Believe it or not, all the squirrels roaming around your backyard can serve as a nutritious dinner or breakfast. Yes, you read that right.
You may be surprised by the number of people who eat squirrel around the world. If you have some of these rodents at home, even if it is a residential area, you may have the chance to try them too.
But it is not as easy as it sounds. There are several factors to consider before going into hunting season at home.
From diseases they may carry to the type of squirrel you may want to hunt, and even the meat preparation, these are all critical factors to consider if you’re going to eat squirrels. Below, we’re going to explain all of that and a bit more, so keep reading!
Is Squirrel Meat Safe?
First and foremost, is it even safe to eat squirrel? Well, you may be happy to know that, for the most part, it is.
Squirrels are among the safest wild animals you can try. In fact, squirrels are served in restaurants from many countries. And sure enough, people who do, love them.
Despite that, squirrels are not exactly 100% safe. In some cases, they may carry diseases you may want to get away from.
Can squirrels carry rabies?
One of the significant concerns about squirrels is whether they carry rabies. While some species do, most residential squirrels you can find in backyards and gardens do not. In fact, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) confirms this belief.
While they may carry it, the chances are low. When it comes to rabies, you won’t have much to worry about.
May squirrels transmit Salmonella?
One of the few diseases that you can indeed contract from squirrels is Salmonella. Even though rodents like mice and rats are the main culprits of this infection, squirrels can also be guilty. It’s vital to cook the squirrel meat for at least one (1) whole hour at medium heat to prevent any infection.
Do squirrels carry Lyme disease?
Squirrels are often attacked by ticks in significant quantities. When this happens, their chances of contracting Lyme disease increases. For that reason, it is possible to get infected by handling a squirrel with ticks. To keep that from happening, you can always hunt during frost season when ticks are not active.
Can squirrel meat contain pesticides?
Not many people know this, but the pesticides used in trees, shrubs, ornamentals, and even grass can also attach to the squirrel skin and meat. Once again, it is possible to prevent any undesirable result by simply skinning, cleaning, and cooking the meat properly.
Types of Squirrels to Consider
You may not know this, but squirrels also have different species. Some of them are red, others are brown, and many of them can fly. Can you eat them all, though? Let’s learn more about them:
1. Gray Squirrels
The native species in North America, the Gray Squirrel species, is also one of the biggest. You can also find gray squirrels all across Europe, mainly Ireland and England.
What makes them edible is not only their size but their safety. The only common disease they may cause is Lyme, and that’s only if you hunt them in the summer.
As the name says, these squirrels are gray and can weigh up to 1.5 pounds. Because of that, they are the favorite of many hunters and squirrel-eaters.
2. Fox Squirrels
Another large type is the Fox Squirrel. It boasts a dense brownish fur, and like the grey species, it can grow to about 1 pound.
Most Fox Squirrels are found on the East coast. You may also find them far north up to Canada and far south up to Mexico. As you may guess, these are native to North America and are rarely found anywhere else.
These are also relatively safe to eat, but they may be protected by laws. Be sure to only hunt this squirrel if the laws in your area permit it.
3. Red Squirrels
Unique in appearance and big enough to be edible, Red Squirrels are found all around North America, especially on the West Coast.
These can be as large as Gray Squirrels, weighing about 1.5 pounds. They love living in Northern areas but may also be found in Southern places.
You can hunt these pretty much any time of the year. However, some areas may have specific regulations in certain seasons.
4. Ground Squirrels
Also known as Ground or Barbary Squirrels, you can find them in desertic areas compared to other species. Pretty much, they only live in New Mexico, Nevada, and other South-Western regions in the US. You can also find them in the US.
What sets them apart is a light brown color with antelope-like stripes in their backs, thus their name.
As for eating, there’s not much to worry about. Even though there’s no study saying it’s safe, there isn’t one saying it isn’t either. Being normal-sized at about 1 pound, squirrels also ideal for hunting.
5. Flying Squirrels
The last and least common type of squirrel you may want to consider eating is the Flying Squirrel. But there’s a problem. These are protected by most governmental institutions.
Being smaller than the typical squirrel, the species is endangered. For that reason, hunting or killing one of these is totally illegal. Thus, eating them is out of the question. In case you have to kill one for one reason or another, it’s probably not a great idea to consume them either.
You can find them everywhere in the Northern and Eastern parts of the US and south of Canada.
Why Eat Squirrel Meat?
Eating squirrels is possible, so why does it have to be wrong? In fact, it is not. If done correctly, you can enjoy these advantages:
Many people consider squirrels to be better tasting than a white rabbit and a bit spicier than chicken. Because the meat is lean and has a smooth texture, it is also easy to digest and chew. More importantly, it has a delicate yet sweet touch that makes it a sought-after meal in many restaurants in the world.
