old Mister Bushytail rise in the rankings just a bit.
Watch M.D. Johnson Skin a Squirrel
Cleaning? Here's the only way to clean a squirrel. Cut off all four feet, the head, and the tail. Soak the carcass under running water. Cut a slit in the hide on the back perpendicular to the spine. Insert your fingers in the cut, and pull in opposite directions. Every time you take your hand off the carcass, rinse the loose hairs from your fingers. Remove the innards; imagine it's a very small whitetail. And you're done. No hair and a clean squirrel.
And on the table? Fried squirrel. Squirrel with biscuits and gravy. Squirrel pot pie. Deep-dish squirrel with tomatoes, wild mushrooms and Italian sausage. The list goes on and on and on. It's not an acquired taste; some even go so far as to say squirrel tastes like - ready? - chicken, which is fine because chicken tastes excellent done up any number of ways. Squirrel meat is high in protein, with 26 grams per 3 ounces, and low in fat; so if such things matter, squirrel is nutritionally good for you.
My theory on the culinary aspect of squirrel hunting? Folks who don't like it haven't had it fixed properly.
Myth - Squirrel Hunting Has No Place in the Modern Hunter's World
Fact - Nothing, absolutely nothing is further from the truth than this statement here. Without exception, the best all-round multi-species hunters - no, the best all-round woodsmen - I've known in my 50 years were, and still are, first and foremost squirrel hunters. As squirrel hunters, these men were shown and learned everything they needed to know in order to become skilled hunters of larger game - patience, persistence, self-discipline, camouflage and stealth.
They learned how to move without being seen, and when the opportunity presented itself, they hit with a single shot what they were aiming at.
They could tell you not only which trees were which but also which trees produced the best mast. And when. Mushrooms, plants, wild berries, tracks, Eastern box turtles; they know it all.
Many could tell you what bird that is simply by the song.
To the squirrel hunter, nothing is more important than time - and they enjoy every single moment of it.
You'll never see a squirrel hunter sitting under a 100-year-old oak texting his buddies. 'Nough said.
(Editor's note: This Realtree.com article was first published Sept. 13, 2016.)