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Grey and fox squirrels are among the most under-utilized of all game animals. Plentiful most everywhere there is suitable habitat—hardwood forests or, in the case of fox squirrels, a mixture of wooded fence rows, creek bottoms and corn fields—bushytails offer fine sport as well as first-rate eating. Their abundance means every chance of action for those who squirrel hunt. Another attractive thing about hunting squirrels is that in most states the season for the tree-top acrobats is a long one. It usually begins in early fall and runs well into winter. Some states even have a spring season focusing on the ripening time for a favorite food, mulberries.
These things—a long season, plenty of places to hunt, abundant numbers, and solid likelihood of success—add up to pure fun. Better still, learning to hunt squirrels offers ideal preparation for other types of hunting. Those who pursue the sport learn patience, good shooting techniques, stalking, the importance of being able to keep quiet and still for long periods of time, and methods of reading “sign” indicating squirrels are present. Then too, it is a good feeling to know squirrel hunting has been an important part of our country’s history. In fact, squirrel hunters turned soldiers helped win the American Revolution. Obviously there are lots of reasons to hunt squirrels, so let’s look at some of the basics for those who want to get started.
Finding a Place to Hunt
While public lands in most parts of the country get a great deal of hunting pressure during open seasons for deer and wild turkeys, they receive comparatively little squirrel hunting action. Once deer season ends, find a patch of hardwoods in a game management area or national forest and you should be in business. Also, obtaining permission to hunt squirrels on private lands often involves nothing more than a polite request. While big game hunters often have to join a club or face lots of competition on public lands, such is not the case with squirrel hunting.
Choosing a Gun
Basically, the squirrel hunter can choose from two types of gun. A tightly choked shotgun, using 4, 5, or 6 shotshells with enough powder to provide good velocity will work quite nicely. Indeed, when hunting early-season squirrels in situations where leaves on hardwoods have not fallen, it is the gun of choice. Later, after leaf fall when it is easier to get a clear shot, a rimfire rifle (.17, .22, or .22 long rifle) may be preferable. That is especially the case when still hunting.
There are a number of effective approaches to hunting squirrels. The simplest, most straightforward method is still hunting. Select a likely looking place in the woods, ease into it with as much stealth as possible, get comfortably seated on a log or the ground with a tree at your back, and then keep quiet while looking and listening. Things to consider in selecting a set-up site include visible nests, lots of nut cuttings or other sign, or a den tree nearby. Slickened entry holes in hollow trees are a tell-tale sign of a tree being used as a den. Once in place, it is merely a matter of waiting for a squirrel to appear within shooting range. Veteran hunters often wait until multiple bushytails show. That’s because once you shoot, especially with a shotgun, squirrels will likely freeze in hiding for 15-20 minutes.
A second approach, one which is most effective when the forest floor is damp thanks to a recent rain or wet spell, is stalking. This technique is especially appealing early in the season, when squirrels are busy in tree tops eating acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts and other mast. Leaves help mask the hunter’s approach, and the sight of shaking limbs and sound of dropping nuts provide tell-tale signs about the presence of squirrels. The idea is to ease along as silently as possible while remaining constantly alert. Stop every few steps to look and listen. This tactic also can work well in hill country late in the season. Use ridgelines to hide your movements, easing to the horizon every 50 yards or so to look on the other side of the ridge for bushytails.
The third approach, and from the standpoint of fast action and most effective, involves hunting with a dog. A good squirrel dog will tree squirrels then bark madly to let you know “I’ve found one.” The hunter hastens to the spot hoping to locate the animal and get a shot. Of course this means getting and training a dog, but the rewards connected with a canine companion are, for many, well worth the effort.
Benefits of Squirrel Hunting
The ethical hunter always uses what he kills. Dressing a squirrel is real work, although with practice it becomes easier. The meat provides wonderful eating and can be prepared in a variety of ways. As an added bonus, you can even save the tails and trade them with the folks who manufacture Mepps fishing lures for spinners or a bit of cash. Squirrel hunting is a grand introduction to the school of the outdoors, a place where thankfully the educational process never ends.
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