Skinning squirrels is one of the more unappreciated skills of being a hunter. In all reality, squirrel is a difficult animal to skin and because of this, some hunters refuse to deal with the skinning process or just avoid squirrel hunting altogether. There are several different methods of squirrel skinning and most of them work quite well, though some have advantages over others. The three most popular methods of squirrel skinning are:
1. “Step on the tail” method, where you make an incision below the tail and use your foot to remove the hide. This is my preferred method and will describe in detail below.
2. “Rip” method where you make an incision across the back and then get your fingers underneath the hide and pull in opposite directions. This method can work very well if you have 2 people (one person to pull in each direction), though old squirrels and squirrels that are in a state of rigor mortis can be very difficult. I do, however, skin rabbits this way. Mind you, rabbits are much easier to skin than Squirrels.
3. “Along the spine” method has you run a knife along the spine and then skin the squirrel from the top down the same way you would skin a deer laying on the ground. This methods tends to get a lot of hair on the meat and is more time consuming.
Some hunters prefer to dunk their squirrels in water before skinning since the wet hair will tend to stick together and not get on the meat. I find this step unnecessary. If you chose to dunk the squirrel in water make sure that you use clean water. Since the squirrel has open wounds, water can and will enter the cavity creating a moist environment ripe for bacterial development. Since animals are much easier to skin when they are warm, it is highly advised that you perform the skinning task within minutes of the kill. Granted, this is not the most popular method as most hunters tend to carry their squirrels with them with the hides on until the end of the hunt, in which case they skin them all at once. I advise against this practice for several reasons. If you are hunting during early season, it can often be very hot. On opening day here in Tennessee, our temps were well into the 90s and we were in the woods 5 hours. No hunter can, with good conscious, recommend that you carry an ungutted animal around in the heat for multiple hours.Squirrels are significantly easier to skin while they are still warm and before they enter a state of rigor mortis. If it is cold outside, the meat will be even more difficult to skin if you wait.
After trying different scenarios of waiting until the end of the hunt and skinning immediately, I have concluded that skinning squirrels on the spot is the most effective way to deal with the meat. If I am simultaneously hunting multiple squirrels, I may delay skinning for up to 15 minutes and do several at one time. After skinning and gutting, I place the carcasses in a mesh game bag (I recommend Alaska game bags). The game bag doubles as a clean work surface on which I can lay the squirrels and I will simply drop this game bag in my backpack when finished skinning and gutting. The bag will allow the meat to cool, yet keep flies and dirt off the meat.
Implement wise, you will need a small, very, very sharp knife. Larger knives are impractical for the precision work you will be performing on a Squirrel. I also recommend a set of pliers for removing the hides from the hindquarters.
Pliers are not entirely necessary, though they do make the task quicker. My preferred knife for squirrel skinning is the Havalon Piranta, which has scalpel sharp, replaceable blades. Any sharp knife will work, but this knife is exceptionally sharp. I prefer to use a downed tree as a “work bench” while in the woods.
I also prefer to make an cut a in the shape of a “v” out towards the underbelly to ensure a clean separation. This is not always necessary, but if you have an older and/or exceptionally tough squirrel, it can make a difference in clean execution.
Carefully place your foot on the hide. Take extra care to get as much purchase as possible. If you only apply pressure to the tail itself, you will likely just rip the tail off. You need a firm contact with the hide itself.
Grabbing each hind leg, slowly stand up. You should apply consistent and even pressure. Do not go too fast and do not pull too hard as you can rip the squirrel in half, or split the chest cavity open, spilling the gut contents on the meat.
If you have a gut shot squirrel, take extra care so as not to rip the wound open. You do not want guts spilling out on the meat. Once you get to the shoulder and neck, stop pulling and maintain a bit of tension on carcass.
Here is a short video of the pulling process:
You will want to do this with both shoulders. I like to get as much meat as possible, so I take them all the way down to the wrists. This is another aspect that can be difficult to perform if you wait until rigor mortis sets in, however, in a fresh state, it is rather easy. I maintain a bit of opposing pressure on the squirrel hide and hind quarters throughout this process in order to keep the hide away from the meat. If the meat makes contact with the hair, it will stick and can be difficult to remove, so take your time keep the meat hair free.
I then lay the squirrel carcass over the game bag and remove the feet and head. I usually do this task using my folding pocket knife, which is more of a utility knife. Any knife will work for this task. You can use the same knife that you use on the rest of the squirrel, I just prefer a sturdy, utilitarian blade for cutting through bone.
To deal with the remaining hide on the hind quarters, I prefer to use pair of pliers. I usually carry a multitool anyway, so I put it to use here. If you have a tough squirrel and need to do some serious pulling, plant the thumb of your non-plier equipped hand firmly on the stump of the tail to get proper opposing force necessary to remove the hide. Remove the hide from each leg individually. The alternative to using pliers is to cut the hide off with your knife. If you do this, be sure to use your knife with the blade facing away from the meat so that you do not push hair down into the meat.
Carefully make an incision at the top of the chest. You will want the blade facing towards you so as not to penetrate any organs.
Again, make sure not to puncture any guts along the way. A precision knife is indispensable for this task
Grab the esophagus and pull downwards. The organs should come out with it.
Now you are left with a clean squirrel carcass. Place this in your game bag and continue hunting. Once you get efficient, this entire process can be performed in 2-3 minutes, possibly faster. Though, there is no real hurry. Take your time and do it right.
Hungry for a quick meal after a morning of Squirrel hunting? Try the Squirrel Hunter’s breakfast.