A Squirrel Cuisine

Squirrels, if handled and cooked correctly, offer some of the finest wild game eating. However, mention squirrels as a meal and watch how many people wrinkle their noses.

People who frown on squirrels as food can be placed into two groups—those who can't stomach the thought of eating an animal that's furry and cute and those who have eaten squirrels but found them less than appetizing. The first group will probably never enjoy eating squirrels. The second can be won over if hunters avoid these mistakes.

Field dress squirrels

I have eaten squirrels that tasted gamy, though tasted bad is a more accurate description. The squirrels had been shot through the abdominal cavity and poorly cleaned. Any meat will taste bad if allowed to marinate in gut contents and urine, and that is exactly what happens when gut and bladder contents touch the meat, be it squirrel or any other game animal. Typically, gamy taste comes not from the natural flavor of wild meat, but from wild meat tainted through mishandling.

If you accidentally shoot a squirrel through the abdomen, skin the animal and remove its entrails immediately. Then rinse the body cavity with water. Removing the entrails is a fairly easy task. Using the tip of a small, sharp knife, make an incision where the ribs meet the abdomen. Cut toward the animal's hindquarters, taking care not to puncture the internal organs.

Once the viscera is exposed, look for the urinary bladder. If it is full, pinch the neck of the bladder between thumb and forefinger and carefully cut to remove it. This prevents spills. With the bladder removed, split the pelvis and pull out the rest of the insides. That's all there is to eviscerating a squirrel.

Even if a shot leaves a squirrel's abdominal cavity intact, removing the internal organs immediately is a good idea, for it allows the meat to cool quickly. I often skin and clean all the squirrels I kill on the spot and place them in a two-quart, resealable plastic bag. In separate plastic bags I keep wet and dry paper towels to clean my hands. Cleaning squirrels after the shot keeps them in fine shape during the two or three hours of a hunt. To wet a squirrel's hide, I'll use water from a creek or spring branch.

Cleaning squirrels afield may seem like extra effort, but it's not. Not only does cleaning