There are four methods of squirrel hunting that work all over the Ozarks.
The first one of course is "still hunting." When I was a youngster I'd take my old Iver Johnson shotgun down to the Tweed bottoms just off the Big Piney River and walk an old logging trail where gray squirrels were abundant. Occasionally I'd spot one by moving slowly along, but when I'd reach a certain spot on a rocky hillside, I'd find a comfortable boulder and sit still enough to be taken for a part of the rock.
Within 10 minutes, gray squirrels would have forgotten there was an intruder, and begin moving about. When one presented a good shot within 30 yards or so, the old shotgun would roar and the forest would be still again.
I learned if you stayed put, marking your downed quarry, that in 10 or 15 minutes things would return to normal again and squirrels would begin to scurry about. A still hunter could sometimes take three our four squirrels in less than an hour from one spot.
And there was always much more to see, as other wildlife passed through and birds flitted through the nearby branches. When things were slow, I laid back on the big flat rock and went to sleep, dreaming of hunting moose and bear in Canada someday. Still hunting had many rewards.
Then I learned that two hunters could effectively find squirrels if one hunter became the eyes and the other became the feet. Hunter number one moves slowly along, watching the branches as best he can, but traveling at a quiet snails pace.
Usually he won't see squirrels that have already heard him. When he's well down the trail, he stops and waits and hunter number two advances in the same manner moving on past his partner to take a new position. Squirrels react to a moving hunter by moving themselves, well-concealed by a tree trunk or branch.
And while they are concentrating on the moving hunter they expose themselves to the hunter who is still, and watching.
When two hunters hunt together, it is the best way to find squirrels in early fall, a perfect method for a father teaching a youngster to hunt.
A third method of squirrel hunting involves a real rarity -- a squirrel dog. Squirrel dogs are trained or developed, they are just born, small terriers and feists that have no pedigrees but learn quickly to pick up the trail of a squirrel on the ground and tree him. The best squirrel dogs have to stay close to the hunters or they are less efficient.
I've known some that were prone to leave the country on the trail of something.
Some squirrel dogs hunt by sight, actually looking for squirrels as well as scenting them. If things work as planned a squirrel dog may tree a number of squirrels in a morning or evening hunt. Unfortunately, many of those squirrels will find refuge in a hole or hollow tree.
Still, there are some who wouldn't hunt any other way and there are places in the Ozark hills where a good mongrel squirrel dog is worth more than a pedigreed show dog by a long shot.
A hunter who hunts squirrels with a shotgun has to try for good clean head shots in order to reduce the chance of damaging the meat with too many shot pellets in the body. Almost all hunters use No. 6 or No. 4 Shot.
The latter will give you cleaner kills with less shot in the body. Medium-powered shells are best. Don't use extremely light loads or you'll cripple and lose too many squirrels.
I like to hunt squirrels with a .22 rifle, but only in areas where I know there aren't any farms or livestock nearby. Where there are large blocks of timberland, or a stream flowing through national forest, it's a challenge to hunt squirrels with the small bore rifle, but always think of were that bullet may travel.
The gun made just for squirrel hunter is the combination .22/.410 or .22/20 gauge. I love the old Stevens over-and-under combo with a selector button giving the hunter a choice of rifle or shotgun barrel.
With such a firearm, sitting squirrels can be taken with a .22, and head shots insure undamaged meat for the skillet. But the shotgun barrel is always there when needed.
How to skin a squirrel for it's hide:
Keep your squirrel in a cold place until you are ready to begin the skinning process, such as sealed plastic bag on some ice in a cooler. Try to keep the squirrel as flat as possible.
Place the squirrel on a hard surface, belly down. Get behind the squirrel, placing your knee or foot on its back legs. Hold the tail up with one hand.
Take a sharp knife with the other hand. Cut upward from under the tailbone area, cutting through the skin until the tail is almost off. Keep a strip attached from the body to the top of the tail. Hold the tail up. Then take your knife underneath, pulling and cutting the tail up the back. This brings the tail and a strip up the back of the squirrel toward the head.
Insert the knife between the meat and the skin of the squirrel at the top part of the diamond shape of raw meat. Avoid the side tissue. Cut a couple of inches forward, moving the knife from side to side. Cut again on the other side of the diamond or square corner of the meat.
Lay knife aside. Hold the tail and piece of skin loosely, pulling up on the back legs. When you do this, part of the back and stomach begin to show under the skin. Next you can pull the front legs off the skin and cut at the joint of the squirrel's feet. Grasp the bit of skin left on the belly between your knife and thumb, and pull up. The front legs will be history.
Turn the squirrel over. Skin should be hanging on both ends. Remove the internal organs before cutting off the head and back feet. Once the organs and genitals are out, make a deep cut between the back legs. Pull the legs backward, breaking the pelvic area apart. Remove the anal intestine. Put your two fingers in the deep cut you made. Hold it up so the body cavity remains open. Cut from the belly to the rib cage with your knife. Pull out all vital organs. Cut off both back feet and the head, and you're done.
How to prepare and cook a squirrel:
Rinse the freshly killed squirrel in water, ensuring it is entirely saturated. Leave the squirrel in the water long enough to soak to the skin; this will keep the hair together and make it easier to skin.
Take out the entrails using a sharp knife. Cut on the belly from just under the ribs, through the abdomen and toward the hindquarters. Remove the bladder first, being careful not to spill any urine on the meat. Open the pelvis and take out the remaining organs.
Skin the squirrel by slicing just under the skin from the hind end and over the belly to the squirrel's flanks. Take the tail and pull toward the forelegs, removing the hide.
Cut off the squirrel's feet and head. Pull the remaining skin from the legs. Remove the innards as soon as possible. Meat that marinates in the innards will taste gamy.
Cook the meat. Squirrels are commonly boiled or fried. To boil, put the squirrel in a pot of water or stock and cook for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender.
To fry, cut the squirrel into pieces and dredge in flour and seasonings. Fry in oil until browned and simmer for 30 minutes.
Marelena Spieler of the New York Times tells of her experience cooking squirrel.
I opened the manila envelope and peered down at the little carcasses curled up in two vacuum-sealed pouches. I wished that they had been cut into serving pieces; if there is a next time, I’ll request that. I did try cutting them up, but the bones were sturdy and I didn’t want to mangle my meal.
I slid squirrel No. 1 into the pan with unsmoked bacon, threw in sliced shallots and carrots, and handfuls of herbs, then piled the ingredients on top of the carcass so they started to look more like dinner. I splashed in some Cognac, doused the flames with broth, covered the pan and set it in the oven for a long braise.
Feeling more confident, I faced the second squirrel. Salt-cured capers, rosemary and sliced garlic browned in the pan with the squirrel; then I added a splash of vinegar, water and tomato paste, and then it, too, was covered and in the oven. The house smelled fabulous.
After an hour of braising, the squirrels were ready.
The first thing I realized was that while people say squirrel is bony, they don’t spell out exactly how bony it is. Small bits of meat cling so fervently to the bones that instead of serving it in its sauce straight from the oven, you need to cook it first, then cool it enough to pry, slice, pull and coax the meat from the carcass.
But I was amazed at how it turned out. The tight, dark meat was a bit chewy, but the flavor was like the meaty nuggets nestled in the backs of chickens, or duck breast or dark turkey meat. It wasn’t overwhelmingly gamey, though I thought I tasted a faint whiff of furry slipper along with a sweet echo of hazelnut.
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