- Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2009 03:19
- Published on Thursday, 29 January 2009 03:19
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By Mark Fike
Journal Outdoor Writer
Hunting season is all but over for a few months with only squirrel and rabbit season left in our area.
Given the economic situation in our country we all feel a bit tense and most of us are thinking before we spend any money. One small fix to the stress and a way to save a little money in the next few weeks would be to get in the woods during the waning days of small game season.
Taking a walk after work or on a Saturday in the local woods is a good way to relieve some stress and temporarily forget about some of the problems we are facing.
It is also nice to grab a .22 rifle or a light gauge shotgun and find a sunny spot against a tree or a log to soak up some sunshine on these cold days. Reliving a few childhood hunting trips is right up my alley, anyway.
The other benefit to take a walk. Besides the exercise and effort to relax a little is that you can put a little bit of meat on the table in the process and it is guaranteed to be lean and nutritious.
Squirrels are plentiful and finding some to bag is as easy as getting into the woods a few yards. The last two walks I took permitted me to see a brace of squirrels before traveling twenty yards into the woods.
First of all, wear drab clothes but don’t feel you have to get totally camo clad. I wear a chore coat and some jeans and a warm hat with some comfortable boots to sneak along.
Walk slowly and stop often. In fact, during this time of the season most of the squirrels that are seen will be on the ground. If you can sit still for ten or fifteen minutes, you will be amazed how many squirrels start appearing. Look for them near oak or hickory lots where they have buried nuts earlier in the season and are now looking to retrieve the nuts.
A careful eye will turn up where squirrels are frequenting. Look at fallen logs and stumps for nutshells. That is a dead give away to squirrels in the area.
Sometimes when you are walking along in the dry leaves it sounds like a dozen cows tromping through. I dread the sound and cringe at each step but I have also observed that many squirrels could care less.
In fact, last week while taking a quick walk before dark I got within ten feet of several squirrels, as they were busy eating. Too bad I was not carrying my firestick.
However, there are the squirrels that bolt like lightening when they hear the first crunch. Simply note where they run and then find a good spot to observe and wait them out. Fifteen minutes ought to do the job.
Late in the season, as we are now, the better option for squirrel hunters is the .22 rifle (or a .17 if that is your preference). Make sure you know where the little .22 bullet will impact at longer ranges and take head shots only if possible to save meat. Squirrels will often be seen at quite a distance and with a thick hide and fur to keep them warm shotgun pellets can have a tough time penetrating for a clean kill at distances over 40 yards.
If you really want to use your scattergun take close shots only and if possible aim forward on the critter to keep pellet damage to the minimum.
When I dress out a squirrel I make a slit in the fur across the back and then pull the skin back exposing the meat to the ankles and wrists. Taking a pair of snips I cut the joints and then quarter the animal.
If you want, you can work the little strip of backstrap off as well. This way you never have to remove entrails.
There is no real meat to fool with on the ribs anyway and the method described here is quick and less mess. After dressing out my squirrels I place them in a small bowl or zip lock for four or five days. The aging process tenderizes the meat amazingly well while in the refrigerator. The last six or seven squirrels we have had in soups or fried have been very tender and have come right off the bone. This season ends January 31st.
If rabbits are your game, there are a few more days in the season to bag them. Hunting until the end of February will be enjoyable and rabbits seem to be plentiful this year. Hunting rabbits with a dog is the most fun and productive but if you know where to find the rabs you can take a leisurely walk and stop and wait every once in awhile to see if Mr. Thumper shows up.
A shotgun is likely the better choice here but a .22 will work well if you are a decent shot and are more apt to see the rabs are longer ranges such as hedgerows or old fence lines. Frequent such areas as well as cutovers to find more rabbits.
Early successional growth is where the most rabbits breed and feed at this time of year. While rabbit hunting you may want to field dress any you take that will stay in your game vest more than a few hours. Use surgical gloves to dress them. Rabbits have been known to carry tularemia. As with squirrels rabbits age well in a cool refrigerator and are great on the table.
Both are good fried the old Southern way rolled in cornmeal but they also dress up gravy and dumplings very well and look great in a casserole dish with veggies roasted or baked.
Take advantage of the few days we have left. Get a load off your mind, take a walk in a local woodlot or field, enjoy the clean, cold air and take home some old fashioned dinner. Consider it the cheapest therapy and least expensive meal you have had in awhile!