Springtime squirrels cure itchy trigger fingers

A platter of fried squirrels or a bowl of squirrel dumplings in May is as delicious as a helping in September.
May 27, 2014
Lebanon's Roy Denney bagged this fox squirrel and gray squirrel on opening day of spring squirrel season.

Tennessee's spring squirrel season opened May 10 and runs through June 8, and hunting buddy Roy Denney of Gladeville eased into the woods on opening day to bag a couple of warm-weather bushytails.

Somehow I've never been able to get into the mood for spring squirrel hunting.

I think part of it is due to the fact that I'm beat after turkey season -- those 4 a.m. wakeups, long drives, climbing ridges in the dark and sitting hunkered down in briars patches and fence rows for hours have taken a toll.

Plus, it's getting hot and muggy.

Poison ivy is sprouting in the forest and fence rows.

Chiggers and ticks are becoming more and more active.

Ditto for skeeters.

And snakes.

But I suppose all that's mostly just an excuse. When the traditional "fall" squirrel season opens in late August, it's equally hot, muggy and buggy. Poison ivy is still profuse and potent, and the biggest, meanest copperhead I ever encountered was in mid-September.

In other words, the weather and other conditions are similar.

I used to venture out for the late-August opening day of squirrel season -- antsy after a long summer -- but in recent years I've held off until the weather cools a bit. I suspect it's more a matter of Global Aging than Global Warming, but somehow August seems a lot hotter than it was when I was a kid.

To me the charm of squirrel hunting is slipping into an autumn woods at dawn when there's a nip in the air, the leaves are starting to turn amber and crimson, and acorns and hickory nuts hang heavy on the boughs.

It's listening for the shiver of branches, the shower of dew, the trickle of nut nulls that signal breakfasting bushytails.

As I said, it's mostly a matter of mood.

But there's nothing wrong with collecting some bonus squirrels in the spring. Biologists say it has no effect on the critters' cyclical population, and there's no danger of over-hunting.

In fact, just the opposite: surveys indicate that squirrel hunting is becoming a vanishing activity, as accessible habitat disappears, and more and more hunters focus on big game such as deer and turkeys. In other words, there's plenty of squirrels.

Contrary to myth, spring squirrels are as good to eat as fall squirrels, just as any wild or domestic animals are as edible in the spring as in the fall. In the old days it was difficult to preserve meat in warm weather (which is why hogs were killed during cold weather)  but nowadays preserving the meat is not a concern if squirrels are cleaned and refrigerated reasonably soon after being bagged.

A platter of fried squirrels or a bowl of squirrel dumplings in May is as delicious as a helping in September.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind some for supper.

Maybe I'll give Roy a call.

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