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, 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 differently.
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 the 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 do 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 are a few to get you started.
- Cider Braised Squirrel from Bon Appetit
- Braised Squirrel With Bacon, Mushrooms, and Pinot Noir from Field and Stream
- Instant Pot Squirrel
- Buttermilk Fried Squirrel
Great tutorial! I had to smile when I read it. I love finding like-minded folks out there who respect life but aren’t afraid of hunting..or letting folks know that they do. Thanks for the tutorial!
Of Goats and Greens
Awesome tutorial. I love squirrel, but I’ve only ever had it when others have gone hunting and brought me their excess. I once had two of them, the larger one I stewed and the smaller I braised in the oven. Tasty, tender, and I really need to start thinking about hunting them myself.
Little red squirrels are not worth the time or bother to shoot,keep and clean! They are not worth wasting a bullet on them,especially at today’s cost of ammunition!
They’re definitely worth the bullet when they’re eating your house, but I found they had a surprising amount of meat on them. Either way, the same method works on any type of squirrel.
Here in NW Indiana we have fox grey and what we call piney squirrels. Fox are the largest then Grays followed by the piney’s the latter not worth the effort of skinning them.
Where I live, ln Missouri, what we call “red” squirrels (fox squirrels) are MUCH larger than greys. So it was strange to see reds described as smaller than greys.
Interesting…out here the “red” squirrels are about halfway between a grey squirrel and a chipmunk.
Same here in Ky the red squirrel is easily double the size of a grey squirrel
I wish we had fox squirrels up here! At least according to wikipedia, the ones we have are Tamiasciurus hudsonicus which grow to about 1/2 lb. Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) grow to about a pound. Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) grow somewhere between 1 and 2 1/4 pounds. That’s a lot more meat for the effort right there…
Red squirrels and fox squirrels are a different species. Red squirrels are much smaller.
Correct. The red squirrels we have up here are very small, smaller than grey squirrels. I’ve never seen a fox squirrel, though I’ve the pictures make them look huge!
I lived in Vermont for a couple of years and am from Missouri. Our red squirrels are 3-4 times bigger than the reds up there. Different species. That said, you should soak your squirrels and rabbits in water for a few minutes before cleaning. It keeps the hair from sticking to the meat.
Good idea about the soaking, thanks!
Missouri Squirrel Hunter
I agree with soaking the squirrel before you skin it. Definitely helps keep the hair off the meat. Also rinsing your hands between the skinning and gutting helps. Nothing turns me off more than seeing a skinned squirrel covered in loose hair.
What do you do with the pelt afterwards? I have no knowledge of tanning hides.
Squirrel hides aren’t typically tanned since there’s really not much to work with. It’s more common to keep your squirrel tail if you so wish. To do that, you carefully remove the tail bone from the tail fur. Once fully removed, pack salt into the entire length of the tail. This dries the excess moisture and cures your tail indefinitely.
As a child, my grandpa would bring in a dozen squirrels at a time . He hunted with a rat terrier .and a 22 .Grandma would boil the oldest ones for dumplings, and pan fry the young ones . Next she made squirrel gravy , mashed potatoes and hot biscuits . They always kept the head and cooked it. You took a big spoon to crack the head and eat squirrel brains . No part was wasted . Squirrel was much more plentiful than chicken.
Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for sharing fun memories from your grandparents! Great story =)
Any tips on getting the hair off the meat after skinning and gutting?
I haven’t had much hair on the meat after cleaning thus far, at least not with squirrel. With rabbits, running them under cold water helps, and I’ll wipe them down with a damp towel.
Take a propane. Torch and burn it off. I do this with all wipe game.
Here’s a great tip. I skin my squirrels the same way… cut through the base of the tail then I make a slash through the skin, down over the tops of both hind legs to sort of steer the removal of the hide when the tail is stepped on and the hind legs are pulled… only problem is all the damned hair that gets on the meat. TIP: to avoid the hair, use a mini blow torch to singe off all the hair in the area where you will make the cuts prior to cutting, brush away the black ash from the burned hair and cut away… No hair on the meat.. or at least minimal. Works great, you need a mini butane torch though, I’ve tried a cigarette lighter and the flame isn’t hot enough to scorch of the hair quickly and efficiently
Enjoyed the 1 minute Video on cleaning and gutting seems easy enough, I’ve done a few deer in my life and this is going to be fun. Never had squirrel but I will real soon I have a few running around(grays) out back, think I’ll pick out a big one and give it a try. Thank you
Glad you found it helpful, good luck with your hunt!
Thank you so much for putting out such valuable info…all around!!
You make me think of myself at your age…homesteading in the wilds of Maine when my kids were growing up…
Hopefully more people will become inspired to do the same!!
Blessings to you and yours
My neighbor’s grandson has brought me squirrels several times, and finally showed me how to dress them. His way is not nearly as good as yours. His way is to pull up the loose skin on the back and pull in both directions, very difficult with my arthritic hands. He also only cuts the feet and head after everything else. To days ago he brought me eleven. he and his buddy cleaned three and then had to go to the ballgame. I told him that was enough so he wouldn’t feel guilty. When he was gone I dressed four more and gave up exhausted. I freeze them in gallon bags with saran to keep them from sticking together. I used your recipe last time I had some. Braising before de-boning is brilliant. In West Tennessee, if it’s after okra season, I can buy it frozen. Thanks!
Wonderful, so glad it was helpful to you. (And congrats on your freezer full!)
My artemis 4 snap traps just caught a few squirrels again. This time, I am not throwing them away but cooking them. Great squirrel cooking page. I saved the link to my squirrel cooking note practical self-reliance folder in the links folder in notes. Thanks.
The squirrels I did not throw away, I am going to clean, gut, and cook them with this cooking page and a few recipes.
Here is what to do with the skin. Squirrel rawhide is among the strongest for its weight and makes good bowstrings. Soak the skin in cold water for a day and the hair should scrape off with a butter knife. Cut the skin in a spiral starting on the edge and maintaining 1/4 or 3/8 wide strip. When the whole skin is transformed into one long strip, tie one end to a tree branch and hang something heavy like a can of paint on the bottom. Spin the can until the cord is uniform, then secure the weight from unwinding and let the cord dry under the weight. You may need multiple strands to reach the desired width of cord.
Hi, I’ve never hunted nor processed game before. Is it ok to eat squirrels that have been hit by a large rat trap, with the pressure of the trap going down their abdomen? I’m thinking in regard to potential damage causing difficulty in processing their skin and meat. Also, is there anything to be concerned of in the way of diseases or parasites? How do you ensure safety? People always shy away from squirrel in the suburbs, thinking they’re somehow dirty. Is there any truth to this? Thanks!
It’s possible that a trap could cause damage to the meat. It would probably be better to use a different kind of trap to avoid any issues. As far as avoiding the squirrels in the suburbs, I guess it’s just a personal preference. The less wild the environment is, the more likely it is that they would eat food that might be contaminated which in turns makes them less healthy for us to eat. As far as ensuring safety, there is probably less risk of harvesting wild game for food than purchasing meat from the grocery store.