As a hunting enthusiast, you may have spotted a flurry of furry creatures scurrying around your backyard and pondered, “Can I actually eat those backyard squirrels?” The answer is quite possibly yes, but there are some caveats based on your location and several other factors. This article will guide you through the legality of hunting squirrels, safety concerns related to their meat, hunting or trapping methods, and the tantalizing recipes you can whip up with squirrel meat.
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The Edibility of Backyard Squirrels
Various species of squirrels can be found frolicking in your backyard, and their types significantly influence the edibility and legality of hunting them. In certain regions, some squirrels are endangered or nationally significant, thus requiring protection.
In the hunting season from mid-September to December, Grey and Fox squirrels can be hunted, albeit with restrictions. As small game, you’re only permitted to hunt five squirrels per day. But before we dive into the hunting specifics, there are a few concerns you need to keep in mind when considering squirrels as a source of food.
Squirrels, closely related to rodents, often carry ticks, fleas, and other parasites. They might also ingest poisons meant for rats or consume crops sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Besides, squirrels are potential carriers of diseases such as Lyme disease, encephalitis, and ringworms.
The Varieties of Squirrels: To Eat or Not to Eat?
Squirrels come in a multitude of species, varying in color from red to brown, and some even have the ability to glide through the air. However, the question remains – can all of them end up on your dinner plate? Let’s delve into the specifics of different types of squirrels:
As one of the largest and native species in North America, Gray Squirrels are also found widely in Europe, mainly in Ireland and England. Not only is their size appealing for a substantial meal, but their risk of disease is also relatively low, with Lyme disease being the only common concern.
The Fox Squirrel, another large species, is primarily found on the East Coast of North America and extends its habitat to Canada in the north and Mexico in the south. Although they are relatively safe to eat, legal restrictions might apply, so ensure you’re abiding by local regulations.
Known for their distinctive appearance, Red Squirrels are found all across North America, especially on the West Coast. They are big enough to be considered for consumption and can be hunted pretty much any time of the year, albeit with certain seasonal restrictions.
These squirrels are typically found in desert-like environments, primarily in the South-Western states of the United States. Their light brown color and unique antelope-like stripes on their backs set them apart. While there’s no research indicating they’re unsafe to eat, there’s also no concrete proof of their safety.
The smallest and least common type of squirrel for consumption is the Flying Squirrel. Most jurisdictions protect these creatures due to their size and the risk of endangerment. Therefore, it’s usually not advisable to hunt or consume them.
Is Squirrel Meat Part of People’s Diet?
Indeed, people do consume squirrels not only from their backyards but also from restaurants and shops that sell squirrel meat. This practice is popular in southern states and cities in the U.S, and in rural areas like Florida. Squirrel meat is also widely eaten in Southeast Asia, including countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
What Can You Expect from the Taste of Squirrel Meat?
If you’re a first-timer, you might be wondering, “What does squirrel taste like?” Many hunters and culinary enthusiasts claim that squirrel meat tastes somewhat like chicken, but it has a unique, slightly gamey flavor. It’s a lean type of meat, with a mildly sweet, nutty undertone. The taste can vary based on the squirrel’s diet and the way the meat is cooked.
Preparing Squirrel Meat
If you’ve managed to catch a squirrel, it’s time to consider how to prepare it. First, you’ll need to skin and clean the squirrel. Always handle the squirrel with gloves to avoid direct contact with any potential parasites or diseases.
After you’ve skinned the squirrel, you can cut it into pieces. It is often prepared in a similar way to rabbit or chicken. Here are a few popular methods of preparation:
- Roasted: Roasting squirrel meat is one of the simplest and most common methods. It involves placing the squirrel in a roasting tray, seasoning it with your favorite herbs and spices, and baking it in the oven.
- Stewed: Squirrel meat can also be slow-cooked in a stew with vegetables and herbs. This method softens the meat and allows it to absorb the flavors of the stew.
- Fried: For those who enjoy a crunch, frying the squirrel in a pan is an excellent choice. The meat is often breaded before frying, giving it a crispy exterior and a tender interior.
Remember to cook the meat thoroughly to kill any potential pathogens. A meat thermometer is a handy tool to ensure that the meat is properly cooked.
Before you start setting up squirrel traps in your backyard, it’s essential to be aware of the legal implications. Hunting regulations vary significantly from place to place. In many areas, you’ll need a hunting license to legally hunt squirrels, even on your own property. Also, there may be restrictions on the hunting season, the types of traps or firearms you can use, and the number of squirrels you’re allowed to hunt each day.
To stay on the right side of the law, always check with your local Department of Wildlife or equivalent agency for the current regulations in your area.
So, can you enjoy squirrel meat from your backyard? Yes, with a few precautions and proper preparation, you certainly can. However, always remember to respect local wildlife regulations and ensure that your hunting practices are ethical and sustainable. Happy hunting!