If you’re a hunter, it’s probably tempting to reach for your shotgun if you see a lot of animals running around your yard. You may even wonder if you can eat squirrel from your backyard.
Depending on where you live and some answers to a few other questions, the conclusion is likely yes. The things you need to consider are:
- The legality of killing squirrels
- The method of hunting or trapping
- Other factors influencing the safety of the meat
- The recipes you can prepare
We’ll discuss each one with some insights and tips along the way.
Can You Legally Hunt in Your Backyard?
If you hunt other game, you understand the legalities of getting a license or permit and it may be the same when considering if you can eat squirrels from your backyard. Some places allow landowners to skip these requirements. However, we would suggest contacting your state DNR or department of conservation to verify your rights.
Even if there is a hunting season, you may still be able to hunt squirrels if they are nuisance animals. Many areas allow landowners to manage these issues, usually free or with just a nominal fee for a permit.
While you’re checking on whether you can hunt, also find out if you can bait them. You will improve your chances of a successful bag if you can draw them closer to you with irresistible treats like peanut butter.
Can You Shoot or Trap Squirrels?
You’ll likely see separate requirements for shooting versus trapping with some additional requirements about seasons, limits, and methods that you can use when wondering if you can eat squirrels from your backyard. Often, the regs aren’t as stringent since squirrels are abundant.
Some areas have Eastern gray squirrels that are black or white. A handful of towns protect these variations because of their rarity. In those places, you probably won’t be able to hunt them.
Is it Safe to Eat a Squirrel?
When considering if you can eat squirrel from your backyard, the main concerns are the diseases that these rodents carry either directly or indirectly. Fortunately, rabies isn’t usually an issue with small rodents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, we won’t give squirrels a get-out-of-jail-free card because of the risk of contracting Salmonella from them. There’s also concern about tickborne diseases such as Lyme disease that you must know to figure out can you eat squirrel from your backyard.
We also have to mention pesticides. Most authorities don’t recommend using them to control squirrels because of the risk it brings to non-targeted animals and pets. But even if you know better, that doesn’t mean the guy down the street with a rodent issue isn’t using these products.
You’ll minimize your risks by wearing gloves when skinning and field dressing them and doing these tasks promptly. Make sure to get the carcasses into the fridge quickly when you’re done.
How to Dress a Squirrel and Clean the Meat
In this section, we’ll be providing a quick guide to field dressing squirrels and cleaning the meat. For a more detailed guide, check out this step-by-step guide to squirrel skinning.
1. First and Foremost, Have a Good Skinning Knife
Before you can even think about dressing your squirrel, you need to ensure that you have a small, sharpened skinning knife that can easily glide through the hide and remove any unwanted parts of the squirrel.
2. Begin Cutting Underneath the Base of the Tail
And start cutting from the base of the tail, down the back towards the head, with the squirrel belly-down on a sturdy, flat surface. You’ll then break the tail bone, and pull the tail to remove the hide from the back of the squirrel.
3. Pull off the Front and Hide Legs
You don’t have to break off and remove the front and hind leg bones, just remove the hide using your knife and gloved hands.
4. Cut off the Head and Feet and Gut
Using game shears, remove the paws and the head of the squirrel, then cut the chest open and remove the insides of the squirrel until the meat is hollowed out.
5. Clean the Meat Using a Water Hose to Remove Blood, Fur, and Residue
Be sure to wash the meat again before you start preparing it to eat.
What You Can Make with Squirrel Meat
We don’t mean to sound like a cliche, but you can substitute squirrel meat in any recipe calling for chicken. It’s primarily dark with some fat. Its taste is mild and not at all gamey.
A 3.5-ounce serving of roasted squirrel meat contains 172 calories and 4.7 g of total fat. A comparable amount of chicken thigh meat is 184 calories and 9.16 g of total fat. With these nutrient profiles in mind, you can prepare the game similarly to poultry.
Most hunters go after either Eastern gray or fox squirrels. They’re larger than smaller species like red squirrels, providing about 1.5 and 3 pounds, respectively. That puts it in the category of a cornish game hen, which runs about the same weight.
As a general rule of thumb, the bigger and older the squirrel, the slower you should cook it. Braising is an excellent way to tenderize the meat and add flavor.
Always follow safe cooking practices in the kitchen. Wash your hands before you start your prep. We suggest using a cutting board dedicated to meat than one all-purpose one.
You can prepare to eat squirrels from your backyard by cutting the meat into 1-inch chunks. You can also dust them with a seasoned flour mixture and saute them in a neutral oil to brown all sides. Remove the meat to a plate.
