An Introduction to Harvesting Squirrel

can anyone do this?

HOW TO BECOME A CERTIFIED MINNESOTA HUNTER

Anyone born after December 31, 1979 must have a firearms safety certificate in order to purchase hunting licenses. 
Revenue from the sale of these licenses is what funds the acquisition of habitat and running wildlife management programs.
This curriculum will make you comfortable with firearms. You'll learn when to use rifles and cartridges, shotguns and shells and bows and arrows.
You'll learn proper safety in handling, storage and transportation. Any of the intimidation of guns and ammunition will be resolved here first. 
The nitty gritty requirements are here, but you can take the online course. The course allows you study the material on your time. There are chapter safety tests then a full exam. Under 18 requires in person attendance at one of the scheduled range safety days. After $35 in fees you are issued a voucher and instructions on how to self-certify with the state of Minnesota.
With firearms safety completed, you may order and print licenses online, or pick up at a licensing agent. You need a small game license for this.

what does a squirrel even do?

HOW TO BE THE SQUIRREL

Squirrel shares one of our great joys; hoarding food and stashing it for later recovery. From last season, last week or literally an hour ago, Squirrel looks around and sees several thousand potential pantries that need filling with foodstuffs. 

 

Stashing these nuts, seeds, fruits and mushrooms can be tricky business. Envious eyes of onlooking critters is met with suspicious deception. They pretend to bury their treat when being watched, and pop it into their mouth’s instead. 

Despite a keen nose, impressive spatial memory and the use of landmarks many of these seed stashes are not recovered. They germinate and grow into young trees, and squirrels play an unintentional but essential role of woodland regenerator. 

 

what do squirrels taste like?

oh, sounds tasty. what do I need?

TASTE THE SQUIRREL

HOW TO GEAR UP 

Bushy tails is a more common, but less delicious nickname than limb chicken. 

These small mammals taste like the dark parts of a bird with sweeter, nuttier notes. 

 

Squirrels are quick to quarter, flour and fry. Pressure cook or par boil the meat off the bone for dumplings and pot pies. They feature delectably in slow cooked soups and stews. Eating squirrel is a uniquely American culinary tradition.

The ubiquitous gray squirrel can be found across the state, in all woodland habitats including sparse urban ones. They are about a 1.5 pounds in size, eight to ten inches long in the body and mostly gray with white and rust colored underbelly. 

 

The fox squirrel, an orange tinged alternative, twice the heft of a gray squirrel, are more prevalent in western portions of the state but range everywhere except the coniferous northeastern Arrowhead region.

 

Red squirrels, feasters of the pines, are quite small, less than half the size of common grays. They aren’t commonly eaten. 

THREE SQUIRREL SPECIES

HOW TO FIND SQUIRREL HUNTING LAND

where to I go to hunt squirrel?

After locating woods with nut bearing trees (oak, walnut, hickory), look and listen for cutting; the sound and scraping of husks being removed from nuts during feeding, then falling to the ground. They are more active in the mornings and late afternoons, into the evening. Legal shooting times are 1/2 hour before sunrise to sunset. 

 

Find a heightened point of topography that offers the greatest vantage of your woodland surrounding. Sit still, and listen. They make more noise than you’d think, rustling through crispy leaves. They vocalize with squeaks, chatters and a raspy “mehr mehr mehr”.

I'm here. what am I looking for?

HOW TO LOCATE SQUIRREL IN THE WOODS

After locating woods with nut bearing trees (oak, walnut, hickory), look and listen for cutting; the sound and scraping of husks being removed from nuts during feeding, then falling to the ground. They are more active in the mornings and late afternoons, into the evening. Legal shooting times are 1/2 hour before sunrise to sunset. 

 

Find a heightened point of topography that offers the greatest vantage of your woodland surrounding. Sit still, and listen. They make more noise than you’d think, rustling through crispy leaves. They vocalize with squeaks, chatters and a raspy “mehr mehr mehr”.

should i just wait here?

HOW TO STAKE OUT FOR SQUIRREL

The noises of cutting can be mimicked by rubbing the ribbed edge of one quarter against another. Rustling up leaf litter on the forest floor at random intervals might also convince a squirrel to appear and hold still while investigating.

 

There are squirrel calls and calling techniques that sound like the distress call of a youngster. As such, many mothers with litters to raise are disproportionately attracted and shot. This a poor ethic which could negatively affect a sustainably harvested population. 

I don't think they're coming...

* this illustration is barefoot. don't go barefoot.

for best results, wear minimalist shoes

HOW TO STALK SILENTLY IN THE WOODS

If your stake out isn’t producing, go on the prowl. 

 

Avoid wearing clothing that swishes or rustles. Try softer soled footwear and practice “the fox walk”.

1. Keep your knees slightly bent and your center of gravity lower to help balance as you slowly transition from one foot to the other.

2. Place your foot first with the outside edge of the ball of the foot.

3.. Roll to inside ball of the foot.

4. Lower your heel and listen for anything noisy under your foot before giving it all of your weight. Reposition if needed. 

 

While you move through the woods, look ahead and choose your path. Avoid stepping on sticks and brittle leaves. Step on stones, bare dirt, soft mud and walk along the tops of fallen logs. Take three or four steps at a time, then be still and examine your surroundings. 

 

If you’re quiet, and lucky, you may encounter squirrels on the ground, hopping around on a forage. 

Squirrels are common quarry for beginner hunters, but you’ll soon see meet the challenge of accurately shooting a small, wily creature. 

 

If you’ve got the opportunity, set up a clean and stable shot with the cradle created when your hand is against a tree, or try shooting from a kneeled position. 

OMG I see one. now what?

oh no. it saw me...

