As June turns into July, we head into the second
half of the year and sharpen our vision for hunting, notably for squirrels,
first up for Hoosier hunting seasons.
In the past month I have not noticed new leaf
nests in great numbers, but everywhere I have been there seems to be young-looking
bushytails in fairly good numbers.
The Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife does
not have a hard-and-fast theory on the number of young squirrels in the
bag to translate into a good season, but the number of young taken in a
good year is very high. We take about one million squirrels per year. In
2006 the Division of Fish and Wildlife sold about 142,100 licenses to hunt
upland game, but it is next to impossible to tell how many of those license
holders hunt squirrels.
Perhaps I should go no further into this matter
before first noting that determining the difference in young-of-the year
and carryover adults from previous years. This is difficult and is not
foolproof. However, young-of-the- year almost always--but still not true
on occasions--has a belly that is pure white. My dad used to say: ďThe
younger, the whiter the belly.Ē As squirrels age, the belly hair of fox
squirrels becomes a shade darker in leftover one-year-old animals, and
even a darker shade of yellow in oldsters of all ages.
The grayís belly turns to a dirty white. Itís
much the same with pineys--except the brownish side contrasts clearly from
the white belly that is more pronounced in adults that in the young. But,
as noted earlier, it is not an ironclad thing. The white eye ring
stamps this squirrel as a piney
Another method of separating young from old is
size--especially in the fox squirrel. When young are out of the den or
nest they usually are a little more than half the size of the most adults.
As the opening of the season arrives at mid-August, the young are noticeably
smaller. In grays this is not such a noticeable factor, though the young
still are smaller. But even the adult gray is still two-thirds the size
of the fox squirrel.
Still, a squirrel in the hand is better to be
judged than a squirrel in the tree. Appearances can vary.
Of course, one canít skin squirrels now (pre-season)
but skinning squirrels (the process can be found on http://www.bayoubill.com
) will go a long way in estimating age. When I was a kid, we would skin
them with heads still attached to tell how to cook them. Young, with heads
attached, were for frying (with a big skillet of gravy and biscuits); the
old for a pot of dumplings. Young squirrels skin much easier than old.
Steaming, after frying, will help tenderize the
old. This process is simple. Fry the squirrels two-thirds done, then turn
the heat down, add an ounce of water (or wine) and cover the skillet for
simmering slowly for 15 or 20 minutes, Remove the cover of the skillet
and turn up the heat to brown the meat. This procedure will not always
work with really old squirrels, but it is worth a try. Tough meat can be
turned to dumplings even after frying. Cook it slowly.
As with cooking many other meats, experience always
pretty, blue flowers you are seeing along the roadsides now can be one
of two species . . . the Canada thistle, with little clusters of thimble-size
flowers tends to grow in beds . . . a lot like the head of clovers . .
. or chicory, which shows a lot of blossoms spread over a larger area on
a single plant--daisy-type flower with the ends of petals slightly notched.
Some say chicory closes by noon and blooms by noon . . . donít believe
it .. .
I fear my find of the huge stick/limb nest is
occupied by red-tailed hawks, not rough-legged or ferruginous, as I suspected.
Both are western birds. But they did produce at least two youngsters. Still,
I have never seen a red-tail nest this large.
I have recently noticed a piney visiting one
of my ground feeding stations . . . a lifetime first. I seldom see a piney
on the ground.