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Small game recipes

Go squirrel hunting to learn wilderness survival skills

Go squirrel hunting to learn wilderness survival skills

How do you learn  the basic survival skills of marksmanship, stalking, concealment and skinning and processing game animals? Take up squirrel hunting.

by Leon Pantenburg

Many people don’t know how to get started hunting. But they may be thinking it’s time to learn.

There could be a variety of reasons – to supplement your diet, to harvest clean, organic, non-GMO meat, to practice wilderness survival skills to get outdoors more etc. The reasons are as varied as the participants. (A good point-of-view comes from Lily Raff McCaulou, a city woman who took up hunting when she moved to rural Oregon. Her book “Call of the Mild” is a reasoned look at hunting.)

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is similar to those made about 1800 in Pennsylvania.

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is my favorite squirrel gun

But there are added benefits. You can learn survival skills that might come in really handy if  The Shinola Hits the Fan.

Start by taking a hunter safety class, and learning firearms safety.

Then take up squirrel hunting.

Squirrels are the second-most harvested small game in the US, after rabbits. They are in virtually every state, and most places have liberal limits.

A 10-year-old kid with a .410, an old guy with his equally ancient Winchester 97 or the modern longhunter with a flintlock can all be successful and get a lot of enjoyment out of the same activity.

Here are some of the survival skills that go along with squirrel hunting.

Marksmanship: The average adult tree squirrel will weight about one pound. The target size is small. They move quickly, and are masters of concealment. If one spots you, you probably won’t get a shot.

Using a shotgun doesn’t guarantee success. A squirrel running through the trees tops, offering only fleeting glimpses of its bushy tail is a challenging target.

A rifleman has  more challenge. If you restrict yourself to heads shots only, your target is the size of a walnut. If you can consistently make a head shot, at a range of between 10 to 30 yards, you’ll have no problem taking a deer at similar ranges.

If you want to get really good with your centerfire rifle, work up some reduced loads and hunt small game with it. (Just about every reloading manual has some suggested low velocity loadings. DO NOT make up your own!)

These three long guns are good, reliable choices for the beginner with no experience.

The Ruger 10/22 (top) and Remington 870 pump action shotgun are good squirrel guns. The Remington 700 bolt action rifle can shoot reduced loads for small game.

Up the ante and go hunting with a blackpowder rifle. The epitome of squirrel hunting challenge, to me, is using a flintlock rifle, like the colonial frontiersmen.

Talk about trophy hunting –  your success rate will probably go down. But when you do drop one, there is a real feeling of accomplishment.

I gave up bowhunting squirrels after a couple of unsuccessful tries. Not only could I not hit one, but I also usually lost the arrow. If you’re a hardcore bowhunter, though, use small game blunts and have at it.

Stalking: We’ve all seen city parks with the fat, complacent squirrels. (Here, the best and undoubtedly illegal hunting tool might be a slingshot.) But go to a public hunting area, and the squirrels have been educated. You might not even see one. This is where you learn to walk quietly on dry leaves, blend in with trees and brush and stalk close enough for a shot.

This skill transfers to big game hunting. And, God forbid, if you ever get involved in some sort of guerilla war situation, you’ll know more than many of your opponents.

Use camouflage:  Some hard core hunters wear head nets or camouflage paint to hide their faces.  There nothing like a bright, shiny face, peering up into the tree, to spook a squirrel.

Me and my brother Mike Pantenburg all cammied up to go elk hunting. (Bob Patterson photo)

Me and my brother Mike Pantenburg, all camied up to go elk hunting. (Bob Patterson photo)

I tend to wear a broad brimmed hat, and lower my head to hide my face. If it hot and buggy out, a head net is welcomed and hides my face.

Camo patterns are seasonal, and you’ll learn what works best at different times of the year. You’ll quickly figure out what keeps you warm or cool, and how comfortable the clothing is. Needless to say, this could be invaluable if you ever have to bug out somewhere.

Firearms: Use a firearm hunting and you’ll inevitably get better using it and become more familiar with the operation. And don’t discount squirrel hunting firearms for self defense.

Shotguns loaded with slugs or buckshot may be the best short-range self defense weapon ever devised. And a .22 rifle, in the hands of a cool marksman/survival mom with the will to use it and survive is a formidable weapon.

Don’t underestimate the killing power of a .22 rifle. As an Iowa farmboy, I’ve humanely dispatched injured pigs and other large farm animals with a single, well-placed .22 slug. (Here’s how to pick the best firearm for your needs.)

Patience: A good hunter is a patient one. There is generally no instant gratification in hunting, and the successful hunter invests time in researching the animal, learning its habits and habitat and practicing marksmanship. Patience is not learned quickly. 🙂

The Berkey Sport Bottle worked well with the rest of my hunting system.

Try out all your gear.

Check out all your gear: You’ll use your firearm, cam0, hunting knife, boots and clothing, but other gear goes in the mix. That GPS, map and compass will get used heavily, so your navigation skills stay current. You’ll learn where to find water, and read wild animal sign. Bad weather will teach you how to take shelter.

Wear your hiking boots and socks hunting, and it’s easy to decide if they will work out. Use that new daypack and take along some of the freeze dried food to try out. Experiment with trail mixes.

You won’t just be using the hunting equipment.

Learn how to process game animals: Rabbits and squirrels are easy to skin, gut and quarter, and this experience can be applied to larger animals.

On his first hunt to Idaho, I was trying to explain to my cousin Marion how to gut a deer. As kids in Iowa, Marion and I had hunted small game together a lot, but this was his first experience with big animals. My explanation was not going too well, judging from the puzzled look on Marion’s face.

“OK – think of it as a deer is just a big rabbit,” I said. “Just gut it like you would a rabbit or squirrel.”

Marion understood instantly, and had no trouble later on. (Here’s how to field dress a squirrel. There are several ways to get this done, but this is one of the quickest.)

The right accessories can make Dutch oven cooking much easier.

Dutch ovens can make outdoor cooking easy and the food can be delicious!

Cooking: Survival food has to be tasty, and cooking over a campfire is another skill that has to be learned. Cook an older squirrel on a spit over a campfire, like you can see on Youtube videos and survival shows, and the result will be a meal that is as tough as a boot and tastes like one.

Learn some good, basic small game recipes and get a Dutch oven. Make cooking the animal part of the outdoor experience. (Here’s a go-to squirrel recipe.)

I’ve hunted all over the country for deer, elk and small game.

But give me a choice of any day hunt, and I’ll probably take a deciduous forest full of oak and beech trees at dawn. The squirrels will be moving in the trees and I’m there to harvest a few with my flintlock rifle.

Learning survival skills should be fun, and squirrel hunting is one of the best teaching environments around!
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Small game recipes

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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