November 16, 2021
By M.D. Johnson
Over my many years of hunting, I can’t begin to guess how many people have told me they don’t hunt squirrels because of how hard they are to clean.
Or because of how difficult it is to keep hair off the meat you later intend to eat. I’ve probably heard it all a thousand times.
Fortunately, these individuals have it all wrong. Preparing a squirrel for the table isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—challenging. In fact, with some practice, the process can be completed from start to finish in less than 60 seconds.
An experienced squirrel skinner can probably do it in 30 seconds or less. And while there might be a stray hair or two left when you’re done, dressing bushytails in the way described here should result in clean, succulent meat to be baked at 350 degrees.
As simple as the cleaning process itself is, the equipment list for skinning squirrels isn’t much more complicated: a source of running water; a cutting board; a sharp, medium-spine knife; a large clean bowl; and a heavy set of tin snips or game-cleaning shears. Weather permitting, I usually clean bushytails outside using the garden hose. However, my father, a squirrel fanatic for some 70 years, prefers his deep-set tubs. Either works.
With a knife, remove the head and tail close to the body. I generally set the tail aside to be sent to Mepps Lures for its squirrel-tail program after drying. Mepps will pay for harvested squirrel tails, which the company uses in its lures. There are specific rules and rates listed on its website, so be sure to check those out first.
Using the tin snips, cut all four feet off at what you might call the “wrist.” Heavy-duty snips make this step a snap. However, some folks—my father included—rely solely on a trusted knife.
Next, soak the still-furred carcass thoroughly under running water. If you’re right-handed, use your left thumb and forefinger to pinch about an inch of hide in the middle of the squirrel’s back. Then, taking your knife, cut a small slit—just enough to fit two fingers—into the hide you’ve pinched. Rinse the knife and set it aside. Do all of this under the gently running water.
Put your middle finger of each hand partially into the slit you’ve just made and, keeping the carcass under the running water, pull in opposite directions.
Each half of the hide should peel off inside-out like a glove. Young squirrels are easy; older squirrels can provide a bit of an upper-body workout. To prevent hair contamination, every time your hand leaves the hide, rinse it off under the water. Some knife work might be necessary, particularly for an oft-stubborn strip of hide on the belly.
The hide now removed, place the carcass belly-up on a rinsed (hair-free) cutting board. On each front leg at the wrist you’ll find a tuft of 6 to 10 stiff hairs that have survived the skinning process. Cut these away and discard.
Now it’s time to gut your squirrel. Think of it as a tiny whitetail. With the knife edge up, make an incision from the crotch to the neck opening, splitting all the way through the sternum in the process. You should now be able to easily remove the animal’s entrails. Returning to the running water, thoroughly rinse out the body cavity. Then you can safely—and “hairlessly”— place the fully dressed squirrel in the clean bowl and repeat the process with the next in line.