Limb Chicken (squirrel) time again!

OK, it’s time for my annual campaign to get hunters to recognize a fine game animal that’s going more and more ignored as people concentrate on things with antlers or webbed feet. (Don’t get me wrong, I spend far more time hunting deer, ducks and geese than all other species of game combined, but…)

The makings of a fun hunt Monday morning — an old, scoped .22 rifle, the distress squirrel call, the tails of fox(left) and gray squirrels and the partially-eaten pignut hickory nuts that showed where the Limb Chickens were active.

– Squirrel season is the longest true season in Kansas, running June 1-Feb. 28. (Yes, I know rabbits and coyotes are year-around…but is that really a season?)

– Some of the best hunting is on public ground, especially on the public hunting areas in the eastern half of the state.

– These days when public land deer hunters have to shop for parking spots on public lands because of their sport’s popularity, may see a squirrel hunter going years before he sees someone afield after the same game. (About a decade ago I got an elderly guy from Wichita started hunting squirrels.  He went at least once per month of the season, only hunted public lands, and it was in his third year before he saw another squirrel hunter.)

– No real need for fancy, and expensive, equipment. Technically a cheap, old hand-me-down single-shot shotgun or .22 and a handful of shells will do. Me, I’m a gadget guy so I have a call that replicates a squirrel in distress and another that imitates one chattering. Total cost for the calls?  About $20, and I’ve had them for more than 10 years and called in a lot more squirrels per day afield than deer or wild turkeys.

– If you  could ask anybody on my grandmother’s side of the family, especially back two to five generations, they’d flat tell you squirrel is fine on the dinner table. Living poor and so deep in the Ozarks they only got sunlight every third day, they grew up calling them “Limb Chickens” because they ate so many . Fried squirrel, with fresh mashed potatoes, and homegrown green beans and sliced tomatoes was one of my grandfather’s favorite meals. We fix them a variety of ways, often simmering the meat from the bones and substituting it for chicken with pastas and other recipes.

Squirrel helper anyone?…don’t laugh, buy a box of chicken helper and try it. It’s good.

As well as tasty, they’re also pretty danged healthy and clean to eat, too. Both species of Kansas squirrels – fox and gray — are almost exclusively vegetarians and live most of the year on things like walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns, corn, (wild or domestic) sunflower seeds and tree buds. That’s a lot cleaner living than a lot of the “healthy” commercial meats. Shoot, a free-range chicken might follow a cow around all day waiting for a hot lunch…not that that doesn’t mean the chicken is still not fine to eat.

–  The main thing I like about squirrel hunting is that it’s just fun, especially this time of the year when the squirrels are busy looking for some of the first ripe walnuts and hickory nuts of the year.

Monday morning I took a couple of hours to do a slow, relaxed walk through our farm north of Lawrence. It’s an annual event as I walk our place’s main deer trails, check on treestands, creek and fence crossings.  More than two years of serious drought had impacted acorn and other nut production so I knew our number of fox and gray squirrels would be down. They were, but the hunting was still good.

I walked up on one and called in another before I saw the first sign of freshly-opened walnut or pignut hickory hulls. Stopping to call there, the woods lit up as six to seven squirrels started barking, chattering and racing through the tree tops. I took a nice gray, but moved on to see more of the farm instead of waiting for the others to again become active

The last two squirrels came minutes apart from a small area where I found hickory hulls littering the ground like sunflower hulls below the bleachers at a ball game. Both came to calls and offered easy shots as they were working, and chattering, their way down the tree upon which I was leaning.

Thanks to a long-sleeved shirt, knee-high boots and bug spray I exited the woods without a single chigger, tick or mosquito bite. As well as squirrels I got to watch a red-shouldered hawk hunting not far away, jumped a few deer and saw a flock of wild turkey toms scratching away in a patch of prairie grass we’d burned just the afternoon before. Several species of curious songbirds came almost within touching distance to add their two cents when I was using my distress call, too.

A great morning to be alive in the wildlife-rich woods, a total of about 36-cents in ammo (I missed once), and a fine few, very good and healthy  meals awaiting to come later in the week.

I love this time of the year.

OK, now I’m off my Limb Chicken soapbox for another year.