Tons of Nutrients
Because the meat is lean, it is also filled with all kinds of nutrients. It has high quantities of protein, more than chicken and red meat. However, it is the amount of vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. Interestingly, it still provides fewer calories than chicken (about 105 calories against 118 calories per 100 grams).
Why You Shouldn’t Eat Squirrel Meat
It’s worth knowing why eating squirrel can be an excellent idea. But why shouldn’t you do so? Here are a few reasons:
Like Lyme and Salmonella, the diseases we mentioned before can be reasons enough to stay away from squirrels. However, other diseases also appear – like the mad-cow diseases (CJD) and prion disease. These two cause severe brain issues. Having said that, these cases are extremely rare.
Despite being decently lean, squirrel meat still contains more cholesterol than chicken and other white meats. It’s almost the same amount of cholesterol you can find on fatty beef. While not dangerous to the general population, people with heart problems may want to stay away from it.
Is It Legal to Eat Squirrels?
All this talk about the different squirrel species, benefits, and disadvantages of eating squirrel – but we haven’t even mentioned whether it is legal or not.
Here, you’d like to know that squirrels are actually a completely legal game anyone can hunt. But a few regulations and laws come into place, depending on where you want to hunt them.
However, most of the laws only require the homeowner or hunter to pay a small fee for a permit. Once you have the permit, hunting and eating squirrels is totally legal. This is especially true in areas where squirrels are considered pests.
With that said, it’s worth knowing that in most cases, you can only hunt squirrels with shotguns. In California, for example, it is prohibited to trap squirrels. And in some cases, you will only be able to hunt them if they become pests – otherwise, you won’t be able to.
Either way, check the regulations in your area before deciding to eat any squirrels. You won’t like to make a regretful mistake.
How to Hunt Squirrels in Backyard
Hunting squirrels is not exactly an easy thing to do. They’re small, agile, and more importantly, superb climbers. For that reason, it’s 100% better to play the long game and trap them instead of hunting them.
We recommend leaving a small trap close to their tree houses or ground burrows they live in. In the cage or trap, leave some nuts and dry fruit. This should be enough to attract them almost immediately. Within a few hours or days, you will see how the squirrels start falling into the trap.
How to Prepare Squirrel Meat
Once you have the squirrel ready and fresh, it’s time to cook it. Here, it is crucial to follow the proper steps to prevent an infection and/or unnecessary experience. Here’s how to proceed:
1. Wear Safety Equipment
Even though most squirrels in your backyard will be safe, you must wear sanitary gear to prevent infection. A great idea is to start with plastic gloves (disposable ones). Also, wear a mask if possible.
After skinning and cutting the animal, it’s essential to clean the knife deeply (preferably with boiling water and disinfectants).
2. Find an Ideal Knife
The second step in preparing squirrel meat is to skin the animal well. For that, nothing beats a well-sharped small knife for skinning. It should glide swiftly between the hide and the animal’s meat so you can remove the fur more easily.
3. Start Skinning the Animal
We recommend starting from the tail base and going up until you reach the head. Place the squirrel belly down and remove the back skin first. Then proceed with the bottom fur, skinning softly without cutting the meat.
4. Get Rid of Inedible Parts
Some parts will be harder to remove fur from, like the legs and tails. Because of that, it is always useful to cut them straight.
Other parts are just straight up inedible. This includes the head and the insides. For the interiors, carefully slice through the chest down to the genitals. Try not to rupture the guts. Then remove everything softly, including the heart, lungs, and of course, stomach, kidneys, and guts themselves. The rib cage should look hollow.
5. Clean the Meat
With the rib cage and other parts ready, it’s time to clean them. Washing the meat with water deeply is always necessary, as it removes the superficial bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants that may still be in the flesh.
6. Slow Cook the Meat
It’s now time to prepare the squirrel. There’s no better way to do so than slow-cooking it. Here, the squirrel is left in some water/sauce in the oven for 2 hours.
You can leave the squirrel hanging on a stick over a slow braise for 10 hours for proper cooking too. Either way should eliminate all the contaminants from the meat.
7. Other Methods of Cooking
Some people prefer frying and parboiling the meat. While these are also worth considering, they aren’t as effective at eliminating bacteria from the meat. Stews, barbecues, and even pot pies can also be excellent cooking methods for a squirrel.
No matter how you proceed, be sure to know that if you eat squirrel, you won’t be breaking any laws (in most cases). And more importantly, you won’t have to worry about dangerous diseases as long as you cook the animal well enough.
Now that you’re familiar with the ups and downs of eating squirrel, will you do so? Put our advice into consideration, and you’ll have no trouble!