I have a love-hate relationship with squirrels, also known as limb chickens or tree bacon in our neck of the woods. They taunt our two little pups from the top of my back fence or from the roof of our neighbor’s garage and work them into an absolute frenzy. They hang upside-down from their heels on the side of the tree, just out of reach and chatter away as if to say “Come and get me you yappy little mongrels!”
Squirrels are not to be trifled with and can give a nasty bite, but just once I wish my dumb mutts would learn to work together and snag one. Like maybe one pup could prance around the tree with a big grin on its face, clutching an acorn in its teeth, luring the little bird-feeder-vandal near the ground, while the other pup sneaks up from the other side, pounces on its back and cleans it off the side of tree. But it would be just my luck that instead of crumpling to the ground with the pooch on its back, it would head for the top of the tree with the pooch on its back. At that point I don’t know which would be worse, the hapless hound hangin’ on to end up somewhere in the treetops, or fallin’ off somewhere over the middle of the yard.
Pesky as they are, I know of no other wild critter in the US more pampered than the squirrel. I have to admit squirrels are fun to watch as they roll around inside those glass jar feeders. We even found plans and built a “maize” feeder, where the squirrel must enter through one of two holes in the side, than navigate around partitions inside to reach ears of corn. People buy corn to feed them, and then buy feeders to hold the corn. My son’s father-in-law has his trained to take peanuts from his hand, and the little buggers even tap on his front door when they want a snack.
A couple years back a squirrel with only half a tail became a regular at our feeder; we named it “Ole’ Stumpy.” We thought at first that Stumpy was a male, but there were no bulging body parts on Stumpy’s underside, so we deemed her a girl. We can only guess at how Stumpy lost the end of her tail, but I did a little research on Ole’ Stumpy’s tail dilemma on a website named “The Squirrel Board” (I can’t make this stuff up!) It seems Stumpy was not alone and squirrel tails are made so they will “deglove” or snap off if a predator has hold of it. The jury seemed to still be out as to whether it would ever grow back and Stumpy would be whole again. The squirrel lovers on that site were way out of my league. One guy said “If you’re feeding peanuts to your squirrels make sure they are roasted…I feed mine chopped almonds because they are healthier than peanuts.” (Really; sounds like his squirrels eat better than I do.) He went on to say “Thanksgiving week we fed them almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts for a variety.” I have to admit that would make for some tasty squirrel if you roasted em’ while they were still full of nuts.
Now 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 globe. Their theme is “Squirrel – it’s for Supper,” and they offer “organic tree-to-table squirrel” in dishes like squirrel pizza and squirrel flavored ice cream. And are you aware there is actually an organization called “Squirrels Unlimited?” (SQU for short) Its mission statement reads: “SQU is dedicated to the recognition and promotion of the squirrel as one of mankind’s greatest gifts.”
There is also a market for squirrel tails. Fishing lure manufacturer Mepps in Wisconsin actually pays for squirrel tails because they seem to work better as skirts on their fishing lures than any other product they have tried. Depending on the species of tails you send, they pay from 12 cents apiece for tails that are only partially useable to 25 cents apiece for tails that are fully useable. On their website they caution “Mepps is only interested in “recycling” tails from squirrels harvested for the table. We do not advocate taking squirrels strictly for their tails.” Mepps says that when they receive the tails, members of their experienced team will grade the tails as premium, average or unusable.
We never knew what became of Ole’ Stumpy, she just sort-of disappeared. Perhaps, because of her deformity, she was run-off by more dominant members of our squirrel community. Perhaps her snapper-off tail caused her such shame that she ended it all by throwing herself in front of a school bus. Or perhaps she simply died of old age and crossed the rainbow bridge with dignity. Every time I sit in a deer stand or turkey blind and hear a squirrel chattering and barking at me, I have to wonder if its Ole’ Stumpy reincarnated just to give me a few more minutes of entertainment… Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve Gilliland, Inman, can be contacted by email at [email protected]