December Days in the Squirrel Woods
On a sunny day in December I sat upon a high ridge, kicked back against a fallen log overlooking several white oaks. When I heard rustling in the leaves I didn’t imagine a big buck chasing a doe. Buck fever had mostly faded away as I slowly raised my rimfire rifle in the direction of the ruckus, knowing that the crosshairs would soon pick up my preferred quarry: squirrels.
Sure enough, there were was one in hot pursuit of another, no doubt the latter intent on fathering a litter. The moment they both stopped I was able to drop the lower one and move my crosshairs to the other, which was trying to figure out what was happening. The rifle’s report and it, too, hit the leaves with a thud. The timing couldn’t have been better as my stomach began to growl. I collected my prizes and ambled off back toward the warm cabin with the ingredients I needed to make a squirrel breakfast.
If your squirrel hunting experiences took place only as a youngster, it’s about time to reactivate the adventure. There’s nothing like eating a batch of piping hot, quartered squirrels on a greasy napkin that have just come out of a cast iron skillet. There’s also something relaxing about sitting in the woods trying to shoot a few rodents rather than a high-adrenaline deer hunt.
Sit on a Ridge
A few of the properties we hunt have ridges laden with oak trees. Not only do squirrels love acorns, but they’ll also build nests up in the high branches and burrow inside hollow trunks. During the winter months, you’ll find a lot of sign that squirrels are on the ground burying nuts in order to have food until spring.
These ridges are hotbeds for activity. Don’t sit less than a half hour in each spot. Usually, squirrels will hide when danger arrives, but once the woods settle down again, they’ll continue going about their business.
Get Ready for the Rut
Winter is the squirrel rut. Ever sat in your treestand watching a couple squirrels dash up and around every tree in sight? They’re not just playing chase. Like deer, squirrels are most active during the rut. However, unlike deer, squirrels rarely come out when it’s below freezing, snowing, sleeting or raining. Use your time wisely and make sure it’s going to be a pleasant day before planning a squirrel hunt.
Dust Off the Rimfire Rifle
Shooting small targets takes practice. We like to carry a .22 to the squirrel woods and can make 40 yard shots consistently. Others prefer to reach out to longer distances with .22 Mags. or a .17 HMR., both of which are great rimfire rounds. And even though the canopy has long since left the trees, the intertwining branches can easily swallow a squirrel, so use a rimfire riflescope with a wide field of view and a smooth zoom.
A Delicious Recipe
If you like spicy and you like fried then this is a recipe you must try. After you’ve skinned and cleaned the squirrels, cut them into quarters, which you’ll place in tupperware or a Ziploc bag. Cover the meat with Louisiana hot sauce and let marinate for 6-12 hours, depending on how much flavor you prefer. Then, transfer the quarters into a bowl of buttermilk and let soak for another hour. Remove the meat, pat it with a paper towel to remove some of the buttermilk, which keeps the flour mixture from sticking together.
We like a dry batter so we’ll mix up two parts flour to every one part cornmeal and salt and pepper to taste. Fry the squirrels in hot oil (about 350 degrees) for three minutes on each side or until golden brown. If you really want to impress someone, use the leftover grease in the skillet to make a sawmill gravy by simply blending in flour then slowly adding milk. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with biscuits and it’s a childhood memory relived that’ll make you yearn to get back out in the squirrel woods.