How to Field Dress a Squirrel

by A Manly Guest Contributor on January 16, 2012 · 155 comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors, Self-Reliance, Survival

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Creek Stewart of Willow Haven Outdoor.

**Disclaimer: This post contains a graphic step-by-step depiction of the skinning, slicing, and disemboweling of a real squirrel. If you’re eating, have always felt a deep affinity for woodland creatures, or faint at the sight of dismembered squirrel gonads, please skip this post. Seriously. You can watch this video of an adorable water skiing squirrel instead.**

For most reading this article, food is readily available on nearly any street corner.  Securing our next meal takes very little thought, effort, and time. The hunter-gatherer spirit inside each of us is slowly vanishing and so are the important self-reliant skills associated with hunting, gathering, and preparing our own food.  These skills sustained our ancestors for millennia before us, and now, in our modern society, are almost nonexistent.

But there are no guarantees in life.  Our cup may not always runneth over.  If the time ever comes when you need to summon the hunter-gatherer spirit inside of you, it is important that you know a few basic skills.  One of those skills is how to field dress wild game.  In this article I will teach you how to field dress a squirrel.

Squirrel is a very viable and practical survival food.  If you can find trees, there is a good chance you will also find squirrel.  They are easy to find, easy to hunt, and easy to prepare.

First, let me say that there are numerous ways to field dress a squirrel.  This is the method I have found to be the cleanest and most efficient.  As you will see also, the hide is not destroyed just in case you choose to have it preserved or tanned for future use.  With a little practice, you should be able to go from forest to frying pan in under 5 minutes.

As with any similar project, a sharp knife will make this process much more efficient.

How to Field Dress a Squirrel

The first step in this very simple process is to turn the squirrel on its belly and cut through the underside of the tail about ½” to 1” from the base.

After you’ve cut through the tail, slice through the skin a couple of inches on each side as shown in the photo below.

Now, for the part that makes this method so simple.  Lay the squirrel down on a solid surface.  While holding onto the back legs, step on the tail and skin that you have opened up in the previous step and firmly pull straight up on the back legs.  This process will begin to pull the hide from the body.  As you are pulling up you will need to work out the back legs.  Firmly work your fingers between the muscle and the hide around each leg.  This takes a little practice so don’t get frustrated if it feels a little awkward the first time.

Once you’ve freed the back legs, continue to firmly and steadily pull the back legs straight up.

As the hide comes to the front legs you will need to pull them out in the same way as the back legs.  Work them out with your fingers and a swift tug will separate the hide from the feet at around what would be considered the “wrist” area.

Once both front legs are out, continue to pull the back legs until the hide is up to the head and around the neck.  Notice that up until this point my hands are completely clean.

Then, go ahead and cut off the head.  I do this by slicing through the meat around the neck and then snapping the bone with my hands.  I don’t recommend cutting through bone with your knife.  It dulls your knife and also creates little shards of bone in your meat.  I use the same process around the “ankles” and “wrists.”  You can also trim the feet off at this point too, if you wish (I do that later).

Now, it’s time to remove the entrails.  This is a very simple process.  Simply pinch the stomach and make a small slit with your knife to open up the body cavity.  Note: With male squirrels like this one, you will need to trim back the penis and gonads.

Now, insert two fingers into the slit and run your knife between them (cutting edge up) toward the neck of the squirrel.  Doing it this way gives a little clearance so that your knife doesn’t accidentally penetrate any of the entrails such as the bowels or bladder.  Cutting open the bowels or bladder can taint your meat so be very careful with this step.  It is very easy when gliding the knife between your fingers.  Continue this motion through the center of the rib cage all the way through the neck.

Then, simply split the pelvic bone in the center to open up the entire middle of the squirrel.  You can easily do this with your knife.

Finally, it’s time to remove the entrails.  There is a membrane that encases the chest cavity.  By sweeping two fingers from the neck down and catching this membrane you can pull everything out in one fluid motion.

Don’t toss everything out just yet, though.  I always inspect the liver to make sure it looks nice and healthy.  The liver should always be a rich, deep, solid red color.  An off-color or spotted liver might be an indication that the animal has some health problems–in which case I would recommend not eating it.  This liver looks absolutely perfect–a sign of a very healthy squirrel.

I then slice around the “ankles” and “wrists” with my knife and snap off the feet just like you would imagine breaking a pencil in half.  I keep the heart and liver to prepare with the rest of the squirrel and discard the other entrails.  I now have a perfectly dressed squirrel that can be prepared to eat in a variety of ways.  On this day, I decided on an open flame spit-roast.

