The ghost squirrels of Montana

I went squirrel hunting today, for the first time in many years. I did this for two reasons.


First, I’m starting to get a bit bored with backpacking and the paradigm of knowledge associated with it. This is predictable. With most things in my life I either get interested/obsessed immediately or not, follow the learning process to a point with which I’m content, then move on to something else. This happened with climbing, canyoneering, and mountain biking. I still enjoy all three, and still follow them with varying degrees of dedication, but I could die happy without knowing more about them, or without having done more in them. Mountain biking has proven more enduring than climbing, and canyoneering is a situational thing, and while there’s a lot I still want from backpacking the opportunities for revelation are quickly becoming more narrow. That’s the sweet spot I crave, short of mastery but deep enough in to really see new things. In climbing it was getting up one 5.13. In canyoneering doing some of the bigger canyons and a few first descents. In mountain biking a number of endurance races and some of the technical stuff I rode in early 2008 (descending the east side of Moore Fun with three dabs is good enough). In backpacking, it was (apparently) the Classic this year and last, as well as all the routes in Glacier this summer. Next.

Secondly, the proverbial move away from Montana is always lingering. Maybe it will never happen, but if it does having one honest deer/elk season in the backcountry is a goal, and to make that happen next year I need to develop my shooting to a place it has never been. Stalking squirrels gets the job done.


Montana squirrels are a different creature than the fat midwestern rodents I hunted in my youth.  In three hours out today I heard their shrill admonitions dozens of times, actually saw the little buggers twice, and got one opportunity to shoot.  The rolling fog banks and just-not freezing drizzle completed the atmosphere.  As I was slowly following the calls of one squirrel the gentlerodent above made a bit of noise scampering out a larch limb off to my left.  I circled around and under, 20 horizontal feet away, and 50-60 feet above me he stuck his head out to my side.  In a wonderful moment of precise forgetfulness, all my fretted shooting at stumps earlier went away, the Ruger went up, the safety went off, and I put a bullet through its throat and out its skull.  An easy shot for many, but I was very pleased with myself.

You have to eat what you kill, and squirrel is renowned for being tough.  Pressure cookers and pot pies are typically the order of the day.  I slow-roasted it in a pot with sage, honey, sea salt, alder cider vinegar, a dash of beer, a whole white onion, and three small tart red apples.


After ~2 hours at 225 it was as close to falling off the bone as these lean, muscley critters will ever get. I should have pulled the lid off and finished with 10 minutes on broil to flash off more vinegar and make the apples a bit crisp.  Hunting wouldn’t be what it is without equal parts joy and sadness, but eating what you shot or caught is pure satisfaction.


14 responses to “The ghost squirrels of Montana”

  1. Nice rifle and nice shooting! I’ve been an aspiring hunter my whole life and just gave it a try two weeks ago for the first time after 29 years of procrastinating. It feels… addicting. Not just the pursuit, but similar to fishing, the satisfaction of eating something you caught for yourself.

  2. I think I might throw up.

    1. That biathalon rifle of yours would be a great rodent slayer.

      I see squirrel pizza in your future.

  3. Dave,

    Congrats on a successful hunt and a fine meal. Over the past 20 years, probably 90% of the protein my wife & I have eaten has been from hunting.

  4. Ha, I’m with Danni. My roommate in Juneau once skinned and boiled a marmot that his dog killed, because he felt an ethical dilemma about wasted life and thought he could make a stew. The smell in our house haunted me for a week, and still does, to this day. Never again. I am not opposed to hunting or eating meat. But cooking rodents, yes.

  5. Clayton Mauritzen Avatar
    Clayton Mauritzen

    I believe you left out a critical word: redneck. Just remember to say it with pride! You live in Montana, after all.

  6. No respect until you make a meal out of roadkill.

    And before you ask, yes I have.


  7. ‘having one honest deer/elk season in the backcountry is a goal, and to make that happen next year I need to develop my shooting to a place it has never been. Stalking squirrels gets the job done.’
    That’s the essence of it BnP – the judeo-christian belief that the rest of ‘creation’ is there for humanity’s consumption/ enjoyment/ shooting practice.

    1. You have fine points to make Steve, and thus I’d encourage you to indulge in more than drive-by snark.

  8. There are so many good reasons to live close to the land. Knowing exactly morally, ethically, nutritionally, and ecologically where your food comes from is one of them. Illegitimi non carborundum.

  9. agreed Roman – inspite of your pretentious Latin. Killing a living being for shooting practice is just plain cr*p.

  10. I cannot agree more Roman! Many Americans have a disconnect on where there dinner comes from and the necessary steps to get that meat to your plate.

    That is not what Dave was alluding to Steve. I believe he is squirrel hunting not only for target practice, but to develop the skills necessary to successfully harvest larger game. The squirrel as you can see did not go to waste and was consumed.

  11. Hi Dave, not sure if you read through comments to your old posts, or that bothered what I write… i just wanted to say sorry my comments were a bit judgmental. What I think I was wanting to say was how we as a species have subjected so many other species – through domestication – to meet our needs. I think i was being critical of people killing wild animals as these deaths seem an unnecessary addition to the millions/ billions of animal deaths in the food industry. What you’re doing though is of course far far closer to how humans evolved over millions of years. And while it makes no difference to the numbers of animals being killed industrially (and this is not a criticism either as I go to the supermarket too), your actions are true to what it is to be naturally human.

    1. I read all comments; WordPress makes it easy. I suspected you meant more than came across the first time. I have little quarrel with judgement provided it is as intelligible as possible.

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