How To Field Dress, Preserve and Tan a Squirrel

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Video curing squirrel pelt

Processing Squirrel Meat

Squirrel hunting can produce a substantial amount of extra meat for your dinner table, but once you have a squirrel in hand…how do you process it? Processing squirrel meat is a pretty simple process that requires just a little time and a sharp knife. As with anything that has been around as long as the processing wild game, there are several ways one can complete the task. For simplicity purposes we will examine just one, the one I use and find to be the simplest.

Before we begin processing the squirrel I’m going to assume a few things.

  1. The squirrel has previously been skinned (field dressed) and all organs have been removed.
  2. The feet on all legs, head and tail have been removed. If these are not completed, please do so before moving on.

If you were using a shotgun to get the squirrels, search the outer parts of the meat for pellets. There is nothing worse than chipping a tooth over dinner. Also, if the meat is bruised due to pellet or bullet penetration you may want to consider soaking the squirrel for a few hours (or overnight) in a solution of salt water. This usually “draws out” the bruising in the meat considerably well.

How to Process Squirrel Meat

Let’s begin:

Front Legs:

Cut from underneath the front leg (armpit area) in an upward motion severing the leg from the body. The socket where the front legs meet the shoulder isn’t very strong and should slice through rather easily. Repeat for other front leg.

Rear Legs:

Cut along the spine (tailbone) until you are able to “bend” the entire leg downward, breaking the socket loose, to remove the leg. Repeat for the other rear leg.

Another thing to do with the rear legs is to remove the small pocket of fatty tissue that is hidden below the surface of the meat, behind the knee. Slide the knife into the meat just enough to puncture it and dig the fatty tissue out. It isn’t a requirement to remove this but most people do so. Leaving it will not adversely affect the taste of the meat.

Torso:

Remove the “flappy skin” that covered the organ casing (belly meat) if you like. Some people choose to trip this meat from the rib cage down to the hip area while others keep it for the small amount of extra meat value. The choice is yours. I usually trim it if I’m going to fry the squirrel but if I use it for a stew or pull the meat from the bone, I’ll leave it attached.

Cut upward just below the bottom rib until you make contact with the backbone. Repeat for the opposite side. Grip the rib cage in one hand and the remaining bottom section in the other and twist. This will break the rib cage free for discarding (there is hardly any usable meat there). This will leave the area from just below the rib cage to the tailbone. Along the back is the loin area and can be cooked along with the legs.

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Final

Lastly, remove the lower section of the tailbone (from the back section mentioned above) where no meat is present and discard the tailbone. You will now have all four legs and the back meat section to use for cooking, grilling or stews.

Note: Some people choose to soak the meat overnight in salt water or buttermilk. Some claim that this takes the “gamey” flavor out of the meat. I’ve tried this and do not notice a difference in taste. Plus, if you have an aversion to the flavor of squirrel…I have to ask…what are you doing reading this anyway?

Watch the video tutorial below:

How to preserve a squirrel hide

Preserving a squirrel hide acquired during squirrel hunting can be a fun activity for any young hunter. It can enable them to save their first squirrel or to learn about hiding preservation. Of course you have many other reasons to want to preserve a squirrel hide but before we begin, I must note that “preserving” a hide is different than “tanning” a hide. While Tanning leaves the hide soft and pliable, preserving it usually yields a much stiffer product. This stiffer product may not be as desirable, but with the only required chemical being table salt…many people prefer this method.

If you have a leftover hide from field dressing a previous squirrel, that will work fine but personally I like to get a better looking pelt by skinning it so that I have a much more complete and less damaged hide. Keep this in mind before skinning your squirrel, they way you clean it will determine how intact the hide will be.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Sharp knife
  • Large flat working surface or a sheet of plywood
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Non-iodized salt

Instructions:

  1. Begin by slicing along the underside of the squirrel, from the chin to the anus. You only need to get under the skin so do not stick the knife in far or you risk opening the body cavity. The goal is to remove the skin, not disembowel the squirrel.
  2. Once you have exposed much of the underside meat from the skin, work the skin free slowly and gently. It’s recommended to go ahead and remove the feet so that the legs can be pulled free of the skin. Leaving the feet attached risks allowing rot to take over and ruin your hide.
  3. Split the underside of the tail slowly as you work out the tail. It’s difficult to get it 100{6eed75c7f8c195edd1162272d31c56c9d78bf8d95bfa341f234a4c2acf0cac3e} removed so if you are unable, stop at a reasonable spot and snap it off.
  4. If you decide you want to keep the head on your hide you’re taking on the more difficult part of the skinning process. But with a little patient, you can do it. I choose to remove the head from the body (but not severed from the hide) and save this part for last, slowly work back the skin with your knife. Next, use a staple gun, tacks, small nails, etc to hold the hide open. I recommend taking it to a piece of plywood. Try to keep it on the very edge of the hide.
  5. Add a generous amount of non-iodized salt to the hide, others have stated that regular table salt (with iodine in it works fine but I have not tested it). Be sure to get around the edges and make sure there are not any folds in the skin where the salt cannot reach. Work the salt into the head and tail.As you salt, remember this: Any unsalted spot is not protected and will rot!In a day or two the salt will become saturated or crusty with the moisture it has drawn out of the flesh. Scrape away the old salt and reapply a second generous layer. Allow the second layer of salt to remain for about ten to fourteen days.
  6. To finish off the process, remove the salt and scrape away anything still remaining on the skin. Apply a small layer of Neatsfoot oil or other leather conditioner to give your pet some pliability. Allow it to absorb for a few hours then add another layer.
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How to preserve a squirrel tail

