G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Columnist
Hunters young and old took to the woods yesterday in Kentucky and will do so Sept. 1 in Ohio with hopes of bringing home a mess of squirrel. The bag limit is six a day in both states.
No doubt because of an abundance of rain, the 2015 forest foliage in this area is the heaviest and thickest seen in years. And that means more of a challenge for hunters going after one of the most sought-after wild game animals around.
Last year’s mast crop, the abundance of nuts and fruits produced by trees – oaks, hickories and beech — and other plants, determines this year’s estimate of the number of squirrels available to hunters.
But squirrels are the most stable and abundant small game species, and even a poor mast year is not going to be detrimental to their populations.
At least some food was available to squirrels throughout a majority of last fall. They bury food for the winter.
Early in the season, hunters should look for squirrels around hickory trees. The trees having hickory nuts starting to ripen first will be along the ridges and along flats, or “benches,” just under the hilltop.
A .22 rifle is used by some squirrel hunters, but a shotgun is the best choice in the early season because those thick leaves and vines make it difficult to see the quarry.
The abundance of leaves, of course, provides an advantage for the hunter, as sneaking quietly along the trails with camouflage clothing is part of what makes a hunt for squirrels successful.
Hunters not only listen for the tell-tale cutting of nuts, and look for these cuttings under trees before deciding where to post themselves, but watch for the shaking of leafy limbs away up in the crown of the trees as squirrels jump from limb to limb, or run out limbs to leap to an adjacent tree.
This year in Kentucky the squirrel season is split. The first segment runs through Nov. 13. It reopens Nov. 16 and runs through Feb. 29.
Ohio’s season runs from Sept. 1 through the end of January.
Nuts and acorns are ripening and hunters intent on keeping a family tradition alive should find good populations of red, grey and fox squirrels deep in the woods, in the hollows and on the hilltops.
Squirrels can live up to 15 years, so now and then the meat hunter may bring home one a bit tough. Squirrel meat is sweet, lean, and nutritious and can be very tender when properly prepared and cooked.
Through the centuries the pioneers developed a fondness for the squirrel’s eating flavor and qualities.
Soaking older squirrels in ice water for a while will help to tenderize as well as remove any remaining blood.
When you’re cleaning squirrels be sure to remove and discard the scent glands found in the small of the back and under the front and rear legs.
Also, of course, remove the entrails, as well as the feet, head and tail.
It’s not necessary to remove body fat, since the delicately flavored meet usually calls for additional fat or moisture, such as bacon or margarine when cooking.
Once you get the squirrels home and get them dressed, here’s a good recipe for simmered squirrel:
3 dressed squirrels
Salt and pepper
1 cup water
Quarter the squirrels and roll in flour and pan fry as one would a chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. When brown on both sides add water and simmer on top of stove for one hour, or until tender. Make your favorite gravy. And of course some cat-head biscuits.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@twc.com. Visit his web site at gsampiattbooks.com