"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Bushytail Questions
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

With squirrel season opening next Sunday (August 15) it is time to answer some questions that have stacked up since last year’s bushytail season ended.
The questions I hear most often involves some of the terminology of squirrel hunting and characteristics of the three species of so-called “tree squirrels.”

Namely, by importance to hunters, these are the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), and the red squirrel A. K. A. piney (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). However, the fox squirrel is present in some parts of the state (primarily northern tier counties) as a black color phase.

Also present in some parts of the state is the flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans), but this member of the family is nocturnal in habit and is seldom seen by squirrel hunters.
Now to the questions:
Which of the three so-called “tree squirrels” is best on the table? 
Thinking of palatability, at least in my book, narrows the field down to fox and gray squirrels. I do not know of anyone who ever consumed piney squirrels, but I have heard that they do not offer the same flavor of the other two. They also are quire small in comparison to fox and gray squirrels.
As food on the table, I prefer gray squirrel to fox squirrel, but I do not look with jaundiced eye on the latter when fried and served with gravy and homemade biscuits. Fox squirrels are a bit larger than grays, but either is great on the table.

When you write or talk about squirrel hunting, you use the term “cutting.” Would you define this term?
This is squirrel a hunter’s term that translates into “feeding on.” For example, if squirrels are said to be cutting on hickory, it means they are feeding on hickory nuts (which they are starting to do now).

What is the significance of squirrels shaking their tails violently? Is this related to mating?
Having hunted and observed squirrels for nigh on to 70-years, my unscientific explanation on the relation of tail shaking to mating, is that tail shaking is totally coincidental to mating. Squirrels (including pineys) shake their tails to emphasize the sounds they produce. Tail-shaking--as barking--is a manner of scolding intruders and warning other squirrels of the intruders. When a fox squirrel is in doubt about something it sees or hears it tends to vent its ire by barking and shaking its tail. When a squirrel is barking, its tail will most often be flipping like a buggy whip. When a gray squirrel sees or hears something strange it merely gets out of there.
Incidentally, fox and gray squirrels flip their tails up and down when they are curious or angry with an intruder. Piney squirrels flip their tails up and down, but when they want to really vent their ire they may flip their tails from side to side or in a 365 degree circle.

What is the most important skill involved in squirrel hunting?
I consider the ability to move without being heard or seen by a squirrel the most important facet of squirrel hunting. Still, if one can’t hit the squirrel when he gets within shooting range the stalk becomes moot.

Movement over dry leaves, twigs and other noisemaking elements of a wooded area (this includes underbrush) is the key.

This starts with being able to put your feet down very gently on the forest floor. My dad, known to folks in our town as a hunter who could kill his limit of squirrels in a woods where there were no squirrels, taught me that placement of the feet as you move into position to shoot is very important. He could cross a forest floor covered with tinder dry leaves without making a sound. He would wear shoes with thin soles and place the heel of the moving foot down slowly and gently, before allowing the rest of that foot to compress the leaves gently.

He also taught me to move when the squirrel being stalked is moving. A squirrel sitting still while cutting through the outer shell of a nut is more alert to movement of a hunter that a squirrel seeking another nut on the ends of limbs.

When moving through brush, never allow leaf-covered limbs to move quickly.

Of course, a wet forest floor creates less foreign noises than dry leaves and twigs.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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