We like to follow up with sauteing cut-up vegetables like celery, carrots, and onion until brown to add those yummy caramelized flavors. Return the meat to the pot, along with enough vegetable or chicken broth to cover the ingredients. Cook on high for four to six hours until tender.
You can also braise the squirrel in milk and make a delicious sauce from the liquid. The acids will tenderize the meat and make it practically melt in your mouth.
This method is an old stand-by that makes an excellent tailgating dish instead of the plain-old chicken wings. You can make a batter using buttermilk, which will also make it tender. Add flour and your choice of spaces with salt and pepper.
We also suggest adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the mixture. That will help the pieces crisp up faster and absorb less of the fat. You may find it helpful to put the coated pieces in the fridge for 20 minutes or so to help the batter adhere to the meat.
Heat a heavy-weighted skillet with neutral oil or shortening to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry a few pieces at a time to avoid overcrowding the pan and lowering the temperature of the fat too much. They should only take a few minutes on each side to get a lovely golden brown.
Drain on paper towels and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
Another variation on this theme is beer-battered squirrel tenders. Let the cut-up meat marinate overnight in beer with a splash of orange juice. Drain and roll the pieces in a mixture of panko bread crumbs, flour, and spices before deep-frying them in oil.
There are plenty of other ways to enjoy your prepared squirrel meat. A few that we enjoy include:
- Squirrel jerky
- Squirrel sausage
- Marinated squirrel kabobs
- Country-fried squirrel steaks
The possibilities are endless!
What to Eat With Prepared Squirrel
Because squirrels are small, they don’t really have a ton of meat. Unless you’ve shot and skinned a lot of squirrels, we don’t recommend making the squirrel the main focus of your meal. In this section of the article, we’ll be sharing some of our favorite side dishes to serve with your prepared squirrel meat!
1. Biscuits and Gravy
Okay, this is probably THE BEST way to eat fried squirrel. Because the squirrel is so small, the biscuits and gravy make for a filling addition to your fried squirrel meal. This is a superb woodsy breakfast meal, but is also a great dinner idea, too, especially when paired with fried eggs and orange juice!
2. Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes
Treat your cooked squirrel like chicken fried chicken (or steak) and pair it with a hearty side of homemade mashed potatoes and green beans for a southern traditional meal that you don’t want to miss.
3. Put the Squirrel Meat in Stew
So, putting squirrel meat in stew isn’t necessarily a side dish, but it’s a filling, wholesome, and tasty option to consider. For example, you can substitute the chicken in your family chicken and dumplings recipe with squirrel, add squirrel to a veggie soup, put squirrel in gumbo, make a stew out of corn, potatoes, and squirrel, or make a warm squirrel chili for cold winter nights.
4. Garlicy Oven-Baked Potatoes and Carrots
You can’t go wrong with oven-baked ANYTHING and especially not with garlicy oven-baked potatoes and carrots. You can try making a sheet pan dinner and bake the squirrel and veggies together, or cook the squirrel and veggies separately and use the potatoes and carrots as a filling side dish.
If you need squirrel recipes, Practical Self Reliance has gathered 40+ of the most mouth-watering squirrel recipes we’ve ever seen! So be sure to check them out for more ideas.
Advice to Improve Your Chances of Putting Meat on the Table
Talk to any hunter, and you’ll get dozens of tips on how to get squirrels. The essential things to remember are to pick the right habitat and use your senses to locate them quickly.
Squirrel tracks are distinctive and easy to identify in the mud or snow. The front feet have four toes, while the larger back feet have five. When they bound across the land, the hind feet land in front of the front together. The track differs from a rabbit that often has one rear foot trailing the other in a wider stride than squirrels.
When you spot one, always shoot them on the ground after being sure of your target. Squirrels are naturally wary. If you miss it, you will have alerted them and any other wildlife or birds in the area of the presence of a human.
We suggest aiming for the head for a quick kill shot that will minimize damage to the meat.
Follow the best hunting practices and wear blaze orange to alert other hunters and non-hunters to your presence. Stick to places with abundant food sources such as near waterways or forests with trees like black walnut, hickory, or oak species.
You may find it helpful to scout your hunting area before you load up to find the trees that are producing. Some species will have nuts or fruit every other year.
Final Thoughts About Eating Squirrel
This animal might not be the first one you think of when deciding to prepare game dishes. However, their abundance and relatively easy prep make them an excellent and tasty choice for fall meals. The nutritional value is comparable to the dark meat of chicken with similar prep techniques.
When wondering if you can eat squirrel from your backyard, start with the legal issues and go from there. You’ll find a host of ways to cook the meat with the satisfaction of getting food from your land for the ultimate in localvore living.