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Late Season Squirrel Hunting in New Jersey

By Jon Kline
Natural Resource Interpretation Technician

Hunters who ignore late-season squirrels are missing a great hunting opportunity. Squirrel populations are thriving and abundant in the Garden State, Gray squirreland mid-winter can be the most enjoyable time to hunt squirrels - ticks are not active, leaves are down and squirrels are active in the brisk temperatures over a snow-covered landscape. Shotgun season for squirrels in New Jersey runs to February 17, 2003, and muzzleloader season reopens on January 4. (Information about getting started in hunting New Jersey is available on the Hunter Education page.)

Gray squirrels are an animal of the hardwood forest, preferring stands with mature nut-producing trees (mast) that yield acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, and a few others. Chewed hickory nut shells are a good sign squirrels are present in an area. Although they will eat other foods, mast becomes critical to the squirrel's late season survival. During periods of snow cover, squirrels will dig up acorns buried in the fall, thereby giving away their location. Forest stands containing old mature or dead trees with cavities in the limbs and trunks are often a good location to hunt squirrels. Squirrels prefer living and nesting in cavities and use cavity trees as focal points of their home range.

Muzzleloader Squirrel Season

Hunting squirrels with a muzzleloading rifle is a traditional activity that actually played an essential role in the establishment of our country. The expert rifle marksmanship of early patriots was gained through hunting experience, necessary for survival in the Colonial period. Good marksmen (and women) put meat on the table and in doing so prepared themselves for revolutionary war against a British enemy that did not practice marksmanship.

Persons holding a current and valid firearm license and rifle permit may hunt for squirrels from sunrise to hour after sunset with a muzzleloading rifle (.36 caliber or smaller loaded with a single projectile - see the Hunting Digest for complete rules). The late-season muzzleloader squirrel hunt runs January 4 to February 17 in 2003.

Hunting with a traditional muzzleloading rifle (percussion cap or flintlock) is more enjoyable and safe when good muzzleloader handling, cleaning and storage techniques are learned. Read the instruction manual and all other product information that comes with your rifle. Firearms dealers are also a good source of advice. Go to a library and check out a muzzleloader manual or browse some of the many sources of information about muzzleloaders on the Internet.

Squirrel hiding on tree

Squirrels make good table fare; some of my favorite recipes are below.

Brunswick Stew

2 squirrels
4 cups sliced tomatoes
2 onions, minced
1 can whole kernel corn
pound of salt pork or ham, cubed
4 potatoes, cubed
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
flour and butter
2 slices lemon

Cut squirrel into small pieces or remove bones entirely. Add the salt to 2 quarts water and bring to boil; add onion, corn, pork, potatoes, pepper and squirrel pieces. Cover tightly and simmer 2 hours. Add sugar and tomatoes, and simmer 1 hour more. Ten minutes before removing stew from stove, add butter and flour to thicken the stew. Simmer, adding salt or pepper if needed. Pour into dish and garnish with lemon. Serves 4.

Squirrel Chowder

2 squirrels
pound venison, cubed
1 cup celery, sliced
1 can whole kernel sweet corn
2 onions, sliced
salt, pepper, red pepper to taste
1 can tomato juice
1 can green beans
4 potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, sliced
1 can peas

Combine meat, celery, corn, onions, salt and pepper. Cover with water. Cook until meat is almost tender and remove bones. Add tomato juice, green beans, potatoes, carrots and peas. Cook until tender (use of a slow cooker recommended). Serves 4 to 6.

BBQ Squirrel

1 squirrel
cup barbecue sauce of your choice
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon of vegetable oil or cook and bake spray
aluminum foil

Clean squirrel and cut up into sections. Spray a sizable piece of aluminum foil with bake spray or spread with vegetable oil. Place squirrel pieces on foil. Spread garlic slices over squirrel pieces. Pour barbecue sauce over squirrel. Wrap foil around squirrel, enclosing into tight package. Place package on metal baking sheet in 350 degree oven for 1 hours. Serves 1.

The dead of winter is not a time you need to spend indoors. Getting out into some of New Jersey's wonderful open spaces in pursuit of squirrel is an excellent way to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, practice your marksmanship and put some excellent food on the table.

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