Not everyone thinks squirrels are adorable

Squirrel hunting season opened Saturday. The Game Commission calls squirrel the most underhunted species in Pennsylvania. Archery hunting is probably most of the reason why that is, because right now the rut is approaching, bucks are getting very frisky right now, rubs and scrapes are appearing everywhere and hunters are scouting out their best bets for stands for hunting the rut.

There are benefits to squirrel hunting however. First, they are tasty entrees for the dinner table. Hunting squirrel tests your still hunting and stalking abilities because it is not easy to sneak up on a squirrel. It takes practice and skill.

When a squirrel gets sight of a predator (the hunter) it takes off like a rocket and no hunter could possibly keep up. It scurries a tree and slips around the trunk of that tree cannily, always keeping on the far side of the tree the hunter is on. In the old days the favorite trick to make a squirrel dash around to your side of the tree was to take off your hunting coat, place it on the ground. Then the hunter moves around to another side of the tree and picks up stones, small branches or whatever is handy and tosses them on the side where the coat is.

The noise and movement of the flying objects will motivate the squirrel to slide around the opposite side of the tree from which all this is happening. That’s your side. When he does this you can get off a shot. Perhaps.

Other than skillfully stalking a squirrel the hunter simply sits, waiting for a bushytail to come scouring along the forest floor within range of you. He’s looking for acorns or beechnuts, wild grapes or small apples, which he is either eating or burying for the winter. He’s an industrious little bugger and always moving so like most game animals, getting close enough to get off a good shot takes a combination of skill and patience.

Squirrel hunting seems to be a much bigger event than a northern one. Festivals and fairs are held in the squirrels honor. In fact in Bentonville, Arkansas it is about time for their annual squirrel cook-off championship. Entries of the past have included squirrel ice cream (I can’t imagine), squirrel pastry and of course squirrel entrees.

They tell us that the dessert category gets the least participation. Can’t imagine why. Many of the wives of the hunters have been emancipated from the whole thing: they aver that whoever kills it, cleans and then cooks it. I’d love to attend that cook-off just once.

Squirrel was the staple meat of the early forefathers. Most of them bagged squirrels by a process called “barking.” They aimed for the branch just beneath the squirrel and killed it by concussion. That preserved all the meat but required some marksmanship.

Aside from good old fried squirrel, squirrel pot pie was – and still is – the favorite way to enjoy squirrel. Here’s my favorite recipe for potpie.

SQUIRREL POTPIE

n 2 squirrels, cleaned and cut into pieces

n 1 small onion

n 4 carrots cut into slices

n 4 medium potatoes

n 1 teaspoon salt

n Pepper, to taste

Boil squirrels in water until meat falls off the bones. Boil the potatoes and carrots until almost done. Boil commercial potpie until tender. Drain the liquid from potpie, squirrel and vegetables into another pan. Make a medium thick gravy your favorite way, using the liquid from the squirrel and the vegetables. Put meat, potpie and vegetables into the gravy and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with salad and enjoy.

If you have a hankering for homemade potpie the best recipe I’ve found is from an old Mennonite cookbook.

HOMEMADE POTPIE

n 1 egg

n 3 tablespoons milk or water

Bet the egg and add the milk. Keep adding flour until it makes a stiff dough. Roll the dough out paper-thin and cut in squares. Keep the broth boiling while you add the dough squares to keep them from sticking together. Cover and cook until nearly done, then drain and add to meat and vegetable mixture and simmer until flavors blend.

Cooking squirrels in a pressure cooker (instead of boiling) or a slow cooker works equally well to cook the meat right off the bones.

People who have bird feeders in their backyard, including me, don’t much care for squirrels. Squirrels destroy plants and hog the seeds at the birdfeeder. Hunters find squirrels a challenging, speedy, wily quarry; their aerial acrobatics and natural camouflage make them a tough but tasty target.

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