Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Friday, September 16, 2011

How to shoot squirrels

When reading about the Civil War, especially in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, I come across a lot of references to men marching into battle with less-than-ideal weaponry. Typically shotguns and squirrel guns are mentioned. Shotguns, while deadly at close range, weren't much good at a hundred yards against someone with a musket.

But what are squirrel guns, sometimes referred to as squirrel rifles? I presumed that they were small-caliber guns used for hunting squirrel, a common source of meat for poor people then and still in some parts of the United States today.

While reading The Lyon Campaign in Missouri : Being a History of the First Iowa Infantry, I came across an interesting anecdote. The author relates that the common way to shoot squirrels in Iowa before the war was by "barking" them. The hunter fired at the branch just below the squirrel's throat and the shock apparently killed it. This would preserve the meat. I suppose even if the squirrel didn't die it would be stunned and fall out of the tree, and could then be dispatched on the ground by smacking it against the trunk. At least that's how I'd do it.

I asked the knowledgeable folks over at the Missouri in the Civil War Message Boards for more info. One confirmed the barking technique was shown to him by his grandfather, while another said that people he knew simply aimed for the head. I guess that would save the meat just as well. You're not exactly going to put squirrel head into soup, are you?

Three forum members actually own squirrel guns carried by their ancestors during the Civil War! They're muzzle-loading .35 cal weapons. Interestingly, they were fairly large, weighing 6 pounds and being 36 3/4 inches long. If you're interested in the Civil War in Missouri, check out this forum. there are a lot of interesting researchers over there.


  1. I just remember the line from the Johnny Horton song "The Battle of New Orleans" We opened up our squirrel guns and really gave em hell.

    I never looked into them, but from the song, I pictured them to be fast shooting.

  2. Interesting post. I will check out the message board.

  3. If I had to kill my own squirrels to survive, I'd starve.
    Looking forward to your picks for the blogfest on Monday!


Got something to say? Feel free! No anonymous comments allowed, though. Too many spammers and haters on the Internet.