By STEVE GILLILAND
Exploring Kansas Outdoors
As a youth, the after-deer-season joke between me and my buddies was the question “Well, are you eatin’ venison or bologna?” A few years ago, following a deer season with no harvest, I offered to help provide meat for a Sunday school get-together and the joke became “Yup, Steve will probably be bringin’ squirrel since he didn’t get a deer.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with squirrel meat; our forefathers relied heavily on squirrels as a protein source. Squirrel meat is very similar to rabbit meat and can be prepared the same ways, and even though Cousin Eddy from the National Lampoon movie “Christmas Vacation” says squirrels are high in cholesterol, they are not. Bentonville Arkansas, headquarters of Walmart, has an annual World Champion Squirrel Cook-Off that draws TV crews, executive chefs and visitors from around the world. Their theme is “Squirrel – its’s what’s for Supper,” and they offer “organic tree-to-table squirrel” in a wide variety of dishes from squirrel pizza to squirrel flavored ice cream.
Also known as tree bacon, limb chicken and bird feeder vandals, I know of no wild animal in our society today more pampered than the squirrel. We buy corn to feed them, and then buy feeders to hold the corn. We teach them to take peanuts from our hands, and I even heard of someone who had taught the little beggars to tap on the front door when they wanted a handout. Some years back I did a story about two local brothers who cashed-in on our squirrel feeding frenzy by growing and harvesting upwards of one thousand bushels of ear corn every year which they sold for squirrel corn.
I have to admit squirrels are fun to watch as they roll around in those glass jar feeders and cling upside down to the side of a tree. This year we bought a rig that suspends two ears of corn on a wire with a spring on it a couple feet off the ground, making them jump up and cling onto the ears long enough to get a mouthful before dropping back to the ground. But they have a dark side too. They eat the fruit off fruit trees, the grapes off grape vines, and they litter my front lawn with acorn shells from the nearby Pin Oaks, after they have dug holes in my lawn to bury many. The bird feeder industry works overtime to make their products “squirrel proof,” but I doubt there is such a thing. They will chew on about anything, and I read where their appetite for electrical wiring has caused the shut-down of the NASDAQ twice in its history.
The 2023 - 2024 squirrel season in KS opened June 1, 2023 and runs through Feb 29, 2024, extraordinarily long for any hunting season. Yet, the sport of squirrel hunting seems tremendously underutilized here in Kansas. Granted, we don’t have the woods and forests that make squirrel hunting so popular in some other states, but we do have plenty of squirrels (besides the zillions that inhabit our towns.) From deer stands, I have often watched squirrels’ rustle about in the leaves beneath me, or heard them in the trees above and behind me as they scold me as an intruder, so I believe that our countryside has no squirrel deficiency. Smaller gauge shotguns and .22 rifles have always been the favored weapons for squirrel hunting, but many of the newer air-powered rifles would be excellent choices as squirrel guns.
Naturally nut trees are the biggest draw, but in the fall and winter, Osage Oranges (Hedge Apples) become an important food source too. Squirrel hunting is a waiting game, so find a spot in the trees along the river or near a thick fencerow where small chips of hedge
apple or nut shells litter the ground, and pick yourself a comfortable seat. Your patience will be rewarded as Mr. Bushy Tail will soon come out of hiding and begin scampering about, or scolding you from a nearby branch. In either case, bide your time, and you’ll eventually get a shot. Squirrel hunting is a good way to hone your rifle marksmanship, as they don’t stand still very long.
So, dust off the old .22, sight in the scope (or adjust the open sights for you purists,) and head to the woods. Find yourself a comfy’ seat against a big tree, and don’t be surprised if the serenity of the situation puts you to sleep. The worst-case scenario will be some quiet time to yourself and a nice nap. The best-case scenario will be both of the above plus a squirrel dinner. Either way, you’ll Explore Kansas Outdoors, so how can you lose?
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected].