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Small game action fills in for lack of deer hunting

The last half a dozen times I have ventured into the woods I have carried a .22 rifle. While I have not given up on deer hunting, I have read the writing on the wall and realize that seeing a deer is going to require more than a few short walks around the property to get a shot. I decided that when time to carry a firearm is short it might be better spent on taking home some meat however small a package it may come in.


I grew up eating squirrel. In fact, in those days if you heard of a deer being killed you also yearned to lay your eyes on it. Deer hunting was very popular but harvesting a deer was not a regular adventure and it was no wonder that back in those days the deer that ventured too close to a man with a shotgun almost always ended up getting a ride on the hood of the truck, on a dog box or on the tailgate for all of the world to see. It was that big of a deal.

While we certainly have not regressed to that state of affairs, the temporary reduction in the deer numbers had me going back to my roots.

As a kid I know that my rifle stood ready to go each day after school. Once the wood was split and brought in I was free to disappear and collect dinner out of the top of a beech tree, a hickory, or as the season progressed, from any one of the deep hollows or bottoms around the house. My first rifle, a Mossberg bolt action Model 341 .22 rimfire, was dialed in to nip a squirrel at 70 yards.

Back in those days I was a regular Tom Sawyer, Daniel Boone with a tad of Jim Carmichael thrown in. I knew exactly what the ballistics were for every .22 round available at Jeffery’s Mart, Spiro’s Sporting Goods or even Rose’s Department Store. Kids have more time than they realize and I used mine studying and figuring out just where the little 36 grain Viper or 33 grain Yellow Jacket bullets would be at various ranges.

Unfortunately for the squirrels in the hills around the house, I did not miss often and their numbers were in severe check and our stew pot stayed steadily full of squirrel. Thankfully, Mother never grew tired of cooking them.

I don’t hear about many of our young people going squirrel hunting anymore. In fact, I don’t know of any that have eaten squirrel. What a shame. They are easy to hunt, plentiful and downright delicious.

If your deer season is not holding up to your desires consider taking your next venture into the woods with a .22 rifle or your shotgun loaded with some #4 shot. I prefer the rifle so I don’t have to pick shot out of the meat I am eating.

A slow, steady and deliberate walk a few steps at a time, punctuated with some sitting breaks of five to fifteen minutes in any hardwoods area will yield shots. Almost all of the shots will be at squirrels on the ground unless they heard you coming. They are busy feeding on leftover acorns and beechnuts that are on the ground.

When the leaves are very dry as they often are, one can stop when the squirrels run off before you get a shot and take up a position and wait them out. Often twenty minutes of careful watching will do the job. Most of the time the waiting will be half that. Wearing camo does help you get a little closer in these wide open woods we have at this time of year, but being quiet is the biggest help.

Watch the tops of the trees they disappeared in and be sure to watch the bottom of the trunks too. If they saw you and scattered, they will often come down the back of the tree, peek around the trunk near the bottom and then leap off and tear through the woods. Sometimes they will come down, perch on a branch or on the side of the tree and bark at you while whipping their tail in agitation.

A good dog that obeys basic commands such as sit, stay and quiet is a huge help. You can train such a dog to tree squirrels in no time and then you have an instant hunting partner. When the squirrels get treed they will swivel on the opposite side, but a command to the dog to go forward while you stay on the other side and watch will allow you shots.

Once you collect your squirrels skin and quarter them. You can make an incision across the backbone taking care not to cut into the meat. A partner that can make the cut while you pinch the skin upwards is helpful. Then work your fingers under the skin and pull the “pants” off and the “shirt” off. Cut the bones at the wrists and ankles and quarter. Then slow cook them until the meat falls from the bones. From there you can make a boneless stew, lightly fry the meat or bake with potatoes and carrots or serve over rice. It only takes about two hours of slow cooking to get the meat from the bones. Another forty minutes with whatever else you want to cook with them does the final touches.

You can season them with anything you like on poultry or pork. I like salt and pepper. However, some Cajun spices or steak seasoning is excellent. I add just a touch of vegetable oil to keep the meat from sticking while frying or baking. Those of you that have not had squirrel will be very surprised how good it is and flavorful. They eat nuts so the meat is quite healthy. Consider keeping the tails of your squirrels and trade them to Mepps for fishing lures. www.mepps.com/programs/squirrel-tail

 

Mark Fike

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