Already a few dead leaves are swirling down on my front porch from the maple, redbud and pear tree, signaling the coming of fall hunting seasons and eventually a break from this prolonged heat spell.
The Kentucky squirrel season opens Aug. 20, while Ohio hunters must wait until Sept. 1. The bag limit in both states is six a day per hunter.
I recall with fondness, in the days before I was a teenager, those Saturday morning hunts with my father and older brother, when we would be in the woods before sunup, posted beneath a hickory tree and feeling a surge of excitement as we spotted telltale movement in the tree branches overhead.
Our harvest was brought home and cleaned and turned over to my mother. She would fry them, fix flour and milk gravy over he leavings in the skillet, and serve them up with cathead biscuits.
Later, I took my own two sons, just 13 months difference in their ages, on squirrel hunts, just like my father had taken me.
STILL A TRADITION?
Now I’m wondering if fathers still take their sons squirrel hunting, or is this a tradition that’s no longer passed on. Perhaps so, perhaps no. I’m getting no feedback on this.
A .410 gauge or 20 gauge is the preferred weapon for bringing home a mess of squirrels, especially in the early season when the foliage is still thick on hickory, beech and oak. A load of scattered shot is the most humane way of reducing the population with little suffering for the animal.
Later, when trees are mostly bare, some hunters prefer the challenge of a .22 rifle. My old friends, Bud Hamilton and Sam Conley, had success with .22 pistols, using a small sandbag against the trunk to steady the aim.
One disadvantage of hunting the early season is that gnats, chiggers and ticks are still active. A can of good insect spray is a necessity.
Also, copperheads and rattlesnakes are still out and about. I’ve written before about taking friends Carol Blevins and John Dixon on an early September hunt along a ridge on Schultz Creek.
We separated and when I heard shots and their excited voices ring out, I thought they had gotten into a colony of squirrels. But when I hurried to where they were I found they had killed a timber rattler that was 54 inches long and sported 16 rattles.
Be alert when you must travel through thick underbrush.
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.
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. It will close during the first three days of modern gun deer season, which is set for Nov. 12-27. Squirrel season reopens Nov. 14 and runs through Feb. 28.
Ohio’s squirrel season runs from Sept. 1 through Jan. 31, but will be closed during all of Ohio’s modern gun season for deer – set for Nov. 28-Dec. 4.
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
Through the centuries the pioneers developed a fondness for the squirrel’s eating flavor and qualities. Squirrel meat is sweet and savory and can be delicious when prepared properly.
Squirrels can live up to 15 years, so now and then the meat hunter may bring home one a bit tough. 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 meat 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.
A weapon that comes down as still
As snowflakes fall upon the sod;
But executes a freeman’s will,
As lightening does the will of God.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@twc.com. Visit his web site at gsampiattbooks.com.