The Barra 1866 Puts Lunch on the Table

The other day, I looked out my workroom window and saw a squirrel on a tree. I grabbed my now modified Barra 1866 (topic for another article), pumped it, and loaded it with a RWS Superdome. One of my windows has the screen removed for this very purpose, so I quietly slid that window open so I could take the shot.

I rested my shot on the windowsill as the squirrel waved his tail on the tree trunk, aware that something was amiss, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The pellet found its mark behind the eye, coming to a rest just under the fur on the opposite shoulder. The impact noise is quite impressive now that my 1866 is fitted with a LDC, akin to hitting a squirrel with a baseball bat. Needless to say, the shot spun him off the tree, and he was dead on the ground:

Barra 1866 takes a large male squirrel

This was a pretty large male, usually only fit for slow cooking. Since I only had one, I decided to try an experiment. First, let’s look at the exit wound on this guy:

The 1866 might not be a powerhouse, but how much more power do you need than this?

The above picture is just a reminder to treat all airguns like they were firearms. Also, just because you can’t afford the fancy guns you see featured by YouTube personalities doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and put some food on the table with what you have. Practice with what you’ve got, keep your shots within the range you are capable of, and enjoy the sport of airgun hunting.

After letting him soak overnight in a saltwater bath, I discarded the brine, rinsed off the carcass, and deboned it. After removing the meat, I cut it in small pieces, and further beat those pieces with a knife to tenderize. While I was doing that, I had a cast iron skillet warming up a little cooking oil. The meat was browned in this oil as I added some sage, garlic powder, ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes. I then added some beef broth, let it come up to a light boil, and simmered it until most of the liquid was reduced:

There’s quite a bit of meat on one large gray squirrel!

Once the liquid was reduced, I added in some flour, constantly stirring, and coating the meat. With the flour now cooked, I turned up the heat and stirred in milk to form a nice gravy:

It is critical to keep stirring at this stage, scraping the bottom of the pan, to prevent burning.

Once it began to bubble and thicken, I turned down the heat, kept stirring, and carefully added milk until it reached the creamy, thick consistency I was looking for. For an extra boost of flavor, I threw in a splash of liquid smoke. I thought about baking some biscuits, but opted in favor of making some toast. This one squirrel, turned into gravy, and poured over toast made enough to serve my wife, two kids, and myself. Here’s my plate:

Some real good food right here!

The results were excellent. This cooking technique proved successful in turning an old tough squirrel into a tender, tasty dish.

Hunting with the Barra 1866

I’ve taken the Barra Cowboy Series 1866 hunting a couple of times. The 1866 adds an incredible amount of challenge to hunting small game with air rifles. Being a multipump, you really have to make that one shot count. It also is limited to iron sights, so you’ve got to work your quarry in closer. While this kind of challenge isn’t for everyone, it is the challenge I grew up with and still love to do.

To prepare yourself for these kinds of hunts, be sure you practice extensively, shooting both offhand and supported positions. Know your limits – don’t take shots past where you can reliably hit an acorn. Wear neutral colors or camo up. I like to get close to den trees just before sunrise and wait. Another tactic is to stalk after a rain when the leaves are wet.

Sitting near a chipmunk hideout

The first kill I got with the 1866 was a squirrel in my front yard (I live in a very rural setting). Sneaking out my back door, I came around the corner of the house and rested my gun against the roof of my SUV. The squirrel showed himself in a tree about 20 yards away. This is toward the limit that I’ll take a rested shot, but he was silhouetted nicely, so I confidently squeezed off the shot. The pellet found its mark and the squirrel fell:

The Barra Cowboy Series 1866 draws its first blood!

I couldn’t ask for a better kill, and I’ve got another squirrel for the freezer. The 1866 is a handy gun to carry in the woods, so I decided to take it out today for a pest control hunt. Chipmunks get thick around here, and they are as destructive to property as they are cute. Shortly after entering the woods, I spotted a chipmunk near a rotted log. I slowly stalked to within 10 yards and was presented with an offhand shot opportunity. He was facing me chewing on an acorn. The pellet entered between the eyes and exited the neck.

After picking up my kill, I continued my walk. Unfortunately, there were no more squirrels or chipmunks, so I decided to head back. As I neared the rotted log where the first chipmunk was killed, another chipmunk appeared. I slowly worked my way in closer, but when I dropped my kill so I could steady my shot, he scooted into a crack in the log. We stared each other down for about ten minutes before he disappeared.

Don’t know why, but the 1866 conjures songs like these while hunting!

I then sat and waited. My patience paid off when he showed up again on top of the log presenting me with a side profile headshot. From my seated position, I took aim, fired, heard the smack of the pellet, and watched the brush behind it absorb the pass through. Here’s my two chipmunks along with the Barra 1866:

The Barra Cowboy Series 1866 is super accurate, nothing but headshots here!

Hunting with the 1866 might be an exercise in patience and stealth, but it is also super rewarding. Unlike the squirrel, these chipmunks aren’t going in the freezer. Instead, they are in a salt water bath in the refrigerator, waiting for my lunch time. Not a lot of meat, but pan fried, they’ll go nicely with a bit of rice.

Squirrel Jerky

I love jerky, but it tends to be quite expensive. Squirrel provides an abundant source of lean meat, so I decided to try an experiment. The other morning, I killed five squirrels. After cleaning them, I broke them down into hind legs, front legs / shoulders, loins, rib cages, and belly meat. The belly meat is the perfect size and thickness to make jerky from, so I set it aside for this project.

After trimming any bits of fat and membrane from the belly meat, I prepared a marinade. The marinade is composed of liquid smoke, soy sauce, a small splash of apple cider vinegar, and a couple shakes of Louisiana hot sauce. A bit of black pepper and garlic powder was added for some additional spice and flavor. The meat was then marinated in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

Plenty of flavor soaking up

After the meat had soaked for a couple hours, the stove was preheated to 250*F. I patted the meat dry and arranged them on a wire rack. They were then placed in the oven for a hour. The heat was then lowered to 175* for a couple more hours. Here’s the result:

Squirrel Jerky

I’m happy to say the jerky turned out great! As you can tell, I played it very safe with the temperatures, but it certainly didn’t affect the flavor and texture in any negative way. Squirrel doesn’t yield much belly meat, but groundhogs and raccoons do, so I’ll be doing the same thing with them! Read more about jerky safety guidelines.