As Missourians, we are blessed with endless opportunities to pursue fish and game. Just as soon as one season closes another opens. Most of us probably don’t even have our turkey hunting gear properly put away yet, and now squirrel hunting is upon us.
Missouri’s squirrel season opened May 28 and runs until February 15, 2017. Hunters are allowed to harvest 10 squirrels daily and may possess up to 20. Squirrels may be taken with a shotgun, rifle or bow. They can also be taken with cage-type traps during the season. The Small Game Hunting Permit is required to hunt squirrels. If you are using a shotgun on a Conservation Area, be sure to check if it is one of the 21 areas where nontoxic shot is required.
The forests and woodlands of Missouri can be tough to navigate during the hot summer months. Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, poison ivy and more are sound reasons to stay out of the dense foliage. However, there are ways to hunt squirrels in the summer that won’t leave you itching all over. Walking cleared trails and logging roads afford you easy passage through the brush. My favorite way to hunt summer squirrels is to float-hunt on a peaceful stream from the comforts of a canoe.
Silently paddling down a river through public land with a .22 rifle close at hand, a hunter can easily glide within shooting distance of squirrels. Spot a squirrel up in the branches, make the shot, retrieve your quarry and paddle on down the river until you find another. You can easily float-hunt squirrels alone, but it works even better with a partner. Have the shooter in the bow of the boat so the paddler in the rear can hold the boat steady in the right place for the shooter.
When you arrive at an area that looks like great squirrel habitat, beach your canoe and take a hike. By accessing public land from the river, you are likely to have it all to yourself. You can also prepare squirrel at a camp on a gravel bar. I know more than one woodsman who lives for fresh fried squirrel served riverside.
If you’re new to squirrel hunting, don’t worry. Cleaning and cooking squirrels is a snap. First, make a slice under the base of the tail. Then break the tailbone and skin up the back about an inch. Next, slice down along the top of each back leg. This gives you a nice flap. Step on it and pull the squirrel up from its back legs. This will skin out the front of the squirrel. Now just grab the flap and pull it over the back legs. With your squirrel skinned, cut off the meat you plan to eat, bread it, drop it in the frying pan and you’re ready to go.
Squirrels are active from sunrise to sunset, foraging for food such as nuts, berries and seeds. Hunters who move slowly typically do well. And it behooves one to sit in one place and wait for the movement of a squirrel to give away its location. Once you find and shoot one, don’t give up on the spot, as you are quite likely to take two or more squirrels from the location.
We have two species of squirrels in Missouri: fox squirrels and eastern gray squirrels. Fox squirrels are also commonly known as “red squirrels.” They are bigger than gray squirrels and often inhabit edge areas. Gray squirrels are commonly found in larger tracts of forest, but it is common to find both the reds and grays living together.