It seems from skimming my social media feeds over the last week that I’m a minority when it comes to squirrel hunting around here, which surprises me. I remember when growing up that going out looking for squirrel was a common thing, but as I’ve gotten older it seems to get more fringe each year.
This greatly upsets me, considering squirrels have held together Appalachia since those first mountain folk began to settle it, and I imagine the same is true for the natives that were here long before us white folk. These critters and the meals they can provide deserve to be held in high regard, and I wish folks my age and younger truly knew why they’re so important. Find any old, real-deal country cookbook and I guarantee a recipe involving squirrels is in it.
But I get it, squirrels are the cuties of the woods. However, they’re also one of the most fun species to hunt. It’s relaxed, you don’t need a lot of gear and it’s great bonding time between friends. While I typically run the woods alone in pursuit of squirrels, it’s never a bad time with someone else tagging along.
My dad got me into squirrel hunting – or I should say, introduced me to it. Even then I wouldn’t say I was truly hunting, but rather just walking around kicking dirt with a .22 in my hands. Being overly sensitive toward animals, my only harvests at that point in my life were sunfish. Still, it was foundational and fun to be out in the woods. It wasn’t until college when I got back into it, and even then I was so obsessed with deer hunting that everything else took a back seat. Again, I more so just kicked around dirt but with less sensitivity towards the animal.
But since college, I’ve found a new appreciation for squirrels. I ate my first at a young age, and remember how good it was. I harvested and fried my first in college. And now I’m sharing that with those who may not see squirrels in the same light as me, or who view eating squirrels as taboo.
That – the fact that people view it as taboo – is something that has escaped me until recently when I posted a picture of my first Maryland squirrel on Instagram. I hunted them hard during my few days in the woods last year near Hagerstown, Md., but never got one. Then, my first day afield this season, I got a good-sized one within 10 minutes. With a bag limit of six a day in both Maryland and West Virginia, this can lead to a good bit of meat in the freezer or fridge for quick frying or to toss in a crockpot for biscuits and gravy over the next few months. But like I mentioned, not everyone sees it that way.
“…you’re…going to eat that?!” The comment on my Instagram post said from someone who’s been in Morgantown since leaving her hometown near Philadelphia a few years ago. At this point, I figured she knew what’s what in Appalachia, but I guess Morgantown is pretty separate from that. Sure, there are a lot of hunters in town whether lifelong residents or who attend WVU but eating wild game – especially a squirrel – isn’t something I’ve ever batted an eye at. To me, it’s a cultural norm. The idea that I’d kill something and not eat it is the taboo thing to me.
So, if you don’t think it’s normal, I’m sorry you’ve never experienced it and I think you should. If you’re new to hunting and want a good recipe, I’ll include the one I use below. It’s a mix of my own style and a recipe I found on the MeatEater website.
RECIPE – A meal for one: Fried squirrel over homemade biscuits with red-eye gravy and bacon
While this is a recipe for one, that’s because I’m the only one in my household that eats squirrel (aside from my dog, who really likes the scraps). If you have a more adventurous household, increase the recipe as desired.
2 squirrels skinned, cleaned and quartered
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp salt
Vegetable oil (enough for 2-3 inches to fry)
Buttermilk (enough to cover the meat and soak roughly 2-3 cups)
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 tbsp Baking powder
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1 cup buttermilk
Gravy and bacon:
4 strips of thick-cut bacon of your choice
1/2 cup of leftover coffee (or fresh, if you don’t have any sitting around)
The day before, you’ll want to marinade your squirrel in buttermilk. If you’re working on a short schedule, marinade for at least four-five hours so the meat can tenderize.
- Start with the biscuits. This is a typical homemade recipe you can find online.
- Get your oven preheated to 425 degrees, and line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
- While the oven heats up, whisk together the dry ingredients.
- Using a grater, grate cold butter over dry mix and toss.
- Make a well in the middle of the dough and pour in 1 cup of buttermilk. Stir until just binding, then pour it onto a hard surface sprinkled with flour.
- Fold the dough into a 1-inch rectangle, then fold into thirds. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin, then repeat the folding process at least two more times.
- Roll out once more into a 1-inch rectangle, then cut biscuits to your desired size. Do not twist the dough, just use your cutter. Use as much dough as possible.
- Melt butter in a small bowl. Place dough circles on the baking sheet a half-inch apart and then brush with melted butter.
- Cook 20 minutes or until tops are golden and biscuits are flaky. Make sure the dough is cooked through and not raw on the inside.
While biscuits are cooking…
- Cook bacon in a frying pan. Set cooked bacon on a plate with paper towels and set pan aside. Do NOT clean. Reheat coffee or make a fresh pot.
- Add vegetable oil to a separate deep frying pan. Heat to 350 degrees.
- While oil heats up, mix dry coating ingredients in a medium-large bowl.
- Pull meat out of marinade and drip dry. Place it on a plate.
- Toss the meat in the coating mix. Shake excess coating off and place on a separate plate.
- When the oil is at 350 degrees, add the coated meat into the pan. Fry until both sides are a deep golden brown. Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is 160-degrees.
- Just before all the meat is fried, heat the pan you cooked the bacon in. Once heated, add hot coffee. Bring to a simmer, mixing up leftover bacon bits. Reduce slightly.
- Plate biscuits. Brush more melted butter on each half. Top with fried squirrel, then gravy. Add bacon. Enjoy!