When spooked, squirrels make quick distance across the ground into obscurity. They are also fast in the trees, but this is where you want them to go. Somewhere in a tree they’ll find their safest space and stay in a relatively confined spot.

 

Listen and follow the “kuk” and “quaa” of their warning signals and watch for the flicking pomp of their bushy tail. When threatened, they keep their bodies pressed against tree limbs and deploy their tails, preferring to sacrifice these extensions rather than take a direct hit from a bird of prey. 

 

As you approach, they may move around, attempting to keep the tree between you. If you have a partner, circle opposite one another until one is presented with a clean shot. If solo, toss something to make noise or wait them out.

HOW TO MAKE A GOOD SHOT

* this is an aerial view of trees and hunting activity.

the illustration in this guide is admittedly poor

ok. where do I shoot it?

Your ideal shot placement with a rifle cartridge is in the head. It’s a quick death that doesn’t ruin the rest of the body where the good eating is. Shotguns deliver a spread of pellets, making it easier to hit the squirrel in the head and body, but may damage some meat and leave you spitting out a ball or two. 

 

With an accurate shot, your next meal should be on it’s way to the forest floor. Pay attention to where it fell, especially in denser growth brush and understory.

whoa. I've got it. now how do I make it food?

HOW TO FIELD DRESS A SQUIRREL

It’s important to ‘field dress’ freshly killed animals as soon as possible to cool down the meat and prevent occurrence of disease-causing bacteria. Removing the flesh, fur & warm internal organs then wrapping the carcass and placing it in a cooler will keep the safety and quality of the meat. The warmer the kill, the easier it is to skin. You can do it immediately, or at the end of your outing, but definitely within the first day of the kill. Try to find a spot near water for easier cleanup.

Remember, there is more than one way to skin any animal. Some ways complete the job in under 60 seconds. These ways were never helpful the first time. This process allows time to approach. With time and practice comes familiarity with the nuanced handling to cleaning an animal. This will be unfamiliar. You might feel like you're doing something wrong. Don't worry. With or without style you're going to end up with some edible squirrel meat, and that's really all that matters.

                A Basic Method for cleaning squirrel.

 

1.  With the notch near the handle of your game shears, clip off the hands and feet. About an inch up, doesn't have to be precise. If these aren't sharp enough to slice through the skin just use your knife to finish the job.

2. Pinch up a fold of skin in the center of the back. With your knife, slice a couple inch incision perpendicular to the backbone. Try not to slice into any meat. We are just opening an approach to get below the flesh and fur. 

3. Work your fingers under the skin. Make more room to get both hands under the skin. 

4.  With both hands, grab hold and pull in opposite directions and peel off the skin in both directions. It should come easily enough. Use your knife to slice away tough holds or if the skin refuses to tear. 

5. Pull the skin until it becomes hung up on the legs. Here, you'll need be a bit more precise with your peeling. Punch your thumb through between the legs, gain a better grip then make the final peel off the hind legs. 

6. At the upper end, punch your thumb through near the armpits and peel the flesh from the front legs. Take a grip and pull the skin up and over the head enough to reveal the neck. 

7. With your knife, girdle the neck, slicing around and through most of the neck meat and tendons. Open some access to the throat and spine then clip these through and remove the head. 

8. Now, the portioning. Between the back legs, clip along both sides of the pelvic spine and anus. Then remove the hind legs pieces.

9.  Clip up along both sides along and through the top of the rib cageSlice away all and remove all innards. You might choose to keep the heart and liver for cooking and eating.

10. Separate the front legs half from the remaining back. Split this into two pieces while removing the remaining windpipe, ribs and sternum. 

11. Unless its a large squirrel, remove the front half of the back. If it looks like there is enough meat worthy of space in the pan, split this in two and keep it. Now you've got five or six pieces of squirrel ready for the kitchen. 

what do i do with these guts?

Nature does a fantastic job at recycling animal carcasses. If you are on private land, just leave them out of sight and smell for the scavengers and the soil. On Minnesota public lands disposal of animal carcasses is prohibited. You’ll want to bag them up and toss them in your garbage. 

what do i do with the fur?

The fur can go with the guts. It may interest you to try the tanning process for workable leather. The fur can be used for tying fly fishing lures. Some lure companies will pay a bounty, and a few tails are neat to keep. 

After removing the tail from the rest of the pelt, 

1. Pull the skin back to expose an inch or two of the tailbone. With a pair of pliers, get a good grip on it. 

2. Work the tip of your knife along the tailbone, on the underside. Do this far just far enough along to be able to pull the tailbone out with the pliers. 

3. Lay the tail out and cover all of the exposed, raw flesh with generic table salt. Get it as far into the tail as possible and apply liberally. The salt will leech all the moisture from the tail. It will stiffen in whatever shape it is currently laid out in.

4. It will be dry in a week. Excess salt build up can be scraped away to your preference. 

HOW TO PRESERVE A SQUIRREL TAIL

how long can I keep this meat for?

HOW TO PRESERVE SQUIRREL MEAT

Squirrel can be kept in the freezer as is after cleaning for a month or so.

For longer term, try freezing them in zip lock bags filled with water. To get all the air out of the bag, hold it under water in the sink, zip it mostly closed. Squeeze out most you can then fasten it fully shut. Freeze them this way and they’ll be good for cooking until the next season arrives. 

It can be safely canned with a pressure canner. 

i'm home. how do I cook this?

To keep the meat on the trip from a hunting area back home, wrap your cleaned squirrel portions in a plastic bag and store it in a cooler with ice or cold freezer blocks. 

A quality cooler will keep your harvest for a couple of days and the average trip across portions of the state.

how do I pack and transport this?

FIELD NOTES

You might be new to squirrel hunting. We've got the important questions covered.

Get oot and after it.

You are how you eat.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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