Outdoor hunt sports are experiencing renewed interest today. In the 1960′s there was an awakening and recognition of a need to return to nature and traditional ways of living. Those who left the city, returning to the country, discovered two things. First, a lot of folks still lived in the country where hunting and fishing were a way of life, not just an activity during vacation. Second, there is great aesthetic, even spiritual satisfaction from harvesting what you consume from your own garden, from the woods, and from the lakes and the ocean.
Hunting large and small game has been at the core of a natural lifestyle forever. Although it is a classic traditional American recreation, it is much more than that. Each year millions of parents take to the woods with their kids and grandchildren to enjoy the outdoors, to learn about wildlife and to teach them how to hunt and fish, and to appreciate and respect nature and our place in it. If you ask a wide cross section of the population you’ll hear that many of their best memories are of hunting and fishing with dad and grandpa.
Hunting rabbits, ducks and squirrels put food on the table for our great grand-parents and grandparents. It was a way of life then and still is.
If you pick up an outdoors or hunting magazine there are a lot of pages devoted to deer hunting. One hunter is likely to ask another, “Did you bag a deer this year?” That’s a little misleading. Today the most widely-hunted game animals in the country, now and for generations, have been rabbits and squirrels. There are a number of good reasons for this. These animals are everywhere, widely distributed, abundant, easy to bag and prepare, and they’re delicious.
Rabbits and hares are found virtually everywhere throughout North America and into Central America. Every state has at least one species. Most states have more.
Rabbits are highly adaptive. They’re found in most every environment. As a result they are often abundant. While all species eat only vegetable matter, their diet is flexible. What they eat depends on their home territory. They have a deserved reputation for eating just about anything, sometimes everything. When food is plentiful, rabbit populations explode. Hunters can count on finding them near agricultural areas.
Rabbits are not true nocturnal feeders. They feed at dawn and dusk when both night and daylight predators have difficulty seeing. That makes those twilight hours the best times for us to hunt them. When food is readily available and predators are few, rabbits become less alert and are fairly easily taken, even by less experienced hunters.
Rabbits, like all small game, should be field dressed as soon as possible so the meat doesn’t become tainted. They are fairly easy to prepare for cooking. Skinning them is not a major chore, but is easier before they become cold or frozen.
Rabbits, squirrels and some other small game can contract tularemia, a bacterial infection, transmitted from ticks. Gloves should be worn when skinning and preparing them. The meat should always be fully cooked prior to eating it.
Squirrels are the second most-hunted game animal in North America, for most of the same reasons as rabbits. Hunters focus almost exclusively on the three dominant species of tree squirrels, of which the eastern and western gray squirrels are the most available.
Like rabbits, squirrels will adapt their diet to what’s available. They can also become pests to farm crops.
Most states confine hunting to the Fall season, but a few have a Spring hunting season, as well. Wildlife management departments in those states say that two hunting seasons have no negative effect on the populations.
Squirrel is very easy to prepare for cooking. The meat is delicious. There are dozens of traditional recipes, many with distinctly regional accents and ingredients.
Much has been said and written to praise the many merits of small game hunting. It emphasizes a close relationship with and appreciation of the natural world in which we live, It teaches responsibility, tradition and strengthens family bonds. One of it’s greatest rewards is the simple pleasure of sitting down to a meal of food you’ve grown and game you’ve brought home and cooked.
If you can hunt, there’s no need to fear the higher costs of living today. You will be self-reliant. Take along a practical outdoor survival knife just in case you need it. Afterward, your game will make a great meal.