With a Hunting Passport in his pocket, a .410 shotgun in the crook of his arm (last year’s Christmas gift), and mom and dad by his side, 8-year-old Wyatt Creson stalked through the woods this fall and scoured tree branches in search of one of Idaho’s more diminutive game animals: the American red squirrel.
For the Creson family, this relatively new opportunity was the perfect way to introduce Wyatt to hunting.
“We were really looking for opportunities that were available for a kid that young, where he might have a little success,” said Jaime Creson, Wyatt’s mom. “We learned that red squirrels recently became a game animal, and decided that might be a good place to start.”
Red squirrels are native to Idaho, became a game animal in the state in 2018, and are a game species in many neighboring states. They are abundant in the state and can be found all over its forests, providing an opportunity for hunting that people may overlook.
Fall is one of the best times to hunt them because they are typically active throughout the day as they work to stockpile food for the winter. That was convenient for the Cresons, who are avid big game hunters, and meant that Wyatt’s squirrel hunting would dovetail nicely with the family’s annual deer hunting trip.
In the mornings, Wyatt went hiking with his parents as they worked to fill their deer tags. At around midday, the Cresons returned to camp to pick up Wyatt’s shotgun before heading back out. With most deer hunters back in camp for the day, the Cresons had the woods largely to themselves.
“We really enjoyed being out alone with Wyatt and having this opportunity available for him,” Jamie Creson said.
All told, Wyatt harvested three squirrels under his parents’ guidance, learning the same skills he will need to be a successful big game hunter when he is old enough — observation, silent stalking, handling and shooting a firearm, and marksmanship — with an emphasis on safety and ethics. He also learned how to field dress the animals, which was important to his parents.
“Part of the reason we chose for Wyatt to hunt red squirrel is because we knew we could eat them,” Jaime said, noting that larger tree squirrels, like eastern fox and gray squirrels, are popular table fare in parts of the eastern United States. “In our family, we eat everything we harvest, and we weren’t interested in something we weren’t going to eat.”
When the Cresons got back to deer camp and cooked the squirrels for dinner that evening, they were pleasantly surprised by what they tasted.
“We just put it in the dutch oven and fried it up, and the meat was very good, with an almost sweet taste,” Jaime said. “With it tasting so yummy, I think it’s a really great opportunity for kids to eat a little bit of what they harvested, and to get excited about putting food on the table.”
For new hunters, or anyone interested in trying out an overlooked (and tasty) small game species, red squirrel season runs from Aug. 30 through March 31. For more information on this opportunity, refer to the Red Squirrel Seasons & Rules booklet on Fish and Game’s website.