Ground Squirrels for the BBQ?

Ground squirrels may be taken at any time. However, before tossing one on the barbecue, you should be aware of the possible health dangers (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

California ground squirrels may be taken at any time. However, before tossing one on the barbecue, you should be aware of the possible health dangers (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Question: I heard there are some concerns with eating ground squirrels in general. Is there some truth to this? If so, why do I see recipes to cook and eat them? Are they like chicken and pork where if you ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly, you should be okay? I like to go squirrel hunting with my son, but since tree squirrels may not be hunted now, ground squirrels are our only option. Any guidance would be helpful! (Highhorse L.)

Answer: Tree squirrel season runs between September  and January. California ground squirrels are not a game animal though, so from a legal standpoint, they have no seasons, bag or possession limits. If taken in the condor zone, ground squirrels must be hunted with non-lead ammunition.

Before attempting to eat them though, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) veterinarians, there’s a lot we don’t know about diseases in ground squirrels. We do know they carry fleas and are highly susceptible to plague and probably die within a short period of time after exposure to the disease agent.

Also, anyone even thinking of eating ground squirrels should first make sure there is no chemical ground squirrel control going on in the area because ground squirrels are commonly controlled by anticoagulant rodenticides. If the ground squirrel consumes a non-lethal dose, the rodenticide would still persist in their tissues for a few weeks or months.

Be aware that both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website www.cdc.gov/plague/and the California Department of PublGround_Squirrel_USFWSic Health site www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/discond/Pages/Plague.aspx indicate the greatest risk of acquiring plague is being around infected rodents like ground squirrels due to their fleas. Humans usually get the disease after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague. During the Middle Ages, plague is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe. Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague. Without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death.

Plague is endemic everywhere in California, except the southeastern desert and the Central Valley. It is not active everywhere in that range though, so before your hunt I suggest you contact the county public health department in the areas you will be hunting to find out the status and history of plague in those areas. Watch out for the state-protected Mohave ground squirrel found only in the Mojave Desert. They are not legal to take, so be sure you can tell them apart from the California ground squirrel.

If after reading all this you’re still determined to eat ground squirrels, like with all wildlife, make sure they are cooked thoroughly. Proper preparation and cooking is key to avoiding and minimizing exposure to disease. Bon appetit!


Can my kids spearfish for carp?
Question: I have a question concerning spear fishing for carp. When I was a kid, we used to go into the creeks and spear big carp. On the Russian River during the fall, I would see tens of thousands of huge carp congregating. Can I let my kids go into the water with a mask and fins and spear these 10-20+ pound carps? I would think that would be helpful for the river and we can pass the meat out to our multi-cultural friends. (Anonymous)

Answer: Spearfishing for carp is allowed only in the Colorado River District (all year) and in certain areas of the Valley District, Black Butte Lake and the Kern River (from May 1 to Sept. 15) (CCR Title 14, section 2.30).


Why no harvest odds this year?
Question: Why did the Big Game Digest omit the harvest odds for deer this year? Why do they not publish buck-to-doe ratios either? Other states share that information and it’s a lot more helpful than those colorful articles in this year’s booklet. I am afraid to spend my points blindly. (Todd S.)

Answer: The answer has more to do with timing than anything – harvest and ratio data were simply not available when the Big Game Digest was developed. We are still adapting the harvest analysis to the new Automated License Data System (ALDS). Harvest data first has to be entered into the database, and then the analysis takes place. The deer harvest data was posted on-line as soon as it was available at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/deer/deerhunt.html.


Fishing license when practicing fly fishing?
Question: Will we need a fishing license at Big Bear Lake if we are only fly rod casting in the water? We just want to learn how to cast a fly rod and will be using a fly without a hook on it. (Patrick G., Las Vegas, NV)

Answer: You do not need to have a license if the fly is not capable of hooking a fish.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at Cal.Outdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Please do not reply to this e-mail. DFGNews@wildlife.ca.gov is for outgoing messages only and is not checked for incoming mail. For questions about this News Release, contact the individual(s) listed above. Thank you.

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