Saturday, September 25, marks the opening of the grey squirrel and cottontail rabbit seasons, two of our favorite small game/upland quarries.
Jackrabbit and hare seasons are included under the bunny banner, but good luck finding one of these. “Swampers,” those huge (by comparison to the standard cottontail) rabbits inhabiting the swamp and marshland areas are still technically cottontails even though the sizes are more snowshoe hare-like.
Bunnies are for a later blog, as we prefer to pursue them when the brush foliage has thinned, and the grass and weed fields and edges have started to flatten, usually around the third week in October.
Sure, the early deer archery season is still going on, as are the September Canada goose season and the railbird season, but nothing gets our hunting juices flowing more than a stalk and/or a sit for squirrels, especially as the leaves are beginning to tint and the Indian Summer weather is refreshingly cool and sunny.
Legal to hunt with a shotgun, bow, air rifle, and, in certain parts of the Garden State (see the map on page 60 of the Hunting & Trapping Digest) with a muzzleloader (not larger than .36 caliber), this frenetic small game species offers challenging opportunities and lends itself to numerous mouth-watering recipes. Fried, grilled, baked, stewed and in a cacciatore (see photo), the sweet white meat, at least to the taste buds of yours truly, is a pleasing blend of pork and chicken, both texture and taste-wise. Yeah, a pain to skin, but well worth the trouble!
Squirrels with a shotgun? Absolutely! They are incredibly fast, racing along the ground and jumping from branch to branch to yet another branch through the treetops. A flushing pheasant is not a match for the evasive tactics of a squirrel on the move. A 12 or 20 gauge choked modified, modified-full, or full, loaded with Nos. 5 or 6 shot, predicated on the area you’re hunting, will put them in the game bag.
White oak acorns are relished by bushy tails, and they’ll also chow on red oak acorns, beechnuts, and hickory nuts and are especially fond of corn. Who has not baited for deer with corn and had squirrels invade the pile or spread? Where there are cornfields available, we’ll make the switch from prowling and sitting in the woodlots to positioning along woods/cornfield edge. This happens around late October and into November when the fields are being cut. A grey will go through great effort to get a cob of corn cached in a nest or in a notch in a tree and said areas are better bets as the season progresses.
The daily limit is five, and hunting is sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.