If you’ve never field dressed a squirrel before, don’t get frustrated if you run into a few hiccups.  As with most life skills worth learning, it takes a little practice.  For those of you who might be interested, I shot this squirrel with a Ruger 10/22 rifle and the knife used is a Marttiini Lynx Lumberjack.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

Creek
_______________________________

Creek Stewart is a Senior Instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor School for Survival, Preparedness & Bushcraft.  Creek’s passion is teaching, sharing, and preserving outdoor living and survival skills. Creek is also the author of the book Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit. For more information, visit Willowhaven Outdoor.

{ 155 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Bug January 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm

@Rob

Duh, for when the zombie apocalypse comes. That’s why I’M here.

102 ARthur is 15 January 20, 2012 at 10:23 pm

That…is…graphic… (shudders)

103 Joey January 20, 2012 at 11:05 pm

This was great, I would love to see another article done the same way but with a deer.

104 Robert January 20, 2012 at 11:25 pm

just a question, but whats the best way to go about cleaning the skin after all this if i wanted to keep it?

105 jordan w January 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

Zamboni sometimes gets caught in forest with no trail mix… now i know what to do Thanks@!

106 Doug January 22, 2012 at 12:38 am

Seriously? There’s hardly a bit of meat on a squirrel. Completely impractical in any non-survival situation.

107 Abe January 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Good stuff. I enjoy hunting squirrel, but have always found them a chore to clean. I haven’t used this method, but certainly will! Also, thank you for including the kind of knife in the photos, as it is gorgeous and I want one!

As with Robert, I would like to know the best method for cleaning and preserving the hide?

108 Zachary Whitaker January 24, 2012 at 12:22 am

I have been an avid squirrel hunter for the vast portion of my life. I have never seen nor heard of this method, but I can see that it has many benefits over the method that I use now. Thank you for the enlightenment.

109 Jason January 24, 2012 at 12:53 am

Great Article and I second the call for a similar article about field dressing deer.

110 Guy January 27, 2012 at 11:36 am

Great article but I’ve always heard that there are glands which must be removed?

111 roger January 27, 2012 at 7:41 pm

@ doug #108 – 2 of these forest critters will fill your belly quite nicely. This seems to be much easier then how I have done it.

112 Odinson January 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Considering squirrel is pretty much the most common critter you’re gonna be able to get aside from bugs and fish in a survival situation, this is probably one of the most helpful and realistic articles I’ve found in a long time.

113 ding February 1, 2012 at 10:22 am

I will field dress your child if a survival situation occurs.

114 concerned reader February 1, 2012 at 10:02 pm

And I will undress your wife Mr.Ding. Leave the wee babies out of your posts please.

115 Daniel February 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I’m with some of these other guys! Lets have an article on how to preserve the hide and on how to field dress a deer!

116 Scott February 10, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Thank you I will give it a try! By the way, I read this while eating.

117 Sterling Cooper February 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm

If these little pictures are too graphic for you, forget survival, you likely won’t last through that one day Starbucks is closed, and you can’t get your daily Orange Mocha Frappuccino.

118 Chris February 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Is it necessary to go through the pelvis? The article states it’s bad to use your knife on bone and then a couple of steps down it specifically states to go through the bone. Couldn’t you circumsize the anus and just pull it free with the rest of the guts?

119 Nick Johnson February 15, 2012 at 1:41 am

Thanks for the article! I’ve been eating squirrel out of my backyard since i was young and taught myself how to clean them. Your instruction on removing the hide will definitely make the process much easier.

120 adamo September 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm

ma povero scoiattolo non hai bisogno di andare nel bosco a ucciderlo per mangiarlo….. diventa vegetariano!!!!!

121 Judson Carroll October 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

This was a really great article – the instructions were clear and the photos very helpful. As the author’s method was much better than my own efforts, I second Joey’s request for a similar article on dressing a deer. I’d also like one on turkey or another game bird.

122 Technician A5Z7 October 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm

How do you keep the critter from flopping around on the spit? I always have a problem with that. How do you secure the stick?

123 Rosey November 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Thanks for the lesson. Brings back memories of when my first husband used to shoot squirrel, catch fish and bring them home for me to clean. I do believe this method would have made things simpler between me and the squirrel!

124 Jonathan Cooper November 30, 2012 at 9:40 am

@Sterling Cooper please do not gross me out with the idea of a Orange Mocha Frappuccino. I would eat the squirrel skin and all before i would have one of those…. in other words i agree. BTW awesome last name.

125 Leeward419 December 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm

its not much different than field dressing a deer, size not withstanding,
start at the rear end work up, disconnectthe windpipe etc

126 cls January 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I noticed a lot of hair on the skinned carcass, especially on the back legs. Great care should be taken to NOT get hair on the skinned carcass because it is difficult to get off. It doesn’t just wash or wipe off and every hair must be individually removed with your fingers. At least that has always been my experience. If someone knows a better way to remove hair I’d love to hear about it.

