Put some squirrels on the table this season

Dappled light filters through the trees onto a long and lazy pool. Your canoe glides silently down the stream as you and your hunting partner scan overhanging sycamores for bushybutts. Everything is perfect for taking home a limit of squirrels—or is it?

You must have permission from landowners to hunt their property even if you are on the water via public access. It’s a Tennessee state law. Even if you shoot a squirrel out of a tree and it falls into the water, that tree grows on somebody’s land. Get permission, unless you’re going through U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TVA, Wildlife Management Area lands or other public access areas. Then you have to know regulations governing those lands. A lot of the WMAs are waterfowl areas and they don’t allow small-game hunting.

Canoeing for squirrels is definitely a good tactic, and those who float-hunt usually do well. Drifting is more effective than hunting on foot because the squirrel is less wary of a canoe. It’s the quietest method and you can cover more territory.

Another consideration is that you cannot hunt from a craft “under power” or if it still has forward motion after turning the motor off. A paddle-powered canoe isn’t considered “under power.”

Right now there still are leaves on the trees in some areas, and squirrel season is open. The season will remain open until the leaves are gone and waterfowl season opens. You can combine squirrels and waterfowl when hunt-floating, and you might as well take a rod and reel along. You can cast for bass at the shoals and take squirrels, wood ducks and teal on the same trip.

The best time to hunt squirrels is after a cold snap with a lot of rain, snow or drizzle. They have been holding up for a while and when the weather warms up to the mid-30s or warmer with bright sunshine, squirrels will move all day long. It’s better to start at 8:30 or 9 a.m., than at dawn. Shooting squirrels is optimal after the leaves are off the trees.

The stealth of canoeing is best for the wily and larger fox squirrels. But don’t cull the grays—they taste good too. Hunting quietly from canoes usually means you’ll have no trouble taking your limit of bushytails.

The years when the mast crop is low (not the case this year), you’ll find plenty of gray and fox squirrels in the corn and in the little strip of woods between rivers and fields. Grays prefer trees; the fox squirrel prefers open lands. Gray squirrel hunting is fast and furious in this little strip of woods. You’ll probably see fox squirrels in the trees that hang out over the river.

It’s easier to spot the bushytails by looking downstream than looking straight up. Staying midstream gives you the advantage of seeing squirrels on the ground just beyond the banks if they aren’t too high. And since you are being quiet and they aren’t, you have another advantage.

It’s advisable to carry a dip net because squirrels sink. This is when waders can become very important. Sometimes you may have to get out of the canoe to fetch your squirrel, and you’ll want to keep your feet dry. And, of course, wear a PFD. The ones that self-inflate are less bulky and won’t interfere with your shooting. Or better yet, get the PFD that you wear like a belt.

Now, let’s cook some bushybutts.

Squirrel Pot Pie
3 squirrels

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 quart boiling water

1 chopped onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Biscuit crust from a 10-biscuit-serving

can (or use your homemade biscuits)

Lemon juice, sherry, or Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Cut squirrels to serving size and roll in flour. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in saucepan. Sauté the squirrel until brown. Add boiling water, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Lay rounds of biscuit crusts on squirrels. Cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove crusts and squirrel to hot platter. Blend melted butter and add to pot liquid, mixing well. Pour over squirrels and crusts. Add lemon juice, sherry or Worcestershire sauce to gravy before serving.

Smothered Fried Squirrel
6 young squirrels, cleaned and cut into serving pieces
(use only the back legs and backstrap)

1 cup shortening

3 cups flour

Salt and pepper

1 cup water

1 cup milk

1 small onion, sliced

Clean squirrels thoroughly, making sure to remove any hair and shotshell pellets. Add salt and pepper to the flour to taste. Heat the shortening in a large skillet. Dredge squirrel pieces in flour mixture until well coated. Reserve 1/4-cup of the flour. Fry squirrel in shortening until light brown. Remove and pat dry with a towel. Add the onion to the skillet and brown. Add the water, milk and the 1/4-cup of reserved flour. Stir well. Bring to a boil and add squirrel pieces. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes and cornbread or biscuits.