Travis Dufour treads by the woods searching for indicators, overhead and underfoot.
He scans the bottom for nut husks, acorn caps, contemporary cuttings; the canopies, for the bend of a department, the rustle of leaves.
“Right here we go,” he says, pausing to select one thing up from the forest flooring. “It is a fairly good clue that squirrels had been right here.”
It’s a pinecone, chewed to the core.
“Individuals eat pine nuts, they’re fairly good,” he tells the procession of 15-or-so individuals trailing him by the forest. “And squirrels like them simply the identical.”
Similar for different morsels he factors out alongside the trek: dewberries, blackberries, syrup-sweet muscadine.
“Principally,” he says, “when you prefer to eat ‘em, they prefer to eat ‘em.”
Discover such a bounty “and also you’ll know that’s prime squirrel territory,” he provides. On a hunt, that’s the place he would possibly again up a number of yards, publish up by a tree and await the kill.
Forward of Saturday’s kickoff to squirrel season, Dufour introduced no shotgun to the Louisiana Division of Wildlife and Fisheries Squirrel Searching 101 seminar. As an alternative he got here to Waddill Wildlife Refuge in Baton Rouge armed with information from a lifetime of looking and practically 20 years as an LDWF biologist.
“The beauty of squirrel looking,” he tells his pupils, “is the simplicity behind it.”
Selecting off arboreal rodents — “limb rats,” “rooster of the tree,” chittering “chuckleheads,” mewling “cat squirrels,” no matter your native number of Sciurus of the household Sciuridae — doesn’t require fancy tools, specialised firearms or lengthy highway journeys.
As a result of they’re plentiful and simple to seek out, Dufour notes, squirrels are ultimate “gateway” prey for hunters to sharpen their abilities for larger recreation. Since they’re extremely prolific, breeding just about all year long, there’s little danger of over-harvesting.
They’re additionally scrumptious, Dufour says. The pink meat is extra densely textured and delicate tasting than a rabbit’s — by no means gamey.
It takes on a number of the taste of what it’s been consuming: hickory nuts, pecans, the occasional nest egg. (This sort of alimental osmosis is nice motive to stay to looking forest squirrels as an alternative of their city-dwelling cousins, whose eating regimen would possibly include dumpster pizza and gutter scraps.)
“Generally you’ll be able to inform in the event that they’ve been feeding on cypress balls,” Dufour says, “and also you get that pitch, that kinda tar style in there.”
Whether or not smothered and sauced, boiled in gumbo or simmered in burgoo, squirrel meat, he says, is a deal with.
So, too, is looking it.
And after generations of declining reputation in Louisiana, Dufour hopes it could make a comeback.
Scout and about
The latest weekend workshop — which started in a classroom and ended with some out-in-the-field squirrel scouting — marked the third such seminar Dufour hosted since launching it as a few years in the past with LDWF Searching Heritage Coordinator John Sturgis, who retired a short while later.
“We began speaking about doing a course to advertise looking for individuals who perhaps bought out of it or by no means bought into it,” Dufour says. “For lots of people, it’s a strategy to preserve alive a practice they grew up with however by no means handed on to their very own children.”
Certainly, the Squirrel Searching 101 class consisted principally of father-son and grandfather-grandson duos. One couple introduced their daughter, 12-year-old aspiring naturalist Hope Sims, who took a cue from Dufour by rattling off names of varied natural world in the course of the post-lecture stroll by the woods.
“That,” she says, pointing to a burrowed mound of mud, “is a crawfish gap. They are saying you’ll be able to lure them out with a hotdog.”
Elsewhere, she identifies a squirrel nest, an arrowwood leaf and — after nearly working into its expansive yellow-tinged net — a golden-silk orb weaver, damn-near the scale of a small fowl.
Dufour traces his lifelong love of nature on to his first squirrel hunts across the age of 6 or 7. He says these outings along with his dad on public land by the household house in Avoyelles Parish taught him firearm security.
