My friend and my brother and I used to hunt squirrels, and other game, on a game-filled property in the heart of the Maryland farm country. Things with wings were the main attraction, like ducks or mourning doves. Canada geese, however were the real lure that brought us there, and populations were on the upswing in the early 1970’s. The shooting was often truly extraordinary.
The goose hunting was more than satisfying for our fathers and their friends, but not always enough for us. We were, after all, young boys bursting with inexhaustible momentum, and guns, and we badly needed something to do when the morning flights of Canada Geese had ended and the birds had laid up to rest.
For me, it was not just a way to pass the time until the late afternoon hunt. Goose shooting is thrilling, and fun, but squirrels…now that’s a young hunter’s big game.
Fortunately, the hardwood fingers between the cornfields and the backwaters of Chesapeake Bay were absolutely jammed with the elusive bushytails. We spent a lot of time still hunting through the autumn leaves, sharpening our eyes behind the rifle sights and practicing our future whitetail hunting skills. Squirrels fell all around us, though I doubt that we ever really put much of a dent in their numbers. They are, among so many things, a restless and boundless survivor in the long-term scheme of things.
I miss those days spent within that colorful cathedral of canopy, slipping soundlessly around the trunks of tall trees with my chin pointed to the sky. Patience is a virtue in this game, as is focus and sharp eyesight. A flash here and a flash there was sometimes all you got, but sometimes, if you were lucky or good, you got a little more too. A squirrel’s head is a tiny target, and you could fancy yourself quite a marksman if you could drop one cleanly and quick.
Long ago I graduated to hunting much bigger and more glamorous game, in places where the terrain and scenery could not be much more different from that gentle land. But those squirrels of my youth have never journeyed very far out of mind, and that is a good thing.
I long to hunt squirrels. I crave those simple and rewarding days in the land of sassafras and scolding bluejays. Some are quick to say that the world moves on, and that you can never really revisit a time gone by. Perhaps that is true, but certainly not in all things. I would like to think that squirrel hunting is one of those.
I feel a well deserved squirrel hunt coming on, and some Brunswick Stew to go with it, wherever they may be…
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Recipe By Hank Shaw
There are a number of hacks and subs you can do here. First, you can use any white meat for the filling. Rabbit, turkey, pheasant, quail, partridge and yes, chicken would all be fine. Next, you can skip the acorn flour and just use a whole wheat or some other darkish flour your like. Third, you can use regular walnuts for the black walnuts… or use whatever nut makes you happy.
- 1/2 cup acorn flour
- 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour, or regular AP flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup duck fat, lard, butter or shortening
- 3 tablespoons bacon fat
- 1 cup finely shredded cabbage
- 1 cup minced yellow or white onion
- 3/4 pound shredded and chopped squirrel meat
- 1 cup diced apple, peeled and cored (I use Granny Smiths)
- 1/2 cup toasted, chopped black walnuts
- 1/2 teaspoon Cavender’s seasoning, or black pepper
- 1/2 cup warm stock, squirrel, chicken or something light
- 2 teaspoons sorghum syrup or molasses
- 1 cup shredded gruyere, emmental or jarlsberg cheese(optional)
Mix the flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a small pot, heat the milk until it’s steaming, then turn off the heat. Stir in the fat until it’s mostly melted in; a few bits that aren’t melted are fine.
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry with a fork until it’s a shaggy mass. Knead this all together until you have a smooth ball, then shape it into a cylinder. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Heat the bacon fat in a large pan over medium-high heat and add the cabbage and onions. Saute until softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Salt this as it cooks. Add the squirrel meat, apple, walnuts and Cavender’s seasoning (or black pepper), stir well and cook for a few minutes.
Stir the sorghum syrup in with the stock until combined, then pour this into the pan with everything else. Stir this well and let it cook another few minutes so the ingredients absorb the liquid. Turn off the heat and let the filling cool.
If you have a tortilla press, get it out and cut a heavy plastic bag apart to make two plastic sheets that you’ll use to keep the dough off the metal of the press. If you don’t have a press, lay out a work space and flour it well.
Cut the dough into anywhere between 8 and 10 pieces, trying to keep them about the same size. Put half the pieces back in the fridge. Roll a piece into a flat, disc and set it on a piece of plastic on the press. Put the other piece of plastic over it and squash the dough into a thin disc. I find that I do one squeeze, then adjust the dough so it’s perfectly centered in the tortilla press.
If you don’t have a press, roll the dough balls into flat discs about 1/8 of an inch thick.
Remove the dough from the plastic and put about 1/4 cup of filling on one side of the disc. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on top if you’d like. Fold over the dough to make a half-moon and seal. Crimp the edges with a fork and set on a floured baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Bake at 400F for 25 minutes. Move to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before you eat them. Best served hot, but they’ll keep for a week or so in the fridge and are pretty good cold, too.
NOTE: I start with meat shredded off squirrels used in making stock. You can do this, or braise squirrels in salty water until tender, or you can just cut meat off the bones of raw squirrels and chop that up. All methods will work.
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- Looking For That Flash of Tail
“Sure, the usually available squirrel is fine game for the beginning hunter. No game animal will give him better training in hunting fundamentals – stalking, concealment, woodsmanship, and shooting and gun handling. And should he become so fortunate that he has a chance at them, those early lessons will serve him well on this continent’s most prized big game animals…Frequent jaunts to a convenient squirrel woods season the long and colorful careers of many of our most famous hunters…
The hunter pussyfooting through the squirrel woods is not seeking a trophy animal, is not concerned about the behavior of an expensive bird dog, nor is he attempting to impress a hunting partner with his wingshooting. He is in the hardwoods for the pure joy of hunting…” –By Bob Gooch, Found in All About Small-Game Hunting in America. Edited by Russell Tinsley.
All About Small-Game Hunting in America. By Russell Tinsley
Published by Macmillan, 1984. Very Good condition in Very Good Dustjacket.
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