Small game hunting is a time-honored tradition, and it’s the perfect way to get first-time hunters into the woods. Squirrels are everywhere, and they don’t require specialized equipment, scent maskers, hunting blinds or 4 am wake up calls. They also don’t require half a day to clean and dress. With a little practice, you can clean and gut a squirrel in under a minute.
Generally, large grey squirrels are hunted for meat. Red squirrels are much smaller, and but they still have a substantial amount of meat for such a small body. I have yet to weigh a squirrel before and after dressing, but I’d guess they dress out to about 60% of live weight. By comparison, woodchucks dress out to less than 30% live weight.
If you’re a small landowner or homesteader, the size of the squirrel isn’t always correlated with the damage they cause. We’ve had a bumper crop of red squirrels this year, and they’ve destroyed more than one crop. When they tore into the side of the house and started noisily defending our attached greenhouse as their territory, they quickly added themselves to the menu.
A few days later, a well-placed shot with a .22 took out this particular squirrel after he left the greenhouse. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to cleaning this particular catch. I assumed it’d take forever to skin a squirrel, but a bit of quick internet research showed me different. For the most part, we process hogs here on the homestead, and the hides on those beasts are well attached. it takes a lot of work with a knife to tease meat away from hide.
Squirrels are different, and you can more or less pull the whole pelt off in one clean piece.
I watched a few youtube videos on skinning squirrels in particular, and all of them showed the same technique. Start by removing the feet, and then cut loose the skin at the base of the tail. Step on the tail and pull up. The whole pelt should come off in one piece, except for the back legs. Those are peeled off after the fact, by hand or with a pair of catfish skinners.
Sounds simple enough. I ended up using a slightly different technique that’s very fast, and once I got the process down it takes about 1 minute to clean and gut a squirrel. I’ve written up the detailed instructions below, but I also made a quick video showing the process at full speed.
The first step is to remove the feet. My 3-year-old daughter wanted to help, so I gave her a pair of scissors to remove the feet, but a knife works well too. The bones are delicate, and it doesn’t take much pressure to remove them. Since there are so few cuts, you could clean and gut a squirrel start to finish with a small pair of scissors in a pinch.
After the feet are removed, it’s time to make the first (and only) cut into the hide. Grab the squirrel by the tail and locate the anus.
Take a sharp knife and slice just above the anus to sever the tailbone. The idea is to sever the tailbone, but leave it attached by a flap of squirrel pelt. Cut up along the back short ways so that there’s a good sized flap of skin. Be sure to remove any meat attached to the pelt. If you’ve cut into the squirrel hind quarter meat and left it on the pelt, it’ll pull the squirrel apart when you go to strip the squirrel pelt.
The next step is where my instructions differ from the experts. Perhaps it’s because I’m skinning a red squirrel instead of a larger grey squirrel, but “stepping on the tail and pulling up on the body” didn’t skin the squirrel. All it did was skin the tail. I now have a piece of tail pelt and a fully stripped tailbone.
So I tried again, this time I stepped up higher on the tail, closer to the base. The whole tail just ripped right off.
That’s been my experience in general with red squirrels, and they don’t require stepping to come apart. A small amount of finger pressure, and the whole squirrel suit comes off in one clean piece. No need to step on a tail, or get out the catfish skinners. Just slip your fingers into the skin and in around the hips. Pull the base of the tail toward the scruff of the neck.
The skin will easily pull up off the entire back of the squirrel.
When you get up to the shoulders, slip your finger in and help free the upper arms.
Then go down to the back end and slide the squirrel pelt off of the hind legs.
At this point, the only thing holding the squirrel pelt on is the head. Since this squirrel, I’ve cut off the head at the same time as the feet at the beginning. That allows for a much smoother process.
And there you have it, with just one cut at the base of the tail (and a few more to remove the feet and head), the squirrel is completely skinned.
The next step is gutting, which goes just as quickly. Make a shallow knife cut down the center of the squirrel, starting just below the rib cage. Avoid puncturing any of the gut.
Pull out the organs, and then be sure to use a finger to remove the organs in the chest cavity. Those include the lungs and heart, and they’re separated from the other guts by the diaphragm. If you’ve never gutted an animal before you might miss this part because it’s in a separate internal chamber.
Once all the organs are removed, split the pelvis and remove any last bits of intestine hiding within the pubic bone.
Since the squirrel is so small, it’s easy enough to leave it whole. But if you’d like, squirrel meat also breaks down easily into parts. Dusting the pieces of the squirrel in flour and browning the meat will help retain moisture, just like they do in this squirrel stew with paprika and greens recipe.
Since making this original tutorial, I made a quick video showing the whole process. After the initial setup, I to talk you through the whole process in just about 1 minute of video time.
Now that you’ve cleaned and gutted a squirrel, how on earth do you cook it? For the most part, a squirrel is cooked like a rabbit. I’ll have a few squirrel recipes up on the blog soon, but here’s a few to get you started.
- Cider Braised Squirrel from Bon Appetit
- Braised Squirrel With Bacon, Mushrooms, and Pinot Noir from Field and Stream
- Crock Pot Squirrel with Gravy and Rice from Wide Open Spaces