Squirrel Blast Off — Red Bay Grocery and Nick’s team up for annual event Saturday

Allen White won last year’s Boar Squirrel Blast Off with 39 points.

Hunting small game can be big fun — at least when it comes to the Boar Squirrel Blast Off set to fire off Saturday morning.

Hunters entering the event, presented by Red Bay Grocery and Nick’s Seafood Restaurant, can begin hunting at safe daylight on Dec. 1.

“It’s good country fun,” said Trey Nick tournament director and manager of Nick’s restaurant.

“We had about 25 hunters last year,” Nick added.

Hunters can register the day of the event at Red Bay Grocery on Highway 81. The tournament ends at noon at the grocery, and any contestant not checked in with the tournament director by 12 p.m. will be disqualified and the entry fee is non-refundable.

Entry fee for the event is $20. The entry fees will be split among the top three places with the first place winner receiving 50 percent; second, 30 percent; and third, 20 percent.

Up to 10 squirrels per hunter will be scored on a point system.

Each squirrel is worth three points and there are ways to score bonus points. One bonus point will be awarded for each head shot, and one point for each boar squirrel. Total points cannot exceed five per squirrel.

“You want to shoot ‘’em in the head, so you don’t hurt the meat,” Nick said. A .22-caliber or .17-caliber rifle works well, “but hard to do. Most use a shotgun,” Nick said.

Stan Kirkland, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said a 20- or 12-gauge shotgun with a No. 6 or 8 shot is often used.

“A lot of youngsters get their start in hunting,” squirrel hunting, Kirkland said.

The Squirrel Blast Off is “a family friendly event,” Nick said. “And it’s a good time to get the kids involved and get them interested in the sport.” Kirkland recalls that hunting squirrel was how his father introduced him to the sport. He said he got his first .410-shotgun when he was about 8 and he unloaded about a dozen shells trying to get that first squirrel.

“I don’t know if it died from a lack of oxygen” or if he hit it, Kirkland said. But he got his squirrel and he was hooked.

The state of Florida has a “liberal bag limit,” Kirkland said. Hunters can kill a dozen squirrels a day. “It’s one of the species that we have an abundance of.”

“There’s a lot of tradition in our area” that goes along with squirrel hunting, Kirkland said. “They go camping on the river and take part in the opening of squirrel season. It sounds like a small war going on up and down the river.”

The best time to hunt for squirrel is early morning or late afternoon, Kirkland said: “Less windy is better.”

Nick says he likes to go early.

“First thing in the morning is good … that’s when everything is waking up and looking around for food,” Nick said.

He said a good place to find them is around “food producing trees.”

Kirkland says Oaks and Hickory trees are good as well as drainage areas around creeks.

“A lot of times you can hear them barking,” Kirkland said, noting they make a high pitch sound.

In the local area, a lot of hunters search around the Choctawhatchee River swamp area or find the squirrels on private property, Nick said. Saturday’s hunt blasts off at daylight and wraps up at noon at Red Bay Grocery.

Nick said they will be skinning the squirrel and cooking them up right there at the store — complete with gravy and rice. The meat is similar to chicken although slightly less greasy.

“It’s real good eating,” he said.