New Mexico Game & Fish: Squirrel Hunt 101

Abert’s squirrel. Courtesy/NMG&F

From New Mexico Game & Fish:

Have you ever considered small game hunting in New Mexico? Specifically, squirrel hunting? If not, you probably should. Everyone who participates in the big game drawing will have a hunting license, which includes small game such as squirrel.

In addition to this license, you will need a habitat stamp and a habitat access and management validation stamp. In total, this will cost $25 for a resident adult. These noisy aerial acrobats are fun to watch and listen to.

They often bark alert warnings when you get too close and are the perfect quarry for beginners and younger children practicing stalking and stalking skills. Squirrels are often within a half-mile walk of any logging road, so don’t plan on walking too far. In addition to the chasing experience, squirrels make a wonderful meal at the table. Squirrel meat has a lighter flavor, often compared to chicken.

There are four species of squirrels to hunt in New Mexico. These include the Abert, fox, gray and red. They require a different habitat and can be found in various places in the state.

Common destinations to find four local squirrels:

  • Abert’s chipmunk, also called tassel-eared, due to its long, furry ears. Their bodies are gray to dark brown with a red stripe down their backs. They depend on Ponderosa pines and can be found in the Manzano and Jemez mountains.
  • Fox squirrel: the largest of the four; It has a golden brown body. It can be found in pecan and walnut orchards near Roswell and Carlsbad. Additionally, it lives in riparian areas along the southern Pecos River.
  • Gray Squirrel: Grayish-brown in color with a white belly. They live at mid-elevations in the mountains, in a broadleaf riparian habitat. Grays are found in the Gila National Forest in Catron, Grant, and Luna counties.
  • Red Squirrel – also called Chickaree, it is the smallest of the four. Its predominant habitat is spruce and fir. They can be found in the Sangre De Cristo, San Juan, Sacramento, Capitan and San Mateo mountain ranges.

Squirrels can be legally hunted with a variety of weapons, including: .177 caliber and larger pellet guns, shotguns, rimfires, muzzleloaders, bows, and crossbows.

A good hunting pellet gun can be found for less than $100 today. Check with the manufacturer to make sure the muzzle velocity of your pellet gun is 1,100 feet per second or higher. Pellets will also be needed, and these can be purchased for around $5 for 250. Lastly, a good sharp knife or hunting shears are required to skin and butcher the squirrel. These can be picked up for about $15.

So with your hunting license and stamps, pellet gun, ammo and knife, you’ll have all the essential gear you need to hunt squirrels for less than $145.

Some non-essential equipment to consider:

  • Camouflage clothing including hat, pants, shirt, and boots.
  • Global Positioning System Unit or a good land access app for your cell phone
  • Binoculars
  • Backpack
  • Food and water
  • compass and map

The bag limit for small game is much more liberal than for big game, and squirrels are no exception. Each legally licensed hunter can take a maximum of eight squirrels per day, which is known as the bag limit. Possession limit is 16 squirrels – this is the maximum number each hunter can have in the freezer. Remember to consume some squirrels if you are at the possession limit before going back to hunting squirrels. A good rule of thumb is to consume game meat within six months of freezing to reduce the risk of freezer burn.

Aside from the liberal bag limit, squirrel hunting season is pretty long. They can be hunted for three months, statewide, in the fall. A hunter may chase squirrels from September 1 to November 30 of each year. That makes for a lot of potential family weekends when parents and kids alike are off work and school to hunt squirrels. By far the best time of day to hunt squirrels is in the early morning and late afternoon, when the squirrels are most active.

There are two main ways to hunt squirrels. The first is called stationary hunting. Locate the trees that squirrels prefer, sit down, preferably behind some cover, and wait for them to move or make noise. It is looking for a moving brown or gray main body attached to a bushy tail, a moving branch on a tree, or debris falling from a tree. Sounds you may hear include chattering, leaves rustling on the forest floor, or a squirrel squeaking its teeth into a nut. Once you see a squirrel, wait for it to stop moving before shooting.

The second way to catch a squirrel is by stalking. Stalking involves moving quietly through the woods, a few steps at a time, while looking and listening. Pausing for ten seconds can be productive in hiding your outline and allowing the squirrel to reveal its hiding place. Whether in a tree or on the forest floor, always aim for a headshot as it will preserve the most meat and is the most humane place to aim.

Once you’ve caught a squirrel, they’re easy to clean. Cut the squirrel tail at the base. Make sure the cut is straight down and then generously salt the base of the tail and let it dry. Squirrel tails can be sold or traded for lures at the Mepps Fishing Lure Company. They make line spinners out of hair. Remove the head and all four legs just above the joints. Make a circular incision around the middle of the torso, in the belly area, being careful not to puncture the internal cavity. Move your fingers under the cut skin along the spine, to loosen and then pull the skin up and down from the abdomen. I should get out right away. Make a straight cut from the anus through the pelvis, down to the neck. Insert one or two fingers into the chest cavity and pull out the entrails. Both hind legs can be removed from the torso at the hip joint and stored in a freezer bag. The front legs remain attached to the torso and are placed in a different freezer bag.

The next time you’re considering a fall weekend activity, try squirrel hunting. You can’t go wrong walking through the fall woods, whether you pick up a squirrel or not.

Baked squirrel with butter


unsalted butter
Four squirrels cleaned and quartered


Parboil the squirrel pieces until tender, about an hour. This is done in a large pot, covering the pieces with water mixed with two tablespoons of salt. Cook over low heat. This will ensure that even the meat from an old squirrel is tender. Remove from water and pat dry with paper towels. Generously shake the pepper, salt, and paprika on both sides of the dried squirrel pieces. Cut 10 squares of butter and spread into individual pieces. Place in a single layer in a baking dish and place inside a preheated 350 degree oven. Cook until golden brown, about an hour.

This recipe serves four people.