It seems that one thing we’re not short of in the Ozarks is squirrels.
They’re in my front yard, my back yard, along the trails I run and often I hear them gambol across my roof.
It was George Freeman, a former News-Leader editor, who alerted me to an odd story about a squirrel hunt in Shannon County in September where 471 squirrels were taken.
Note: I prefer not to use the word “harvest” in hunting stories because I don’t think the word was ever intended for that purpose. In my view, as one who uses many words, you harvest corn and soybeans, not deer, squirrels and elk.
The Missouri Department of Conservation issued a press release that — at least to me — left the hunt a mystery.
Sixteen men hunting together were issued citations from the Missouri Department of Conservation for killing too many squirrels and for not keeping them separate so authorities could tell how many were taken by each of the 16 hunters.
Basically, the dead squirrels were kept in one large heap and, then, charred.
The department sent a photo of the dead squirrels, which when burned looked a lot like rats.
The hunters apparently thought it easier and quicker to burn the fur off than to skin each squirrel individually.
Freeman wondered what the full story was. Who does this? Is it the result of an overabundance of squirrels in Missouri for some reason? Maybe global warming?
What were the hunters’ consequences for taking so many squirrels? Where were they from? The press release only said they were “non-residents.”
I wondered if there was such a thing as commercial squirrel hunting?
If so, is there a professional squirrel hunter who leads these expeditions like guides once led hunters in pursuit of lions in Africa?
Would he or she be called the Great White Squirrel Hunter? But wouldn’t that be confusing? It could be taken to mean he or she only hunts white squirrels, which are plentiful in Marionville.
Many news outlets picked up the story and basically published the Missouri Department of Conservation press release.
I called the public information officer and was told I needed to file an open records request under the state’s Sunshine Law. I did so.
I directed it to Jennifer Frazier, a lawyer who is the department’s custodian of records. She provided me with copies of the citations and the incident report.
The hunters were in the Current River Conservation Area, near Paint Rock Bluff, in Shannon County.
Someone had noticed their large haul and alerted the department on Sept. 7, a Tuesday.
Two conservation agents responded and went to the hunters’ camp. The hunters told the agents that this was the second day of their hunt.
All the hunters had valid non-resident permits for hunting small game.
“Non-resident” means they don’t live in Missouri. Documents show they live in or near St. Paul, Minnesota.
In addition, they were hunting in-season. No problem there. Squirrel-hunting season in Missouri is long: May 22 through Feb. 15.
Each individual hunter was allowed to kill 20 squirrels over two days. That’s a total of 320. Since they had taken 471 squirrels they were 151 squirrels over the limit.
Bradley Hadley, a conservation officer, wrote: “We seized the 151 squirrels that were overlimit, and I personally disposed of them later that evening.”
All 16 were cited for taking too many squirrels, a misdemeanor. They paid a court cost of $90.50 and a fine of $110.50.
One of the individuals, a man named Boe Boe, also was cited for failing to keep the squirrels separate so authorities could tell how many were killed by each individual. The 15 others were given a warning for failing to do this.
Boe Boe was charged because, according to documents, Hadley (the conservation agent) had cited Boe Boe the year before for taking too many squirrels and had given him a warning for not keeping the dead wildlife separate.
This prior violation occurred in the Sunklands Conservation Area, also in Shannon County.
The documents state Boe Boe and the others are of Karen descent.
When I saw that, I called the Department of Conservation and asked if the conservation agent meant to write “Korean.”
No. The term “Karen” refers to a number of ethnic groups with Tibetan-Central Asian origins.
In August 2019, Minnesota Public Radio ran a story with the headline: “Lured by jobs and housing, Karen refugees spread across Minnesota.”
I also had asked the department for the name of a “squirrel expert.”
I was directed to Dave Hoover, the department’s regional resource management supervisor in northwest Missouri.
I asked if – for whatever reason – there currently is a prolific squirrel population in Missouri.
“No, there is nothing in particular that shows we have any evidence that the squirrel population at this time is any more abundant than it has been the last five or six years,” he said.
But September is, in fact, prime time for squirrel hunting, he said. Squirrel food is plentiful in the form of acorns and other nuts.
“They are taking advantage of an abundant resource at this time of the year. Squirrels are particularly more vulnerable for harvest. … In the fall the populations are at their peak.”
Female squirrels typically have two litters of babies a year, with each litter consisting of two to three.
“Their potential for reproduction is not as great as rabbits.”
In general, Hoover said, the squirrel population in Missouri can easily handle the hunting done statewide.
But taking an “egregious” number, he said, as in this case, might impact the squirrel population locally.
Most squirrels are hunted to be eaten, he said. They make for “good tablefare.”
“Folks sometimes use the tail from squirrels to tie fly-fishing flies.
“They are not the easiest thing to clean,” he said. “Not like a rabbit, where once you get it going the fur starts to fall right off.”
I ask if he’s ever eaten squirrel.
Yes, he said.
“There are a lot of different ways it can be prepared. There are some pretty good recipes.”