Have you ever had the opportunity to mentor a youth that has never before had the chance to shoot or hunt? If you have, you know the great experience that you will both have.
If you have not, you could be in for a wonderful time that you will both reflect on for years to come.
Squirrels are one of the species that are legal to pursue when mentoring youth, and they present the ideal scenario for introducing a new hunter to shooting and hunting. The whole process can begin anytime, and the sooner, the better by spending time at the range while introducing a young enthusiast to firearm safety and the fun of shooting. A .22 rifle with a scope is the perfect introductory firearm that is also ideal for squirrel hunting this fall. After a thorough discussion of proper gun handling and safety, it’s time to do some plinking on paper targets and then move on to some tin cans or balloons — it’s always fun to watch the cans jump, and the balloons pop! After sufficient time at the range, it is time to go to the next step — to do some scouting for a place to chase bushytails.
Squirrels are tree dwellers that can be found throughout our Northcentral Pennsylvania hardwood forests. While they will eat the nuts of a beech tree, their preference as a food source is the acorn, with white oak acorns being their favorite. Unfortunately for farmers, they also can readily be found raiding nearby corn fields. If you can find a spot at the edge of a stand of white oak trees that lies next to a corn field, you will be in a prime spot for squirrel hunting. Combine those two factors with a small stream meandering nearby, and you should have good success.
Gray squirrels often begin moving about before sunrise and are active throughout the day. Always alert to possible predation, they rarely stray too far from a nearby tree where they can quickly climb to safety. If you are sitting nearby, occasionally rustling the leaves with your hand or a stick will simulate a turkey scratching or a squirrel digging in the leaves and will tend to convince them that the coast is clear and help lure them out into the open.
Sitting in a grove of white oak trees or next to a field of standing corn can be productive throughout the day, and the method of spot and stalk can be very effective as well. Take your time as you ease through the woods, stopping often to survey the area or listen for nearby squirrels. Hunting squirrels is all about patience. You don’t need to rush and shoot at a moving target; wait until the squirrel stops before aiming. Carry a few small rocks in your pocket. If you know there is a squirrel on the backside of a nearby tree, toss a rock beyond the tree — on the side where the squirrel is hiding — and he just might scurry around to your side of the tree, presenting a shot opportunity.
Since the preferred methods of hunting bushytails are either sitting or slowly walking as you spot and stalk, mentoring youth while squirrel hunting will provide an excellent chance to share time talking about ethical hunting methods, woodsmanship, and all the many facets of spending time in the woods that make hunting such an enjoyable and rewarding pursuit.
Finally, bringing home several squirrels for the dinner table can be quite tasty, particularly when using this recipe for squirrel pot pie:
Ingredients: one large onion, coarsely chopped, several stalks of celery, coarsely chopped, one large garlic clove, minced or pressed, six cups of beef broth, fresh ground pepper, and salt to taste, two squirrels, cleaned and quartered, one 12 ounce can of mixed vegetables, one tablespoon of cornstarch and pastry for a double-crust pie.
Combine the onion, celery, garlic, broth, pepper, salt, and squirrel in a large pot and bring to a boil; simmer until meat is very tender and easily removed from bones. Debone the meat and set aside; reserve one cup of cooking liquid.
Fit the bottom crust into a pie pan.
Combine the meat, vegetables and reserved broth, and cornstarch in a bowl and mix well; spoon the mixture into the pie shell.
Top with the second crust, press the edges to seal, and cut vents in the top for steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees until crust is browned, about 1 hour.
By following all of these steps, you have properly introduced a youth into the enjoyable and rewarding world of shooting and hunting and have shared the complete concept of “field to table” of hunting for game that makes delicious and healthy table fare.