Memorable squirrel hunts start hunters to a life of loving the outdoors
Thanksgiving and Christmas are traditionally sacred times for many families. The Phillips family adds another holiday – a late season squirrel hunt with dogs to teach the children to have fun in the outdoors, learn to hunt and understand why our family hunts.
I know this tradition has occurred for at least five generations and possibly more. Your family also can develop a hunting tradition that starts with a dog squirrel hunt and ends with creating a deer hunting buddy forever.
Louisiana and Mississippi both enjoy long squirrel hunting seasons. Louisiana’s is Oct. 7, 2023, until Feb. 29, 2024, and then again May 4-26, 2024. Mississippi’s is from Sept. 30, 2023 – Feb. 28, 2024, and May 15-June 1, 2024.
Our family knows that one of the biggest distractions for young people today is video games on their cell phones and other devices that often keep them from participating in the outdoors. We’ve learned that being a part of one or more exciting, memorable squirrel hunts often will mean they’ll leave their video games behind. They’ll enjoy getting their gear ready to hunt, painting their faces with camo paint, tramping through the woods, listening for a squirrel dog to bark, spotting a squirrel in a tree, taking a shot and retrieving the squirrel. They also get to be a part of the grown folks’ squirrel hunt.
By going at the children’s pace, taking plenty of snacks — particularly those Mom doesn’t allow at home — and water on the hunt and remembering that the hunt isn’t for you but is for them, you’ll have more success in involving children in hunting with you.
Understanding squirrel hunting essentials also helps youngsters learn how to be good deer hunters. All the essential skills for hunting deer can be learned when you teach your children how to squirrel hunt. By hunting with an experienced squirrel hunter at daylight or in the late afternoon, when squirrels are moving the most, children can learn:
- the sounds that both squirrels and deer make;
- the most-productive places to either set-up a natural or a pop-up blind for hunting and to begin a stalk by searching for water and food squirrels eat — blackberries, mulberries, green plants, hickory nuts, acorns, mushrooms, “poke salad” and other foods that deer eat, too;
- the spots where squirrels are hiding by using their binoculars;
- the distances they are from squirrels by using a rangefinder;
- stealthy and quiet movements they can make down roads, trails or through water without being detected by a squirrel or a deer;
- the importance of raking trails and clearing up thick areas with pruning shears to keep squirrels and deer from hearing their movements before they hunt;
- the clues they can spot to show them where squirrels and/or deer are;
- gun safety — the proper way to carry a gun, when to bring the gun up to shoot, when to take a safety off, and why a rest may be needed to steady the gun before shooting;
- the best times to take or not take a shot;
- accurate shooting at a small target before they hunt a big target like a deer;
- the ability to aim at a small part of a squirrel, instead of trying to shoot the entire squirrel;
- the approach needed to pick up a squirrel they’ve shot off a limb or a deer that’s gone down in thick cover or moved just out of sight;
- the ways of the woods and how to enjoy every part of a hunt.
Using a dog adds fun
A quality dog trainer will purchase some pen-raised quail, set them out and let the bird dog pups try to find them. With their noses, they’ll often pick up the scent of the quail, rush in and flush the birds. They’ll learn very quickly that when they smell that scent, they can flush the birds and have a good time.
I’ve learned one of the best ways to put that same enthusiasm in a young squirrel hunter is to take him or her on a squirrel hunt with a squirrel dog. The youngster can walk and run (without a gun), he or she doesn’t have to be quiet, and they can see all that goes on when the dog trees the squirrel, the hunter starts shooting, and the squirrel falls out of the tree. Often, they can pick up the downed squirrel after the dog has shaken it to make sure it’s dead and take the squirrel back to their parent or to the dog owner.
You don’t want to let the bird dog pups become totally exhausted chasing birds. A morning squirrel hunt with a dog is a far better learning situation than an all-day squirrel hunt, and you won’t wear out the children either. Most children love dogs. Plenty of excitement is involved in hunting with dogs.
The language of squirrels
You can begin to teach an older child the 10 identifiable sounds that squirrels make. Children will enjoy learning a squirrel’s language. Squirrels rattle and screech when defending their territories; bark and buzz to alert other squirrels; kuk-kuk-kuk and qua to warn; seet to denote a terrestrial predator; and seet-bark to alert other squirrels to an aerial predator. They also can use squirrel calls like the Mr. Squirrel Whistle made by Haydel’s Game Calls in Bossier City, La., or a cutter call or a barker and learn how to listen for the squirrels to answer.
The best way to start children shooting is to let them shoot at paper targets and then at pine cones and stumps in the field with a low powered BB gun. You’ll increase his or her desire to learn more about squirrel hunting. All these skills are necessary when they are old enough to hunt deer with you.
Be sure the BB gun and any other guns fit the children using them. Before the hunt, the child can practice aiming, shooting at a target, gun safety and being ready to hunt squirrels.
Once the dog trees, you can show him or her where the squirrel is, and either you or another one of the hunters can be ready to shoot at the same time the child does and yell out, “You’ve got him, Johnny!” or “Susie!” If the child looks up and says, “Yeah, but you shot him,” your answer is, “I was just finishing him off. That’s your squirrel.” The child will have a sense of accomplishment, he or she has learned gun safety, and he or she will be fired up about squirrel hunting.
Avid squirrel hunters name other guns beginners can use to hunt squirrels as they become older, including the Winchester Wildcat .22, the Browning T-Bolt Semiautomatic .22, the Lever Action Rimfire Henry Classic, the Savage A2, the Ruger 10/22 autoloading rifle and the single shot .410 shotgun. Selecting the correct ammunition for one of these guns to shoot accurately at distances from 25-50 yards to take squirrels generally involves buying several kinds of .22 rounds and shooting those for comparison and shooting No. 4s or No. 6s in a .410.
A family squirrel hunt is always a much anticipated adventure after Christmas for both young and old.
Bring the fun to the table
Squirrels are delicious, if they’re properly prepared for the table. By watching their dad or mom clean several squirrels, the youngster will want to learn how to dress a squirrel, cut the squirrel up and prepare it for the table. Nothing’s more rewarding for a youngster than to have a delicious squirrel dinner prepared with a squirrel they have taken with the right seasonings and side dishes. These same skills will be needed when he or she is successful at taking a deer. The Phillips children’s favorite baked squirrel recipe is simple to prepare. Here’s how we do it:
- 4 squirrels skinned and cut into pieces
- 1 can bouillon
- 1/4-cup Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons onion juice
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 small bay leaf
- Salt, pepper to taste
Dredge squirrels with flour. Place in a roasting pan. Add remaining ingredients; Bake at 350 degrees F in an oven for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 250 degrees. Bake until tender.
Southern Fried Squirrel
Another family favorite is Southern Fried Squirrel. Again, here’s how we do it:
Skin, and disjoint two squirrels. Drop pieces slowly into boiling water to cover. Then add:
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped coarsely
- 1 sprig parsley
Simmer squirrel until tender. Cool thoroughly. Dry squirrel pieces between paper towels. Prepare batter (below). Dip each squirrel piece into batter (see below). Then drop it in hot oil and fry, until pieces are golden brown. You can make gravy with the drippings.
Ingredients for Batter:
- 1/2-cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 beaten egg
- 1/2-cup cornmeal
- 1/4-teaspoon salt
- 3/4-cup milk
Now, the hunt and the training is complete.