127 James January 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm

For the last few years I’ve been trapping squirrels to keep them from digging up the seedlings in my veggie garden. I usually take them to a park and let them go but that is getting old since I get 20-30 of them every spring, guess it’s time to start eating ‘em.

128 PS January 10, 2013 at 2:49 am

About the hair on the squirrel, I agree, in rabbit its like a magnet, especially if wet. Torching them probably would work! In older days, I’d see my mum flame the outside of a chicken as they always had a few which are a pain to pluck, especially if its quite a few. Nowadays chickens come much cleaner.

129 Milo Quesinberry January 25, 2013 at 9:19 am

Recipes ideas?

130 Saul February 8, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Would this be safe with neighborhood squirrel? I need meat sources and I’m on a budget. There’s always so many squirrel in my neighborhood, its almost like a blessing haha

131 al February 11, 2013 at 8:19 am

My father in law showed me this many years ago,, works great ..he used a table vice to secure the squirrel as he skined it, NOW dont yall forget to get the GLANDS out too,,, IF you dont you have tainted meat…

132 mike February 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm

haven’t been hunting in over 30 + yrs this brings back memories. squirrel and dumplings and bar b qed squirrel yum yum.

133 Sidney February 22, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Thank you so much for your step by step instructions! This has proven most helpful since i just started hunting squirrel. I appreciate your tips, especially how to keep your hands blood free until you take the entrails out. Being a female hunter I’m not opposed to getting dirty when i need to, but i’ve always had a problem with blood, so thank you! I look forward to your other posts!

134 Cody April 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I have a question, you seem to be using a knife with a scandi grind on it, yet in other post i always see you recommend other grinds, is there a reason? you didnt recommend one in your Bug out bag post either.

135 Al April 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Hi Creek, just wondering If I hit the squirrel in the gut area as long I don’t see fluids is it still ok to eat ? I shoot a few off of my bird feeder with a BB gun so there is not a lot of damage. Try for upper body or head but not always successful. Also do you think it’s ok to eat the brain and nuts or would you recommend not ? Watched a show on Andrew Zimmerman where they had a World Championship squirrel cookoff and they made it every way you can think of including some receipes with those ingredients. Ok, Thank you and Good Evening…..Al

136 S. Anderson April 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm

This is the method I now use for cleaning squirrels. A tip that I have found handy is to dip the squirrel in water before you start. It helps to keep hair off the meat.

On the same note, be very careful as once hair gets on the exposed flesh it is almost impossible to remove.

137 SHI May 2, 2013 at 4:38 am

This is a really useful article, and the photos are much more efficient than the simple description of the steps that must be followed. Also, I enjoy using Ruger 10/22; it’s a great rifle.

138 angela mcgowan May 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I learned how to skin one when I was 12, my dad showed me. we gutted them and nailed them to a tree to skin them, worked out pretty good….and mom cooked them. yummy

139 yelleena May 15, 2013 at 5:13 am

Enjoyed this very much. Don’t get squirrel in Australia but I dare say the skills demonstrated here are transferable to other animals. Thankyou for well documented tutorial and the clear imaged that you have put up.

140 Buck Ready May 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Wow! Great article! And thanks for including so many pictures. They make a world of difference when trying to understand something new.

141 Jake May 22, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Another reason why I really want a .17 hmr.

142 Alan June 25, 2013 at 2:30 pm

As far as squirrels being “easy to hunt,” there’s been some dispute about that in a few of the comments. Here’s my two cents worth.

Easy to hunt? Yes and no. It’s true that they’ll see and hear you coming well before you see them (unless you’re on your back porch). Usually they’ll run off into another tree or hide behind a branch or a tree trunk. So while you’re walking through the woods you might not get close enough for a clean shot.
But if you find them and they scatter, stay patient. Sit down and wait quietly. Squirrels are, well, squirrely. They’ll eventually get too curious and will just have to take a peek. Or they’ll decide you’re not a threat and go on about their business. Eventually they’ll expose themselves for a shot.
If you have a partner with you, you can speed up the process. When a squirrel hides behind the tree trunk, have your partner circle out to maybe 90 degrees (not in the line of fire). The squirrel will usually be attracted to his movement, and will move to keep the trunk between himself and whoever’s moving. If your buddy circles around to the right, Mr. Squirrel will scoot around far enough that you’ll be able to see him on the left side of the tree.

143 KJB July 25, 2013 at 11:22 pm

This was interesting. A method I have never seen before and I’ve been eating squirrel my whole life. My people (I’m native American) usually don’t skin them though. We just do a quick gutting at the kill spot, take them home, put them on a stick and singe the fur off really quick. Then put as many as will fit in a 9×13 pan (about 3 if caught in the fall) and cook like a roast. We leave the heads connected because we consider the brain to be a special treat. The cheeks and all the head flesh are yummy too.

