"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Looks Like A Good Year For Squirrels
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

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 helps.

NATURE NOTES--Those 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. 

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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