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Squirrel hunting

Squirrel hunting season in Wisconsin extends until Jan. 31, 2019.

Deer season is over, and the holiday season is upon us. Ice fishing seems one of the few remaining pursuits for the outdoorsman or woman. But squirrel hunting in Wisconsin continues until January 31.

Hunting late in December and into January provides the hunter with an entirely different perspective on life in the woods than one gets when hunting in September or October.

With the turkey hunt now extended into January, it is possible combine turkey hunting with squirrel hunting and maybe have a wild turkey and squirrel feast in lieu of the Christmas ham.

I hunt with a reproduction of the gun that the voyagers and Native Americans used in this part of the world between 1700 and 1830. It’s a 20-gauge flintlock shotgun called a trade gun.

Hunting with such an obsolete gun is very challenging. I have to get much closer to the critters to effectively harvest them than I would if I hunted with a modern gun. Making the gun go “bang” can also be a challenge. I have to keep the flint sharp, the prime fresh and the powder dry. I also must remember to put the powder in first when loading.

The process of firing a flintlock goes like this: The flint, which is clamped in a cock, or hammer, travels forward and strikes an L-shaped piece of metal called a frizzen. The contact makes sparks and pushes the frizzen out of the way. The sparks drop down on a concave piece of metal called a pan, which has a small amount of powder on it. The sparks hit the powder, which makes a big “poof,” and a small amount of fire enters a hole in the side of the barrel and the gun fires.

On a recent hunting trip, it was damp and humid. The humidity level was very high, and after a couple of shots the flint went dull. I had a lot of pulls of the trigger that did not result in the “boom stick” going “boom.” Many a bushy tail made a hasty escape after the commotion of the gun failing to fire. Fortunately, on this hunting excursion, the turkeys kept well away from me, so I did not have the added frustration of having the gun fail to fire with Thanksgiving dinner on the line. Despite the trials and tribulations of the day, I was able to bring home enough squirrels to make squirrel and dumplings.

When I tell people that I hunt squirrels, the often ask, “Do you eat squirrels?”

I reply, “Why yes I do. Some of my favorite ways to cook squirrel include barbecue, spaghetti sauce, squirrels and dumplings and squirrel stew. And no, they do not taste like chicken. They have their own delicious flavor.”

(Dedicated readers of my Cook Shack column may recall some of the squirrel recipes that have appear in the column over the years. They are still available on the Dunn County News website).

In addition to squirrels being a tasty meal, squirrel tails are valuable to the Wisconsin-based Mepps Company. It is great to utilize as much of any critter as possible, and this program allows hunters to make sure the tails get put to good use.

Mepps states that most critters with tails have fur on their tails, while squirrels’ big fluffy tails are made of hair. When retrieved underwater the hair has a much better fish-attracting action than fur.

Mepps has a program for recycling squirrels tails. Participating in the program begins while processing the squirrel. When removing the tail from the squirrel, leave the tail bone in the tail. Tails without bones are useless to Mepps. Dip the open end of the tail into some salt. Make sure there is a generous amount of salt on the butt end of the tail. The tail should be stored in a non-plastic container, as plastic can cause the tail to rot.

The tail should be kept in a freezer. Special care must also be taken to keep the tail straight. The employees at Mepps can tie the squirrel fur on a spinner in a matter of seconds so having a straight rigid tail keeps the process moving at the desired pace.

Mepps recommends shipping the tails during the cold months of December, January, February and March so the tails won’t spoil during shipping. To ship the squirrel tails, place them in a box just big enough to hold the tails. Include a packing slip with your name, mailing address, phone number or email and the number of squirrel tails. Follow this procedure for each individual package that is shipped to Mepps.

Also, state “trade for cash” or “trade for lures.” Mepps will refund the postage on shipments of 50 and more tails. Mepps pays 16 cents per tail for shipments under 100 tails and 19 cents each for shipments between 101 and 500. If you can ship Mepps over 1000 tails, they will pay you 22 cents for each tail. Mepps also pays a penny or two more for prime tails.

Clearly, one will not get rich shipping tails to Mepps.

However, ethical hunters always want to maximize the use of the animals they harvest. Being able to get lures or cash is an added benefit.

Hunters can also double the value of the tails they ship by exchanging the tails for Mepps lures. Hence, a good squirrel tail can lead to a big fish tale.

The shipping address for Mepps is: Sheldons’ Inc., 626 Center Street, Antigo, WI 54409-2496. The packages can be shipped via first-class mail, first-class parcel, priority mail or UPS ground only. For more information visit: https://www.mepps.com/squirrel-tail/

The Wisconsin hunting season for gray and fox squirrels is Sept. 15 through Jan. 31, 2019.

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Jim Swanson is an avid indoor and outdoor cook who likes researching and trying out old-time recipes.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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