144 Russ B August 23, 2013 at 9:45 am

Nice article. Thanks for the tips. One extra tip I learned that makes this much easier is carry a hatchet. Before starting lay it belly down and chop all 4 feet off, you can also chop the head off. Then proceed with steps above. Have also read some articles about removing scent glands in the armpit areas of squirrels? Dont see any mention of it here though.

145 Russ B August 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

Also, another tip… you can soak them in cold water with a salt solution for a bit prior to cooking, that will help remove any loose hairs that may have gone astray in the removal process and the salt acts as a drawing agent to remove extra blood. Just tastes better that way, dont know why.

146 Tim B September 30, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Nice article. I use a very similar method. The only real difference is that I remove the fleet and head before I start pulling the hide off.

Heading to the hunting lodge this weekend and plan to spend a little time hunting small game.

147 hank wangster October 28, 2013 at 6:43 pm

yep,, thats food dude…nice tutorial..

148 Matt December 14, 2013 at 8:07 am

Anyone who eats meat should be made to do this sort of thing at least one time in their life.

149 Case January 5, 2014 at 11:50 pm

This is way easier than the way I’ve always done it

150 Rod Phillips January 21, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Makes me hungry for squirrel dumplings. My Granddad would take his single barrel to milk the cows…any squirrels crossings his path ended up in the pot for dinner. Meat for dinner.

151 Environmental Biology Student January 21, 2014 at 3:43 pm

For the record, it is physically impossible to “dismember” squirrel gonads given that is definitely NOT where you find the limbs of the rodent. Neat tutorial though… need to get my small game license!

152 Noel T January 21, 2014 at 4:07 pm

If one is hunting alone and a squirrel has positioned itself on the side of a tree opposite oneself, throw a stick or a rock, etc., out several yards from the trunk on the same side of the tree as the squirrel. That will usually get the squirrel to scurry around to one’s side of the tree.

If not in a survival situation, one of my favorite ways to cook squirrel is to cook it in spaghetti sauce. Cut the squirrel into pieces by removing the legs and dividing the remaining carcass into three pieces. Brown the squirrel meat well in the same pot in which the spaghetti sauce will be cooked and then remove the meat to make the sauce. Once the sauce is simmering, add the squirrel to the sauce and let it cook for several hours. I’ve eaten squirrel cooked many different ways, but for me, this is my favorite way to enjoy squirrel. By the way, there is more meat on a large squirrel than most people realize.

153 DHerberg January 22, 2014 at 3:37 pm

This is almost the exact way my Dad taught us to skin squirrels and rabbits., there are a couple fine points I should add. #1 This whole process can be a big fail at step one. so make sure your knife is razor sharp and take your time, cutting off the tail is a drag cause you lose your nice handle. #2 When you get the skin down to the feet, just use wire cutters and cut the feet off because “snap off the feet just like you would imagine breaking a pencil in half” is a joke. Those little splinters of bones are a drag as well as the fact that those bones are a lot tougher than a pencil. The cooking pictures are faked poorly, Pan fried squirrels are how to eat them best.

154 Mike. Howell March 15, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I have been cleaning squirrel with near the same method for 25yrs. Cut thru the tail as shown and then maybe another 1/2″. Step on the tail with foot placed to rely against end of cut.Pull strait up with back legs. Hide will peel down around front of back legs. Keep pulling to front legs. Use thumb and finger pop out front legs. Give another pull to expose neck keeping foot firmly on hide at all times. Still got hide covering back legs. Keep your foot on it. Use fingers to work under hide. Pull it off. Cutoff head. Bare squirrel. Joint above foot. If done rite cut rite thru joint easily. Hardest part learning how to hold it so u don’t drop it n the dirt. I just stab rite thru it with blade angled towards ribs.Cut thru all the way head cut off. Holding squirrel uprite carefully cut skin holding guts and split back legs at same time. Lay your knife on your boot. Grab wind pipe, pull down to bottom of ribs, then get a hold of membrane separating heart and liver from guts, pull down to the end. Best gutting job u ever saw nice and clean providing not gut shot. Piece it out. Front legs back legs ribs back. I do mine rite after kill rite n the woodsMuch harder after squirrel has cooled. Marlin 22 case pocket knife zip lock water bottle. Wile your standing cleaning have your zip lock on ground to lay half cleaned squirrel on it when that other squirrel come along. Been times I shot 2 or 3 more b4 I got my 1st cleaned. If I’m not interrupted, I can skin gut and butcher 1 n the zip lock n10min but 25 yrs doin it makes big difference. Patients and don’t drop it n the dirt. Bad mess I usually drop 1 a yr

155 Mike. Howell March 15, 2014 at 8:34 pm

4got I average about 40 to 50 a yr. All head shots but I also use a scope, much easier to find’emNo bloody mess or buckshot. If I can’t shoot’em n the head, l don’t shoot. I’m also 58yrs Patients

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