Whether you’re an avid hunter or just thinking about getting started, a purveyor of locally sourced food or looking to get kids outdoors, squirrel hunting has something for you. In Missouri, few game species are as widespread and underutilized as squirrels. Squirrel hunting can challenge the most skilled hunters, while at the same time offer entry-level opportunities to the novice. With the longest season of any of Missouri’s small game species, a daily limit of 10, and good populations, squirrel hunting offers plentiful opportunities with little financial investment. Quite possibly the most endearing quality of squirrel hunting is that it can be an excellent opportunity to get kids outdoors and in touch with nature, teaching them life skills hard to get anywhere else.
A Rich Heritage
Missouri has a strong squirrel hunting heritage going back long before the first regulated season in 1905. Four-thousand year- old evidence unearthed by archeologists show the diets of Missouri’s earliest human inhabitants included squirrels, presumably abundant in the surrounding forest lands. Newspaper accounts from European settlers documented the hunting of squirrels for food as well as for protecting their crops from events such as the Great Squirrel Invasion of 1839 in Franklin County, Missouri.
And still today, despite the many competing interests that divert us from outdoor activities, squirrel hunting remains the most pursued small game species of Missouri hunters.
Easy to Get Started
No specialized gear is needed to hunt squirrels. A .22 caliber rifle or shotgun, preferably 410 or 20-gauge, is all the equipment required to be a successful squirrel hunter. And unlike hunting many other species, no special clothing is required. Most seasoned squirrel hunters will tell you to wear camouflage as an added measure of concealment, but many a squirrel has been harvested by hunters donning faded blue jeans and an old work coat.
Small Size, Big Fun
Gray squirrels tip the scales at a little over a pound, on average. Their cousin, the fox squirrel, can occasionally weigh up to 3 pounds. However, don’t let their small size fool you. Squirrels are a formidable opponent, and given their abundance, opportunity abounds statewide.
With much of the attention focused on big game species like deer and turkey, squirrels tend to fly under the radar with many of today’s hunters. This is not a bad thing. Given the competition for places to hunt, the necessary gear, and amount of effort per encounter, pursuing those big game species can be intimidating for a beginning hunter, a family just looking to spend some quality time teaching their kids outdoor skills, or a millennial spending time with friends acquiring locally sourced food.
Squirrels have been referred to as a “gateway” species for getting youth involved in hunting. Hunting big game is challenging and involves mastering the skills of patience, attention to detail, and stealth to be successful on a consistent basis. These skills, though not as critical, are also necessary for hunting squirrels and can be acquired at a pace that today’s kids require to stay interested and engaged. Squirrel hunting generally produces a lot of action, thus ample opportunities for a successful harvest each time you venture into the woods.
In addition to abundant harvest opportunities, squirrel hunting offers many other benefits. A squirrel hunter will learn to identify trees and other plants in Missouri’s woods, read signs left by squirrels and other critters sharing the same habitat, hone gun handling and hunter safety skills, learn to trust their instincts, and build self-confidence.
Locally Sourced Sustainable Food
In 2016, Missouri hunters harvested nearly 600,000 squirrels, equating to approximately 300,000 pounds of high-quality, locally sourced protein. Squirrel, when handled and prepared properly, can provide a delectable meal that is sure to satisfy even the most sensitive of palates. Many species of Missouri wildlife can provide quality, locally sourced food, but few can match the action, harvest opportunities, ease of hunting access, degree of challenge for both novice and skilled hunters, and fine dining offered by Missouri squirrels.
Squirrel hunting is convenient, with a long season, abundant opportunities, and easy access to public lands from nearly any community in Missouri. If you’re a seasoned hunter, but haven’t hunted squirrels in years, grab a beginning hunter and become a mentor.
For more information, check out MDC’s new publication, Basic Hunting for Common Missouri Game Species — Squirrel. It is available free to Missouri residents by emailing Basic Hunting for Common Missouri Game Species — Squirrel and your shipping address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find public lands open to squirrel hunting near you, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/ZNc or contact your local outdoor education specialist.
Missouri is home to three species of tree squirrels:
- the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
- the eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)
- the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys Volans)
Of the three species, only the gray and fox squirrels are legal to hunt.
Squirrel behavior and activity change throughout the year as they respond to weather patterns and food availability. For example, a mulberry tree full of fruit could be a hotspot in June, but by October, squirrels feed on nuts and acorns. Popular squirrel foods include:
- Spring: tree buds, mushrooms, seeds of elms, maples, and oaks
- Summer and fall: mulberries, hickory nuts, pecans, acorns, corn, walnuts, wild grapes, and hedgeapples
- Winter: nuts, acorns, bark, corn, and buds
Rosemary Parmesan Squirrel
Makes 4 servings
- 3 squirrels, cut in pieces
- 2 cups flour
- Olive oil
- ¼ cup white wine (white zinfandel or Liebfraumilch)
- 1 teaspoon rosemary
- ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (chopped coarsely)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- Brown rice (for 4 servings)
- ¾ cup cream or half and half
- ½ package onion soup mix
- 1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
PLACE flour in bag, add meat, and shake until thoroughly covered. In large frying pan, heat olive oil until it’s almost but not quite smoking. Place meat in pan and brown on all sides. Just before meat is completely browned, add 2 pats of butter to oil to finish browning. Remove and drain and cook meat in wine in a shallow sauté pan, covered, on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes to tenderize. Remember to turn occasionally.
PUT chopped tomatoes, rosemary, salt, pepper, and bouillon cubes in water and bring to a boil. Add rice and cook according to directions on rice package. Stir and fluff to distribute rosemary and tomatoes evenly.
In a sauté pan on low heat, BLEND cream, onion soup mix, and half of the Parmesan cheese. Stir constantly until the mixture is smooth and the cheese is melted into the sauce. Salt to taste. Use white pepper, if desired. Serve squirrel over a bed of rice, spoon sauce over top, and garnish with remaining Parmesan cheese.