Growing up in Kentucky, my introduction to hunting was with Squirrels and Rabbits. Gray Squirrels and Fox Squirrels were plentiful in the wooded fence rows of the surrounding farms. I spent many cool Fall mornings leaned up against a Hickory tree listening for falling nuts or the rustle of leaves.
I primarily did my hunting with a Savage over/under, 22/20 gauge single shot gun. I used the 22 when I found a Squirrel sitting still, and the 20 gauge when they were on the run. I shot, cleaned and cooked my Squirrels. It gave me a love for hunting and respect for this tricky tree top ghost. If you have hunted them you will understand how quickly they can disappear when you have a gun in your hand.
In Florida the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the species you are allowed to hunt in the fall and spring. Gray Squirrels are usually light to dark grayish brown with a white or buff underside. They have small, rounded ears and a long (7 – 9″) tail that is bushy. The tips of the hairs on the tail are white or gray. It is 16-20″ long in total length.
Gray Squirrels are found throughout the state. They nest in hollow trees or leaf nests in treetops. Gray Squirrels forage during the day, mainly early morning and late afternoon, both on the ground and in trees, living on a diet of acorns, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms, pine nuts, insects, and bird eggs. The wild Squirrels do not act like the bold beggars found in many urban parks.
This is the Eastern Gray Squirrel.
Three protected species of Squirrel also live in North Florida, the Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger), Sherman’s Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger shermanii), and the Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volanstest). Make sure you are aiming at a Gray Squirrel before you shoot.
These are pictures of a Fox Squirrel and a Flying Squirrel.
Squirrels have excellent eyesight and hearing. When hunting Squirrels, use camouflage clothing to help you blend into the woods. Look for areas that have signs of Squirrels feeding in the trees, an example would be freshly gnawed bits and pieces of Hickory nuts, acorns or freshly dropped green leaves under a tree. I like to move quietly through the forrest until I found a likely stand of trees, then I find a good tree to lean against and wait quietly without moving. If Squirrels are in the trees they would have flattened out against branches to hide when you approached. Use this quiet time to scan the large branches and forks for a Squirrel trying to hide. They may wait up to 30 minutes after you get quite and stop moving before they think the danger has passed and resume their routine. This is when you have the best opportunity to harvest the Squirrels. Don’t be surprised if several Squirrels take off across the tree tops in all directions when you make the first shot. Be ready to shoot them on the run and you can sometimes get 2 or 3 Squirrels from one tree.
To clean the squirrels I would start by pulling up the fur in the middle of the back and make a cut big enough to get my fingers into. I would get fingers from both hands into the hole, under the skin and pull toward the front and back at the same time. This peels the skin off the animal. Continue pulling till all of the legs are exposed down to the feet and the skin is peeled back to the neck and tail. At this point I would cut off the head, feet and tail leaving a cleanly skinned carcus. Carefull slit the belly meat to allow you to pull out all the insides and rinse off the meat well to make sure it is clean.
At this point I would cut off the legs making sure I got all the meat around the shoulders and I would cut out the main portion of the back where the tenderloins are. I would usually discard the ribs and lower back, keeping the belly meat on larger Squirrels.
Soak this freshly cut up meat in salt water until ready to cook. Keep chilled in the refrigerator.
Brian’s Southern Squirrel Recipe
Here is what you need;
- 2 – 3 Squirrels, cleaned and cut into serving size pieces. (front legs, back legs and the back tenderloins)
- salt and pepper
- cooking oil
- dutch oven and cast-iron skillet
- Place the Squirrel pieces in a dutch oven and cover with water.
- Cook on low for 2 hours.
- Remove the meat and allow to cool enough to handle it.
- Heat some oil in cast-iron skillet.
- Season flour to taste with salt and pepper.
- Roll the squirrel in the flour and add to hot oil in skillet.
- Cook over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.
- Use the drippings to make gravy if desired.
If you are in a hurry you can put the squirrel in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes instead of the dutch oven. This fried Squirrel recipe with eggs, biscuits and Squirrel gravy is my favorite breakfast after a successful early morning hunt.
Squirrel hunting is a sport I plan to continue at the 40 acre woods. I am planting Pecan and Hickory nut trees to existing Oak and Pine forest to insure that I have plenty of Squirrels in the future.