Unless you live in an area of the country with a long squirrel-hunting history, these furry little tree-climbers are probably better known as “fuzzy speed bumps”. However, squirrels can actually provide a tasty, nutritious meal for the hungry survivor and is fairly easy to hunt, skin and gut with the proper technique.
What Kind Of Squirrel To Hunt?
There are varieties of squirrel, the most common being the red and grey squirrels that you regularly see squished on the highway. Although each taste slightly different based on their diet and age, any properly fed squirrel can make a fine meal. The only “tree-rats” that are strongly recommended to avoid are those that live in city parks or near large towns.
Unlike their more wild cousins that eat largely natural food, city squirrels often consume garbage and rotting things, picking up diseases and parasites much like mice and rats do. Unless you are truly starving, the risk of disease and death from eating a city squirrel is too great for them to be considered a good survival food source.
City squirrels eat all manner of nasty things. Avoid eating them in turn!
What Weapon Should You Use?
Depending on your skill and available ammunition, a variety of weaponry can be used to bring down a squirrel.
A bow can take a squirrel quietly, but it requires a good deal of skill to accomplish.
Bows, slings, and slingshots all offer quiet hunting if you wish to conceal your presence from other prey or from fellow hunters, but require sufficient skill to hit a fairly small target high up in a tree.
A .22 rifle is generally the most popular option. It works great for those who can aim well, but it is still quite good even for inexperienced shooters since .22 ammunition is pretty common and cheap to stockpile.
A scattergun is probably the easiest when trying to hit your target, but the sheer amount of lead that tends to stick to the squirrel’s corpse increases the time it will take to properly clean the animal.
Basic Squirrel Hunting Tips
Squirrels are quite curious, and it can be fairly easy to lure them out if you’re patient enough.
Even if you miss a shot (and you will, many times if you’re new) and scare the nearby animals, another target will often pop his head back up after 15-30 minutes.
A hunting pair (or a properly trained dog) can be very useful in herding squirrels into your line of sight. Squirrels often run around to the other side of a tree away from a perceived threat, so if you and your partner are positioned on either side of a tree, you can easily setup a trap that will place his bushy tail right in your sights.
Generally speaking, shooting into squirrel nests is counterproductive even in a survival situation. It can be tempting to shoot for a “guaranteed” hit, but unless you want to spend the time making a dangerous ascent just for one squirrel and maybe a few tiny babies, avoid shooting the nests.
It is easier to find and hit squirrels when they are on the ground searching for their nut stashes.
Hunting is generally best when the whether turns cold and food sources start drying up. Squirrels will start descending from their arboreal home and start searching for their little nut caches on the ground, making them easier to shoot.
Be still, be patient. It sounds obvious, and it is, but it can be very hard to be patient and still in freezing wind or when you are starving for a hunk of meat. Be still when searching and move very slowly when aiming, and take the time to properly setup your shot. Remember, missing and scaring off your squirrel can make you wait at least 15-30 minutes, if he comes back at all.
If the hunting laws still apply, be cautious to observe them. Many survival planners forget that there can be instances of starvation even if the police and other authorities are still working (think the Great Depression). If you elect to break the law and are sent to jail it could leave your group destitute, so know what the consequences might be in a given situation.
Skinning And Gutting Your Kill
So, you’ve bagged a squirrel and you’re ready to begin skinning and cleaning. The most important thing to understand is that squirrels are actually rather attached to their skin, and it requires some force to take off even with the proper technique. Having another person to help can greatly speed the process, though it can be done alone if need be. With that understanding, let’s look at how you can peel the skin away to get to that tasty meat.
Thoroughly wet the entire squirrel. This is primarily done so that the hide won’t shed as much hair when you’re cutting it up and pulling on it, since hair tends to get stuck in the meat and it can be very difficult to remove.
Cut the tail so that it is free to move but still attached to the skin. You’ll want to widen this initial cut, to give yourself better leverage to remove more skin.
Flip the squirrel onto its belly, then cut through the base of the tail bone, but do not actually cut the tail off. You want the tail still attached to the hide so that you can use it as a lever, but it can’t move freely until you sever the bone that holds it in place.
Slice the skin free a few inches on each side of the tail, freeing a flap of skin. This is the second part of your lever, since you’ll now have enough loose skin to pull the whole hide one way or the other.
You will have to pull hard, but the skin should come off cleanly.
Stepping on the tail, pull up on the squirrel’s hind legs and begin pulling off the skin towards the head, slowly pulling until it is removed. This is pretty tough, but with some strength you can pull the skin away. If the skin starts to tear, use your knife to free the skin that is sticking so that it all comes off as one unit, since that helps keep the meat free of hair.
Pull any remaining skin off of the hind legs. If you have two partners, you can combine step 4 and 5 together, with one person pulling the skin of the hind legs and the other pulling the tail.
Your squirrel is now skinned and ready to be gutted.
Fortunately, gutting a squirrel is actually very easy. Just be careful not to cut into any entrails, as this will taint your meat.
Cut off the squirrel’s head. I recommend throwing this away, brain and all. Although many people regard squirrel brains as a delicious piece of meat, there have been reports of disease from consuming even properly cooked brains.
Finding the joint closest to the feet, use your knife to loosen the joint and then snap it with your hand to remove each foot. Cutting all the way through the joint or the bone isn’t recommended, since it dulls the knife and leaves bone splinters/dust in the meat. A quick twist will easily separate the feet, though it may take a few tries to get a feel for it if you’re new.
Make a slit with your knife down the middle of the squirrel’s belly, all the way from the neck to the anus. Again, be very, very careful not to cut open the intestines or any other organs when doing this, as you want to avoid tainting the meat.
Pull the organs out from top to bottom, starting with the windpipe. Be sure to loosen any stubborn organs with your fingers as you pull.
Grabbing the remains of the windpipe, begin pulling down hard. Slide your fingers down and tear any stubborn organs free as you pull them away from the body. You want to remove every organ and all of the intestinal tract, including the gonads if the squirrel is male.
Pull the liver apart from the other organs, and examine it to ensure that it has a healthy dark red color. If you see white liver spots, or if the liver is a mixture of colors, throw the entire animal away. It is diseased, and should not be fed to people or animals unless you are desperate. If you are desperate, know that you will need to boil your meat, preferably in a pressure cooker if possible, for an extended period of time to reduce the chance of catching a disease or acquiring parasites.
Butcher and cook the squirrel as you like. Squirrel meat can be cooked on a spit, eaten roasted or pan fried, coated in breadcrumbs, eaten with dumplings…the list goes on and on. Know that younger and more tender squirrels tend to be better as standalone cooked meat, while a tougher aged squirrel will probably taste better as a part of a stew or with dumplings.
Now you can go out there and bag yourself a meal, even in a disaster situation.