Andrew Spencer, 35, decided some years ago to hunt squirrels instead of traipsing around the country pursuing elk, black bears or white-tailed deer.
It seems squirrels provide advantages where hunting other game becomes problematic, even frustrating.
This quest is relatively inexpensive. Landowners are more willing to share. The meat, if correctly prepared, is always edible, even delicious.
Now, as Spencer has done, his squirrel chase fits with his wife Susan’s passion for travel and his three sons’ home-schooling and growing up to become outdoorsmen.
Most of the time, however, the home-schooling is not instilled in Matagorda County, Texas. When Oliver, 8; Keegan, 5; and Alistair, 2; each graduate from eighth grade, they will have been to all 50 states, learned some geography, met lots of interesting people, and seen the anatomy of many of the nine squirrel species.
“I got into this, hunting squirrels in every state, because Susan loves to visit new places and thought the ideas was cool,” Andrew Spencer said. “Most people (landowners) are willing to share squirrels. It’s not like whitetails where almost no one is going to give up their honey hunting spot to a stranger.”
So off they trucked, sometimes sleeping in the vehicle if it is just Andrew and Oliver, but in a cabin or motel if it’s all five (soon to be six) family members.
“Susan is more comfort-conscious so when we came to Wisconsin we rented a cabin. It had all the amenities, except phone service,” he said.
I happened to get lucky when I called his cell phone because Andrew Spencer was at a Wal-Mart in Viroqua, buying his nonresident small game license.
“Some states offer short-term licenses for small game so the license is not as expensive,” he said. “The boys are too young to hunt here in Wisconsin, but Oliver did kill a wild pig a couple weeks ago in our home state of Texas. We’re a little more liberal about hunting age then most states.”
Wisconsin offers a five-day nonresident license.
The boys’ education and Susan’s travel is far from over, however. The Spencers have been from New Mexico east to the East Coast coast across the South.
This current trip went north up the Mississippi Valley. While based in the LaFarge area, they traipsed into Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin forests.
Autumn is an excellent time for travel the Spencers discovered, and the boys can be along because their school teachers are always with them. Andrew Spencer is a nurse anesthesiologist, while Susan’s love for adventure, geography and travel fill in the boy’s reading, writing and arithmetic.
The squirrel tails and hides are saved for fly-tying friends. The meat is usually consumed on the spot.
“In addition to eating squirrels, I like to see if we can eat what the animals we are hunting eat, like nuts and mushrooms,” he said.
Andrew Spencer has distanced himself from normal hunting cookbooks, in part because the recipes are pretty plain. During their first night in Wisconsin they had squirrel and dumplings.
“Being from Texas, everything chicken-fried is good,” he said. “Then there are gumbos, soups and stews, even barbecue.”
Even though Oliver doesn’t hunt beyond his home state yet, he participates in what his father calls a walk-and-stalk method of taking advantage of a squirrel moving around a tree to conceal itself. In the process, the squirrel becomes obvious to another person, such as Andrew Spencer, who is on the other side.
It seems the Spencers have found something many Wisconsinites have not given much thought to — hunting and eating squirrels.
Andy would like to take all nine U.S. squirrel species.
That gives him another idea.
“If there were a gray squirrel Boone and Crockett category, I know I took one who would easily make book,” he said.
Instead it ended up getting consumed.