He discovered how one can be nonetheless, affected person and quiet. “Don’t drag your ft whenever you’re strolling by the woods — I bear in mind being advised that fairly recurrently again then,” he says with fun.
He discovered names of bushes, shrubs, bugs and different critters. He discovered the worth of conservation.
“Squirrels had been a number of the first recreation I hunted,” he says. “So, I lower my tooth with that, grew an appreciation for the outside.”
It’s a well-known story within the Sportsman’s Paradise, the place looking for grey and fox squirrels — for many individuals, particularly in rural parishes — is one thing of a ceremony of passage.
In Ville Platte, the beginning of squirrel season is an ersatz vacation.
Yearly, on the primary Saturday of October, the city of seven,500 in Evangeline Parish — a 75-mile northward jaunt from Baton Rouge — empties out for “Squirrel Day,” or “Cajun Passover,” as households go away en masse for the woods.
Subject & Stream Journal as soon as famous how soccer video games for Evangeline Parish excessive faculties get bumped to Thursday as a result of nobody would present up if it happened on the Friday earlier than Squirrel Day. Even academics would play hooky.
After sufficient Squirrel Day eves with half the scholars and far of the college not displaying up, faculties within the Nineteen Sixties and ‘70s started calling off class on that date altogether.
Now, due to the cash saved from not having to rent substitute academics, the Friday earlier than squirrel season is known as Price range Day on the official educational calendar.
It’s no marvel Subject & Stream way back christened Ville Platte “Squirrel City, USA.”
Pores and skin within the recreation
There’s multiple strategy to pores and skin a squirrel.
Dufour prefers “the two-person technique” and customarily begins by slicing under the bottom of the tail, which he demonstrates towards the top of his latest seminar.
Utilizing the tailgate of his grey LDWF pickup as a makeshift butcher block, he whips out a pair thawed carcasses that had been frozen since he bagged them throughout spring squirrel season.
He slips his fingers into purple latex gloves, pulls out a pocketknife and asks Waddill Wildlife Refuge biologist Kacie Rome to carry one of many squirrels by its hind legs.
“The worst half is the fur,” he cautions. “It will get in all places.”
After a number of forceful slices with the tip of the pocketknife, he units the blade again on the tailgate.
“Now maintain on tight,” he tells Rome.
She companies her grip on the squirrel haunches. Dufour begins peeling the pores and skin — slowly, rigorously — up and over the critter’s head, like he’s pulling it out of a decent turtleneck.
A few of the youthful attendees are transfixed by the gore. They grimace and giggle when the center come out.
There’s no cooking demo, however Dufour affords a number of extra prep ideas whereas waxing poetic about a few of his favourite squirrel recipes: stew, spaghetti, dumplings, fried to a crisp, drowned in gravy.
As for the hunt, he says one of the best firearm is a matter of choice, actually. “Discover one thing that matches you proper,” Dufour says, noting that he prefers a 28-gauge shotgun.
Get a primary license, he says, and laminate it so it doesn’t get moist. Pack bug spray, a flashlight, some water, a knife.
Although it’s not required, Dufour suggests donning a brilliant orange vest — squirrels are colorblind, so it received’t register of their imaginative and prescient however it’ll assist different hunters see you. As a result of, he says, “a great hunt is one the place you get again safely.”
Then, head to a treeline to attempt your luck.
Within the capital area, Dufour suggests Sherburne, a 44,000-acre wildlife administration space between the Atchafalaya River and East Safety Information Levee. However the state boasts 2.6 million acres of public land, he says, and LDWF affords a bunch of maps on-line for folk to lookup the place to hunt with out getting in anybody’s method.
“End up a candy pecan tree, discover some cuttings — you don’t must do a variety of scouting,” he says. “I’ve had a number of the finest hunts in woodlots no larger than 10, 12 acres.”
Louisiana permits you to bag eight squirrels a day from October by February, three a day for the few-week spring season in Could. Possession restrict: 24 and 9, respectively.
Aside from that, it’s onerous to go unsuitable.
“Y’all,” Dufour says, “squirrels are in all places.”