I was itching to shoot something this fall, so I decided to try my hand at squirrel hunting. There are more than enough squirrels, both gray squirrels and red “pine” squirrels at my land. A friend told me about the practice of “barking” squirrels, which means to shoot at the tree trunk next to the squirrel’s head with a large caliber bullet, which apparently gives the squirrel a concussion and makes it fall from the tree. The hunter must then kill the squirrel by hand (if the concussion doesn’t kill it) by twisting its neck. The beauty of this process is that the meat is not harmed by shot.
I had wanted to shoot something using my muzzleloader besides targets so I thought I’d give it a try. With all the squirrels at the land, I figured if I was going to try it I might as well do it there. I loaded the gun and waited for the squirrels to come out to play. It didn’t take long for one to appear, and I waited for it to get into the proper position for the barking shot. It would have to be prostrate on a tree trunk, and it never gave me a chance, staying on the upper branches or the back sides of the trees as it wandered about. I waited some more, and slowly made my way deeper into the woods away from my camper. I finally had a shot on another squirrel, a ways up a big oak tree. I fired, and I think I hit the tree just to the left of the squirrel, but it just ran off up the trunk to the upper branches and disappeared. I’m sure the missed shot was due to operator error.
Once you fire a muzzleloader, you have to take several steps to reload. I decided not to, as the powder and ammunition is fairly expensive. I switched instead to my double barrel 20 gauge. I didn’t expect the squirrel to come back, but shortly after I settled into a folding chair under a shelter I had made, I noticed (perhaps) a different gray squirrel wandering around in the treetops across the trail. I waited to see if it would come down within range, and it eventually did, but very close! It came down a tree that was only ten feet from my chair and stopped and looked right at me. I must have surprised it being somewhat hidden inside my shelter. I lifted my gun and pushed the safety off, aimed at the head and fired. Of course it fell, and I had bagged my first squirrel.
The ideal way to shoot squirrels is with a .22 rifle or even a pellet gun, with which you can shoot the squirrel in the head with a small projectile. Shooting a squirrel with a shot gun nearly ensures that some of the shot will get into the meat. I did hit the squirrel in the head, but also in the ribcage. There isn’t much meat on a squirrel, but shooting them without planning to eat the meat just seems wrong, so the less damage to the body the better.
Now I had to figure out how to skin and clean the squirrel. I had never done it before. I texted a friend and he said “cut the back, pull off the skin, cut off the head and feet.” Sounded good but I needed more information. Luckily the internet signal is pretty good at my land, so I looked up a YouTube video that made it look easy. It was pretty easy; cut off feet and head, cut under the tail up the back a little ways, cut down the sides of the legs a little ways from the tail, pull off the skin down over the back legs, pull the skin off up over the torso. Then pull the guts out from esophagus down. Not too bad and when you have practiced, it doesn’t take very long.
I don’t intend to shoot all the squirrels at my land, I like watching them run up and down the many trees, and they are an important part of the landscape. But harvesting a couple every now and then won’t hurt their population. I have a couple recipes that I’d like to try, and have five squirrels in the freezer now ready for cooking.
Wondering what to do with the squirrel tails? Here’s a link to an article written by my good friend Jim Swanson. https://www.facebook.com/1513794004/posts/10218407946259337/