“Squirrel!” Spoken in a loud voice and accompanied with a dist j ant stare or pointing finger, the word is designed to change the subject and distract your attention, an inside joke in our family. But it’s no joke if you’re a squirrel, particularly this year because they seem to be everywhere. Social media is rife with video clips of swimming squirrels, and we seem to see them plastered all over the pavement.

It should come as no surprise, given the bumper crop of hard mast we had last year. Add to that the natural tendency of juveniles to disperse in search of their own home and you have the perfect squirrel storm, a squirrelnado, if you will. Alas, the brief bounty will be largely underutilized because few sportsmen take the squirrel seriously as a small game animal anymore.

As a youngster, I cut my hunting teeth on squirrels while they cut acorns from high in a canopy of towering red oaks. Back then it was the first season to open, and a great, low-risk way to learn woodsmanship skills. You’ve got to be stealthy to sneak up on a squirrel; not as stealthy as sneaking up on a deer, but what better way to hone your technique?

You learn patience. Startle them and it’s time to sit and wait, another great lesson. They will come back out of hiding eventually, and it won’t take nearly as long to see another squirrel as it would to wait for another deer sighting. That positive reinforcement at an early age is huge.

Say what you want, but I honestly think any youngster who goes straight to big game like deer has missed out on a hugely important part of the learning, growing process as a hunter. Even the process of skinning and dressing a squirrel is good practice for later. Once you’ve done a few squirrels, a deer is easy.

Satisfaction with success and lessons learned are not the only reward. If memory serves, limb bacon is not half-bad table fare when properly prepared. I’ll pass on the squirrel brains, a delicacy in West Virginia, but the meat can be cooked in much the same way you would prepare a hare. Squirrel stew or even stroganoff prepared in the slow cooker come to mind as favorites from my past.

As a youngster I used to thumb through the pages of Boy’s Life magazine in the dentist’s waiting room. I remember advertisements from the Mepps tackle company offering to buy squirrel tails; the hair was used in its Aglia spinners. I had to check but they still buy tails.

That reminded me of another favorite childhood pastime. A worm and a bobber worked great when sitting on the pond but nothing beat a Mepp’s Aglia for catching brook trout in a fast running stream. I fish mostly with a flyrod now, but back then it was a great way to learn stealth, patience and how to dissect a trout stream with less risk and more positive reinforcement.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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