Thursday, July 1, 2010

Squirrel Meat

Last month I had the opportunity to head out into the woods and do some squirrel hunting. Hunting squirrels in the summer is much more difficult than in the winter, as they have a ton of lush green foliage to hide behind. Still, I managed to take 6 of the little guys and quickly set about cleaning and skinning them.

Not one to hunt simply for pleasure, I only hunt animals I can eat. Many people dismiss squirrels as edible game, referring to them as tree rats that are unfit to dine on. I obviously disagree. Cleaned and prepared properly (southern fried is the best in my opinion) squirrel meat is a tasty addition to any diet. Some people claim that they taste like chicken but, while I can see the resemblance, squirrel is actually a bit darker and more tasty than chicken.

Squirrel image courtesy of Matt McGee, licensed under Creative Commons.

Of course, in a survival situation squirrel meat can be very valuable so it helps to have experience hunting and preparing them. Eastern gray squirrels, and their cousin the western gray squirrel, are prevalent across nearly the entire territory of the United States and Canada. The larger fox squirrel is found throughout the Eastern US as well as the Midwest and Texas. In the wild they usually inhabit dense hardwood forests where they have plenty of acorns, walnuts, pecans, and other mast crops to forage for. They also thrive in suburban and many urban areas where they are largely free from depredation and able to forage freely amongst mast bearing trees and urban bird feeders.

Hunting squirrels is fairly easy in the winter. I prefer to find a spot where there are a few active squirrels and sit quietly nearby until they relax enough to come back down out of the trees to forage amongst the leaves for acorns or other mast crops. Once they’re on the ground it’s easy to pick them off with a little .22 rifle or, if you’re up for the challenge, a rimfire pistol. If you’re hunting them in the summer, or just aren’t able to get them down out of the trees, a shotgun loaded with non-toxic heavy dove loads or some equivalent (#7.5 or #8 shot) works equally well.

As mentioned earlier, hunting squirrels in the spring an summer is considerably more difficult than hunting in the autumn and winter. They are maddeningly difficult to spot amongst all of the foliage, and wild squirrels are much more cunning than their urban counterparts. They are very skilled at always positioning themselves on the opposite side of the tree from your position, eliminating any chance for a clean shot.

I’ve found that using squirrel calls makes it much easier to get an open shot. Our squirrel call combo pack from Haydels includes a 3-in-1 barker and a whistle that imitates a baby squirrel in distress. Sounding the whistle alerts all squirrels in the area to a possible predator and sends the running for cover, giving you ample opportunity to spot and harvest one. The barker is best used with a partner who activates it by depressing a plunger to imitate the barks and chatter of a group of squirrels.

When hunting squirrels, I always take along a portable cooler with some ice sealed in plastic bags. Once you’ve harvested your squirrel, quickly field dress it by removing the head, feet, and tail, and then skinning and gutting it and toss it into the cooler to quickly bring the temperature down. This prevents the “gamey” taste that many people complain of when dining on wild animals.

Preparing squirrels to eat is a straight forward process once they are skinned and gutted. Simply take your skinned and gutted squirrel and cut it into quarters. To fry up your squirrels using a traditional southern recipe, you’ll need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup Buffalo wing sauce
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 to 4 squirrels, quartered
  • Peanut Oil

Soak your squirrel pieces overnight in a salt water and meat tenderizer brine.

Heat the oil to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, combine the eggs and water and mix well. Slowly pour the Buffalo wing sauce into the egg mixture and continue to mix well.

Dip the squirrel quarters in the egg mixture and the roll well in the flour mix. Fry the squirrel in the oil for about 10-15 minutes until golden and crispy. Serves about 4 people.

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