A distinctive, squirrel-skin hat seen around town is the result of collaboration by a group of friends and a lesson about use of wild critters.
The hat is sewn with the hides of nine squirrels that Haines sixth-graders Charlie Bower, Ketch Jacobson, Mori Hays and Dawson Evenden shot with pellet guns. They skinned the squirrels and ate them, then cured the hides.
They didn’t plan it exactly that way. Bower said he just wanted to shoot some squirrels and make something, but his mom put a condition on that idea: If they wanted to get the squirrels, they’d have to eat them, too.
"Our family rule is you don’t kill something unless you plan to eat it," said Bower’s mom, Laurie Mastrella. "I used to tell them that when they wanted to kill spiders in the house and they made me eat crow one time when I swatted a couple of mosquitoes."
So Bower and his buddies sat down to prepare their meal of poached squirrel.
"I told them I wouldn’t have anything to do with those things," Mastrella said. "They had several meals. They even put them in their school lunches, but I think that was just to gross out the girls."
"It tastes like chicken with a slight yuck to it," Bower said of squirrel meat.
Jacobson said, "It was a little bit gaggy, but that builds character." It wasn’t like they ate their squirrels plain, Hays noted. "We put some salt and pepper and stuff on them."
Jacobson said they first thought of making a squirrel blanket, but that would have taken too many hides. Getting enough for the hat included taking their guns to the home of a family friend whose house was infested with squirrels. They bagged two there.
Hays got credit for plinking one squirrel with a pellet pistol. "He quick-drawed on it. It went ka-pow," Bower said.
They cured their squirrel hides with salt, softened them by pressing them over a table edge, and Bower sewed them on to a knit cap. The boys take turns wearing it. They said they get a lot of comments, and people like to pull on its several tails.
They have six hides remaining, and during lunch break at school this week, were pondering their next squirrel creation – maybe slippers or mittens.
"Underwear!" Bower suggested.
"No way. I don’t want to share underwear with you guys," Jacobson said.
Bower said the group is interested in hearing from people having trouble with squirrels. His cell phone number is 314-3158. "We will nail them."