The Beginner's Guide to Squirrel Hunting
- 07 Aug, 2018
In years past, it was a common practice for fathers to teach their sons and/or daughters to hunt small game such as the various species of tree squirrels in order to hone their hunting skills before moving on to large game species such as Whitetail Deer or Wild Turkeys. However, in recent years, this trend seems to have reversed and thus, many avid deer hunters who enter the woods these days in pursuit of tree squirrels find themselves ill equipped with a lack of knowledge and experience in pursuing this elusive game animal and thus, they often end up going empty-handed and disillusioned with the sport because they believe that there is a lack of game to be harvested. However, the fact is that unlike the tree squirrels hunters commonly see feeding in their front and back yards who are accustomed to the presence and activities of humans, wild tree squirrels are a very elusive prey that requires every bit as much knowledge, patience, and skill to successfully hunt as deer and wild turkeys do. Consequently, for the experienced small game hunter, tree squirrel hunting is every bit as satisfying as hunting large game species.
In fact, the various species of tree squirrels such as Grey Squirrels, Fox Squirrels, Abert’s Squirrels and, Pine Squirrels are some of the most abundant small game species on the planet and thus, they can be found wherever there is an adequate food supply to attract them. However, they are also masters of evasion and thus, they often require special tactics to successfully hunt them. For instance, all species of tree squirrels can be successfully hunted by either the spot-and-stalk method (aka “still hunting”), or by stand hunting, or by employing a hunting dog such as Allen Franklin’s mountain cur squirrel dogs which have been specifically trained to aid a hunter in locating and flushing squirrels.
However, the first questions that any novice squirrel hunter should ask is what types of habitat do tree squirrels choose to inhabit and how does a hunter locate them in their chosen habitat? Thus, squirrel hunters should first be aware that squirrels subsist primarily on nuts and thus, Eastern species of tree squirrels such as Grey Squirrels and Fox Squirrels tend to prefer to inhabit stands of nut producing hardwoods such as Oak, Hickory, Beech trees whereas, Western squirrel species such as Pine Squirrels tend to choose stands of large, mature, cone producing pines. Therefore, in order to locate squirrels in these habitats, a hunter should first look for what appears to be an oversized bird’s nests in the limbs of trees and/or prospective dens in hollow trees as well as signs of squirrel feeding activity such as nut or pine cone litter near stumps or fallen logs where squirrels perch to survey their surroundings for approaching predators while feeding. In addition, prospective squirrel hunters should also be aware that although squirrels do often actively feed throughout the day, they are most active during the early morning and early evening hours just like the various species of deer. Thus, they often leave their nests or dens well before dawn to forage the year’s mast crop and then return for a nap before emerging again.
Thus, when using the spot-and-stalk method, squirrel hunters should move through the woods as quietly as possible while moving very slowly and surveying both the canopy and the surrounding terrain for movement while also listening for sounds of squirrel feeding activity such as gnawing on nuts or pine cones as well as barking or wheezing to mark their territories. Then, once located, squirrels must be approached very carefully while making as little noise as possible and while using the surrounding foliage to conceal the hunter’s approach to get within shooting range because, when a squirrel is spooked, they will inevitably climb the nearest tree and then move to the opposite side of the tree where they are hidden from the hunter’s view. Consequently, many squirrel hunters choose to hunt in pairs so that, after a squirrel is located and treed, one hunter can move around the tree to flush the squirrel so that the other hunter can take the shot.
In addition, the same method of locating squirrels can be employed when stand hunting but, unlike deer hunters who’s stands or blinds are semi-permanent, stand hunting for squirrels involves first locating a squirrel rich area and then sitting very still at the base of large tree until a squirrel is located and then, the shot must be taken from a sitting position in order to minimize movement to avoid spooking the squirrel after which, the hunter moves on to a new location. In fact, the original Realtree camouflage pattern was developed by an avid squirrel hunter for this very purpose.
But, when hunting squirrels with a dog, stealth is not an issue since the dog does the work of locating and treeing the squirrel and then, as the hunter approaches the tree in which the squirrel is positioned, the dog is trained to move around the tree in order to flush the squirrel so that the hunter can take the shot.
Furthermore, novice squirrel hunters should be aware that because squirrels are on the menu for most woodland predators, squirrels are both very observant and very wary and thus, they will spook and hide at the slightest movement. But, provided that a hunter remains stationary and still, they will eventually reappear and resume feeding and thus, both stealth and patience are prerequisites for squirrel hunters. However, a trick often employed by experienced squirrel hunters to draw out a spooked squirrel is to use one’s foot or hand to shuffle the leaf litter periodically in an erratic pattern in order to simulate a squirrel searching the ground for fallen nuts. In addition, several animal call manufacturers offer excellent, species specific, squirrel calls that can be used to both locate squirrels and to draw out spooked squirrels.
Then, there is the issue of concealment when squirrel hunting and thus, experienced squirrel hunters choose appropriate camouflage patterns such as dark colored foliage patterns early in the year when the leaves are still on the trees at ground level and then, they switch to realistic tree bark patterns for hunting squirrels later in the year once the leaves have fallen.
Last, it should be noted that many experienced squirrel hunters prefer to use small gauge shotguns with high brass shot shells containing number 4, 5, or 6 shot for hunting squirrels early in the year when the leaves on the trees which makes squirrels difficult to see and approaching them relatively easy but, they often switch to scoped .17 or .22 caliber rifles for hunting them after the leaves have fallen due to the fact that it is much easier for a squirrel to spot hunters approaching once the leaves have fallen and thus, shots must often be taken at significantly longer ranges. However, another viable alternative is to use one of the new models of high-powered .22 or .25 caliber air rifles since these modern air rifles provide plenty of muzzle velocity and kinetic energy to humanly harvest squirrels even at longer ranges and, many of them feature integrated silencers which drastically reduce the noise that they make when fired.
So, if you find that you have an interest in pitting your hunting skills against one of the world’s most wary and abundant small game animals, then it is imperative that you first learn how to locate them and then how to hunt them because hunting squirrels is very different from hunting game animals such as deer, pigs, or turkeys. Thus, the information listed in the guide above should serve as your starting point since it will provide you with the basic knowledge that you need to enter the sport and become successful at it.
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