Every hunter (squirrel hunters included) enjoys showing off their hunting prowess. Deer hunters often have a head or antlers mounted, fishermen sometimes have a nice size fish preserved and mounted on their wall. Squirrel hunters usually don’t have their squirrels taxidermied but often enough, we like to keep the tails so in this article we will see a simple way to preserve a squirrel tail.

When keeping tails as a record of your successful hunts there really isn’t too much involved in the preservation process. With some non-iodized salt, you can start collecting your squirrel tails as well.

Instructions:

  1. Start with a pair of pliers and remove the bone. You can also try slicing down the tail to remove the bone but the pliers often remove it completely, reducing the chance of it rotting.
  2. Once the bone has been removed, pour a generous amount of salt on the fleshy part of the tail (the inside). This is best done as soon as the bone is removed as some of the inside skin is exposed.
  3. Turn it right-side-in again and pour some additional salt into it. Let this sit (on a flat surface) for at least 24 hours.
  4. After 24 hours, wipe or scrape away the old salt and reapply another generous layer. Place it on a flat surface to dry for another couple days and the tail should stay preserved for many years.

How to Tan a Squirrel Hide

Squirrel hunting can provide many squirrel hides that can be turned into durable leather or made into nice decorative pieces in just a few simple steps. We will examine how to tan a squirrel hide in a simple and effective manner.

Squirrel pelts were traditionally used as a durable leather that had many uses, such as being sewn into patterns to make coats and other articles of clothing to keep our ancestors warm. Even though you can run down to the local Walmart store and buy a coat eliminating the NEED to tan a hide, the process of tanning a hide can still be an interesting and entertaining activity, even if it’s just done for fun.

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Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Salt
  • Dull knife
  • Alum (tanning chemical, short for Aluminum) can be purchased many places, including Amazon.com. Do a quick Google search for a place that carries it near you.
  • Hide from a squirrel
  • Neat’s Foot Oil (purchased at any leather shop)

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the pelt by scraping away as much visible meat and fleshy tissue as possible from the hairless underside of the hide. A dull knife is recommended, as it will scrape the hide without slicing through.
  2. In a 5 gallon bucket, prepare a solution of salt water: 5 cups of salt to 1 gallon. Submerge the hide in the salt solution for a minimum of 24 hours. Remove and scrape away any remaining flesh and membrane that has come loose during the soaking process.
  3. To prepare your tanning solution, begin with 2 lbs. of salt mixed into 4 gallons of water. You can reuse the same bucket as before. Stir it to dissolve the salt completely. In a separate container, mix 2 lbs. of alum in just enough water to dissolve and mix thoroughly. Add this to the salt mixture.
  4. Place the scraped pelt into the tanning solution. Allow it to sit for 24 hours and stir it a minimum of two times during the tanning process.
  5. Remove from the solution and rinse the entire pelt under clear running water. Hang the pelt outside with the fur side up, over a clothesline or railing out of direct sunlight. Let it hang for several days.
  6. Rub the hide, back and forth, over a straight edge to soften the leather. A patio railings will work well for this process.
  7. Work Neat’s Foot or other leather lubricants into the underside (leather) with your fingers to insure the tanned hide becomes both soft and pliable. Use a dog brush or other comb to work out any mats or tangles on the fur side of the hide.

Now you have your very own squirrel pelt. A set of them placed over the arms of your couch looks great!

Things to note:

  1. The chemicals, salt and alum, are non-toxic to humans but should NOT be digested. Wear gloves and wash hands frequently. As always, you should read the product label before using any chemical.
  2. This method can be used to tan almost any type of animal hide. Increase times and amounts of tanning solution for larger hides.
  3. Squirrel hides can be frozen in the freezer until ready to tan if you choose to tan several at the same time.
  4. Alum can usually be purchased at any pharmacy or drug store.
  5. The tanned hide is NOT WATERPROOF. Exposing it to water can cause hair to fall out or the hide to stiffen. However this method is still good for preserving hides.
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>