There are serious hunters across the American landscape who won’t hunt or eat squirrel. And that’s bogus for lots of reasons.
First off, is it true? Well, yeah. The most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) survey reports more than 11 million hunters chase big game, while only 4.5 million hunt small game. I mean, squirrel doesn’t even get its own category on the report’s bar chart.
Deeper into the study, we do learn squirrels were the most popular type of small game hunted. So there’s that little consolation prize.
There was a time when small game made the covers of sporting magazines, but you don’t see that much anymore. This trend is likely the result of something that’s actually a great source of pride within the hunting community: the resurgence of big game hunting and the dedicated work of state and federal wildlife agencies to improve herds and boost populations back to historically healthy numbers.
GenX and Millennial hunters enjoy way more access to big game than the Baby Boomer generation ever did in their formative years. Problem is, this kind of abundance has cast a long shadow over small-game hunting.
3 Ways Squirrel Hunting Is a New Hunter’s Best Teacher
“There’s no better way to introduce someone to hunting than through squirrel hunting,” said Mark Hatfield, a certified wildlife biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “For one thing, young kids can hunt squirrels successfully and they can do it while doing what kids do: moving around a lot and exploring.”
Knowing where to find them, meaning you’ve got to know the types of trees you need to be around, knowing the squirrel’s sounds – if they’re barking or cutting – is important. And just like other animals, they behave differently during different times of the year. Plus, part of woodsmanship is stealth. You have to learn how to be quiet, to recognize paths of least resistance and that kind of thing.
Squirrel hunting gives you a chance to advance in marksmanship. Hatfield started hunting squirrels with a shotgun when he was 13 or 14 years-old. As his marksmanship improved, he squirrel-hunted with a rifle, which offered a new challenge and was better for the squirrel meat.
3. Food Prep
Knowing how to skin an animal, identify the cuts of meat and preparing wild meat for cooking can be overwhelming, especially if your first hunt is a successful big game hunt. More and more, younger generations of hunters are motivated to handle the meat they kill themselves and starting off with a few pounds of meat verses hundreds of pounds of meat, is a great small step into the nuances of these skills.
Squirrel hunting has a number of things going for it, not excluding that it’s an accessible way of acquiring wild game. If a) you’ve never hunted wild game before or, b), you struck out most of big-game season and the freezer’s a little short on meat.
By God, Eat the Squirrel!
Squirrel hunting is part of the legacy Americans inherited from our heroes, self-reliant, resourceful guys like Daniel Boone and Hugh Glass. Every meat, even potted meat, has value and holds a place in America’s colorful history.
“Squirrel supplemented the protein of frontier families who needed meat to bolster their stews, while canned SPAM offered an inexpensive alternative to fresh options during challenging economic times and World War II,” wrote Li Zhou for the Smithsonian.
And, anyway, this squirrel eating thing isn’t a hurdle for your taste buds or stomach to overcome, it’s a hurdle that lives only in the mind. Here’s an excerpt of Steven Rinella’s tasting notes on squirrel, taken from his book, “Meateater.”
“Over the years, I’ve cooked squirrel in many good ways: dredged in flour and then browned in a pan and then braised in game stock; dredged in flour and then browned in a pan and then baked; marinated in water and cider vinegar, then browned and braised. Usually the flesh comes out the color of hot chocolate, but with a silky, rich quality to it. It does look a lot like the dark leg meat of a braised chicken.”
Squirrel Stew With Paprika and Greens
For step-by-step instructions on cutting squirrel meat for cooking, check out Hank Shaw’s effective how-to here.
And for a recipe that doesn’t involve frying or a crockpot (think dumping Cream of Mushroom over the squirrel meat and calling it good), you’ll want to try Shaw’s squirrel stew with paprika and greens. It’s a great cold-weather meal and serves up beautifully and shame-free for dinner party guests or it’s versatile enough to serve before cigars, poker and bourbon at any hunt camp.