Early small game seasons opened yesterday and so this upcoming week so the hunter's itch is scratched by skulking around the woods for squirrels and grouse. Archers don't always appreciate small game hunters shooting and walking around near their chosen watches however.
Squirrel pot pie and fried squirrel were staples of the early American settlers. Our forefathers were quite adept at "barking" squirrels, that is, shooting just underneath a squirrel sitting on a limb so that the concussion dispatched it. That method did not ruin the meat like a direct hit from the muzzleloader would. Most modern cooks, whether male or female, would not know where to start if presented with a half dozen squirrels to prepare for dinner.
This year we have a good crop of acorns so all animals and birds will be taking advantage.
Archery hunters will have a wider choice of stands. They won't have to stake out next to orchards and fields as much as in other years. Squirrels will be where acorns are, that's for sure. And where you see squirrels, you'll generally see deer and turkeys since they all love acorns.
I learned a lot about hunting deer by hunting squirrels. Squirrels, if they catch one glimpse of movement, will scramble for the safety of a tree. When I would hunt with a buddy, we used the old technique of the shooter staying still watching one side of the tree while the other hunter shuffled around to the other side of the tree. Squirrels can't count so of course, they would scramble around to the opposite side of the tree where the shooter was staked out and he would usually get a good shot.
If you hunted alone and saw a squirrel running through the woods you chased him until he treed, then you'd noisily take off your coat and hat and drape them over a bush, then sneak back to the other side of the tree and wait.
If the squirrel wasn't spooked back to your side of the tree, you'd heave a couple rocks onto the leaves near your coat and the noise would usually propel the squirrel within your view. It was all a lot of fun.
As I got older and less able to chase around the woods after racing squirrels, I learned to position myself in the woods where squirrel food (oaks and beechnuts) and sign were abundant. Then I'd wait. This is when it began to dawn on me that I saw not only squirrels, but deer and turkeys too, as I quietly waited. It didn't take long, as a rule, after I'd sit down, before squirrels would appear and offer me a variety of good shots.
The woods of Clinton County where I lived for some years were full of black squirrels. They were a challenge different from the grays. Black squirrels are simply a melanistic phase of gray squirrels, but their unusual coloring caused them to be spookier than the grays. Or so I thought.
I found out early on that the black squirrels, if you chased them with the idea of treeing them, they usually outsmarted me, or should I say, outran me. They didn't scramble up the first big tree, they would run and run and run in a straight line. They most always won that foot race.
So I began to just post myself quietly and wait. After the woods quieted down, the blacks would appear. I've bagged quite a few black squirrels in my day but never had one mounted. I regret that now.
Here's a simple, tasty recipe for that good old staple: squirrel pot pie
SQUIRREL POT PIE
2 squirrels, cleaned and cut into pieces
1 small onion
4 carrots cut into slices
4 medium potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
Boil squirrels in water until meat falls off the bones. Boil the potatoes and carrots until almost done. Boil commercial pot pie until tender. Drain the liquid from pot pie, 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, pot pie and vegetables into the gravy and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with salad and enjoy.
n If you have a hankering for homemade pot pie the best recipe I've found is from an old Mennonite cookbook.
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.