A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Art Lander’s Outdoors: Fall squirrel season; summer grilling and smoking; spring-assisted pocket knives

Kentucky’s squirrel season is the longest hunting season on the fall calendar.

Opening day is a week from tomorrow, on Saturday, August 18. The 2018-19 season is 194 days long, and continues through November 9, closes for the opening weekend of gun season for deer, then re-opens November 12, and continues through February 28, 2019.

The daily bag limit is six squirrels.

Squirrels are the most stable and abundant small game species in the state.

ecent surveys estimate that there are about 72,000 squirrel hunters in Kentucky, and data from wildlife cooperator surveys suggests that the most avid squirrel hunters average as many as 12 trips afield per season. (Photo provided)

During the fall season, the key to success is finding ripening nuts (mast). In August, squirrels are feeding on hickory nuts, by September they begin to switch to oak acorns, and by early November, they begin to cut ripening walnuts.

Good squirrel hunting is available in all 120 Kentucky counties. Recent surveys estimate that there are about 72,000 squirrel hunters in Kentucky, and data from wildlife cooperator surveys suggests that the most avid squirrel hunters average as many as 12 trips afield per season.

The gray squirrel is the dominant species in the eastern third of Kentucky, with a higher percentage of (red) fox squirrels in west Kentucky.

Squirrels live about three years in the wild. Gray squirrels are most often found in large tracts of woods. Fox squirrels prefer small woodlots and wooded fencerows of agricultural areas.

Squirrels have a high reproductive potential. Squirrel numbers are able to quickly rebound after a poor mast year. Over time in Kentucky, there’s been no drastic change in squirrel populations, only seasonal fluctuations, due to food availability.

August and September are the most popular months to hunt squirrels. After that, hunting activity declines. Most years less than five percent of squirrel hunts are held in January and even less in February, when hunters typically observe about half as many squirrels, compared to the early season.

Squirrels are muscular little critters because they climb trees. Their flesh tends to be tough, so a slow cooker guarantees a tender, flavorful meal.

Squirrels make good one-pot meals, in fact during the 19th century in Kentucky, when wild turkeys, deer, bear, and elk were all but gone, subsistence hunters depended on squirrel and other small game to feed their families. Stews were cooked over an open fire in iron kettles.

Here’s a basic recipe for squirrel stew, prepared in a slow cooker. Add or substitute vegetables, and other ingredients to taste.

This recipe ingredients includes: 1 medium white onion sliced, 2 cups baby carrots (or 1 cup of carrots and 1 cup of peas), 4 potatoes, cut into small chunks, 1 stalk celery, cut into chunks, fresh or minced garlic to taste, bay leaf, beef broth, salt and pepper to taste, 3 squirrels, cut into pieces, and 3 tablespoons flour.

Place the onion, carrots (or peas and carrots), potatoes, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and salt and pepper in a slow cooker.

Lay the squirrel meat on top of the vegetable mixture.
Pour beef broth over the mixture to cover.

Cook on high for 6 to 8 hours. Stir the flour into the mixture an hour or so before serving. Your meal is ready when the meat is so tender it falls off the bone.

Summer Grilling and Smoking

Summer is a great time to smoke or grill meats and fish.

Clean your freezer out, to make room the upcoming bounty hunters and anglers harvest each fall.

Woods that are ideal for BBQ grilling and smoking meats and fish include: cherry, hickory, white oak, apple, grapevines, maple, pear, pecan, mesquite, plum, and peach.

Beer Can Chicken traces its origin to the competitive BBQ circuit in the South (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

One of the best ways to smoke a whole duck, pheasant, or domestic chicken is by Beer Can Chicken, which traces its origin to the competitive BBQ circuit in the South.

In his 2002 book, Beer-Can Chicken and 74 Other Offbeat Recipes, author Steven Raichlen described the method as smoking chickens “upright in an undignified position: straddling an open can of beer.”

A metal rack is used to hold the beer can in place. I like to use a 16-ounce, resealable beer can because of the taller, slimmer profile. Any brand of beer works. Some chefs like to experiment with stouts, IPAs, even hard apple cider, for a fruity taste.

Keep the temperature steady at 300 to 400 degrees F, but the bird should be away from flames and direct heat. Slow cook three to four hours.

What makes Beer Can Chicken so tasty is the rising vapors from the beer keeps the bird tender and juicy. The upright position allows the fat to drain off so the skin cooks up crackling crisp.

Before I place the whole bird on the can, and in the smoker, I like to drizzle on some olive oil and sprinkle with dry rub.

There are lots of rub options, based on your tastes. One old standby herbal recipe is poultry seasoning, topped with garlic pepper.

A second easy option, for a spiced up bird, is a liberal sprinkling of creole seasoning.

Cabela’s stainless steel Ultimate Chicken Rack has a can holder (for up to a 4-pound bird), and a ridged tray, for corn on the cob, potatoes, jalapeños peppers, and other meats or vegetables.

Spring-Assisted Pocket Knives

In Kentucky, it’s legal to open carry hunting knives in belt sheaths, or pocket knives, secured by a pocket clip.

A pocket clip ensures that the knife won’t fall out of the pocket and get lost, and keeps it handy for use.

Spring-assisted knife (Photo by John B. Lander)

In recent years spring-assisted pocket knives have become increasingly popular with outdoor enthusiasts — anglers, hunters, campers and backpackers because they can be opened quickly one-handed.

Spring-assisted knives are often referred to as assisted-opening knives. Most of these knives have a lever (flipper) in the liner of the knife handle. When the lever is pushed down with the index finger, the blade begins to move. Then a coiled spring or torsion bar takes over, releasing its energy, and the blade swings out to the fully-opened position and is locked in place.

To put the blade away, the liner lock is simply pushed to the left with the thumb, freeing the blade from its locked position so that it can be folded back into the knife’s handle.

Assisted-opening knives are not switchblades. The difference is switchblades open automatically, with just the push of a button. In Kentucky, switchblades are considered deadly weapons, and may not be carried concealed, without a concealed carry permit.

Kershaw, of Tualatin, Oregan, a commercial knife maker in the U.S. since 1974, produces and sells a line of high-quality spring-assisted knives they call SpeedSafe®Assisted Opening knives.

One of their best sellers is the Kershaw Dividend, model 1812GRY (MSRP of $69.99), which has aluminum scales and a 3-inch drop-point stainless steel blade. It’s a light pocket knife with a quality blade, ideal for many uses in the outdoors.

For more details on the line of Kershaw knives, visit their website at kershaw.kaiusaltd.com

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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