One of the most common objections I hear from non squirrel eaters is that squirrels, or wildlife in general, are not safe to eat. This could not be further from the truth. Millions of people go out hunting every year and bring back everything from crows to whole deer, and squirrel hunting has been around for hundreds of years. It’s safe to say that, if squirrel was not a safe food, we wouldn’t be hunting them, and this website wouldn’t exist.
Fortunately there are several ways to tell if a squirrel is safe to eat.
Skin & fur
Some squirrels will have patches of missing fur. In most cases this is fine, but if the squirrel has a severe case of hair loss or squirrel pox then it is best to dispatch the animal and discard it.
When field dressing a squirrel, it is important to check the condition of the squirrel’s liver.
It should be a deep maroon color. If the liver is discolored or has white spots on it, discard the meat (better safe than sorry).
The way an animal behaves can tell you a lot about it’s health condition. If a squirrel is behaving abnormally, that is a red flag. Abnormal behavior can be caused by poison, although squirrels will generally avoid poison meant for other rodents.
A common question is, do squirrels have rabies? While rabies can be a cause of abnormal behavior, it is uncommon in squirrels and usually kills them before you have the chance of eating them. However, if you suspect a rabid squirrel, it’s best to throw it away. Some symptoms of rabies in squirrels include:
Foaming at the mouth
Partial or total paralysis
There’s a catch here – the only way to observe a squirrel’s behavior is to observe it alive. This is yet another reason why I recommend live trapping over kill traps or poison. Shooting also allows you to observe the squirrel while it’s alive, but I like to see them up close rather than through a scope.
Setting up a trail camera is a great way to see activity around your trap. You may be surprised that squirrels are not the only animals checking out your bait!
You can buy specialized motion-activated trail cameras on Amazon for anywhere between $100 to $300.
Why buy them?
I find these cameras to be a great educational tool. When setting one up next to a squirrel trap, you can see the squirrel’s behavior in its natural habitat free from human interference.
For example, I have seen squirrels stretch their body to reach into the trap, only to back out and eat the nut on top of the trap. This indicates that the squirrels are wary of the trap as they should be.
One time, my trap even caught a mouse! Unfortunately, the mouse squeezed its way out of the holes in the trap after about 10 minutes of struggling. Had I not had the trail camera, I would not have known about the mouse at all.
What to look for
At a bare minimum the trail camera should be:
Rechargeable, either with lithium ion batteries or direct USB charging
Support day and night vision, the latter usually through infrared
High resolution, at least 1080P
Some nice features to have:
Live streaming via Wifi or Bluetooth
Auto-upload to the cloud
AI recognition (e.g. animal vs human vs vehicle vs general motion)
First things first: Wear gloves! Squirrels, especially in more rural and wild areas, are very wary of human scent and can detect the smallest amount of sweat from your hands.
Scatter the bait in the center of the trap, on the left and right sides of the entry doors. This forces the squirrel into the trap and ensures that it cannot back out through the doors it entered.
Next you want to place just one or two peanuts just outside the entry door, and just one
Some websites will tell you to dump the bait in the CENTER of the trap. This is less effective as the squirrels can simply reach in, stretch their body, and grab a nut without their entire body being trapped.
Here’s what will generally happen:
Squirrel sees trap
Squirrel climbs over the trap in an attempt to grab the peanuts from above (it can’t)
Squirrel finds the entrance and takes the peanut right outside the entrance
Squirrel sits down outside the trap and eats the peanut
Squirrel pokes its head into the trap and grabs the nearest peanut
Steps 4-5 repeat (depending on the squirrel), and then…
Squirrel crawls all the way in, to reach the big pile of peanuts, and is subsequently trapped
A note on pre-baiting
Sometimes if you haven’t caught squirrels for several days despite the trap being baited, it is possible that squirrels have become wary of being trapped in your cage. In this case:
Open the top cage door
Leave the bait as is
Let the trap sit like this for a few days until you notice bait starting to disappear. This is a technique called pre-baiting and it is used to lull animals into a sense of security and not being afraid of the trap.
For watching the squirrels behavior around your trap, I recommend getting a motion camera to monitor the trap, see my recommendations in Monitoring your traps!