Squirrel Stew and Squirrel Confit

Last year I fell back in love with a couple of my favorite things to do as a child, pan fishing and squirrel hunting.  I did a lot of both when I was younger and then for some reason gave them up for other pursuits.  I was unable to get out and do some of the hunting that I had done in the past so I thought I would try squirrel hunting again.  It is inexpensive and doesn't require a lot of gear and can be done almost anywhere.  Living in the twin cities area there isn't a lot of hunting available close by, but there are a few wildlife management areas within a 15 or 20 minute drive that provide the perfect environment for a squirrel hunt.

I know a lot of people probably think that squirrel hunting is dumb and pointless and can't be that challenging.  To those people I say this, give it a try its not as easy as you might think.  We are all familiar with squirrels and probably have them in our yards and see them in town quite a bit, but those aren't huntable squirrels.  Those are squirrels that see people all the time and have gotten used to us being around.   Squirrels out in the woods are a completely different creature.  When ever I pull into the parking lot of a WMA the first thing I notice is the amount of noise the woods make.  Birds chirping, squirrels running around and all the noises the woods have to offer.  As soon as I walk into the woods I notice a different sound.  Silence, the only noise out there is me walking through the woods and crunching the ground.  

squirrels soaking in a brine

I am always amazed at how quickly the woods go from noisy to silent.  Once you are in the woods it takes time for all the wildlife to adjust so you must sit silently for some time.  Anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour.  but once the woods come back to life it is an amazing thing to hear all the sounds that are around you.  In the fall when the leaves have dropped and are dry it sounds like an Army is moving through the woods when in all actuality it is just the birds and chipmunks and squirrels and whatever else might be out there going back to their normal routine.  

Braised Squirrel Aurora, Recipe from Hank Shaw

It is that aspect of squirrel hunting that I think is the most important, just being able to get out in the woods and sit silently until the forest comes back to life is an amazing thing.  That is also why I believe squirrel hunting is the best way to introduce some one to hunting.  It involves all the skills you would use on other hunts but is fairly inexpensive to do and easy to start.  It is also done early in the fall when temperature are just perfect for kids to be outside.  Cool enough for the bugs to be gone but warm enough to enjoy being outside.  This year I introduced my buddy and his daughter to squirrel hunting and she enjoyed it so much that she went deer hunting with us and was able to get her first deer.

The other part of squirrel hunting that was very rewarding was remembering how tasty squirrel is.  I couldn't believe the response I got from some of the squirrel dishes.  Buttermilk fried squirrel, a braised squirrel stew that was out of this world and a squirrel confit that would have made any critic of squirrel hunting change their mind.  I made the squirrel stew out of Hank Shaw's book Hunt Gather Cook and will tell all of you the same thing I told him.  If everyone could try that stew there would be a squirrel shortage, it was amazing.

Squirrel confit with Trugold cheese