Tips for Hunting Squirrels

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Scraps of shell, etc., found beneath feeding stations can often be seen during summer hikes, and are good evidence of an active squirrel population.

Reprinted with permission from MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 95.

There are a good many reasons why squirrels are among the
most hunted animals in North America. For one thing, the
bushytail season usually opens before those for larger
animals do, and provides an excuse to enjoy the
early-autumn woods. Then too, squirrels are more numerous
than any other huntable animal except possibly rabbits.
Because of this, productive woods are often accessible to
youngsters who have to be able to reach their hunting areas
by foot. The weapons used for hunting squirrels — and
the skills required — also demand less of an investment
on the part of beginners, be they young or old. And,
finally, squirrel meat has been recognized as a delicious
food since long before the first Europeans settled on our
shores.

Tips for Hunting Squirrels

The best way to locate a good squirrel woods is simply to
be in the country — hiking, camping, or
fishing — before the season begins. Listen for the
barks and chatters of those often vocal animals, and keep
your eyes peeled for nests and for the gnawed nut shells,
pinecones, corncobs, or fungi that indicate squirrels have
been feeding.

Once you’ve located a spot for hunting squirrels and the season opens (in some
parts of the country, squirrels are fair game year-round),
your hunt can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like.
The back-to-basics approach is simply to dress in
comfortable clothes (with a blaze orange vest, in orange
camouflage pattern if you prefer, for safety) and set
yourself down in a likely-looking grove of trees. The
early- to mid-morning and mid- to late-afternoon hours are
often the most productive. (Be sure to get permission to
hunt if the woods are on private land.)

Most squirrel hunters use either a .22 rifle or a shotgun.
If you choose the latter, which will make it possible to
shoot running animals, I’d recommend nothing smaller than
No. 6 shot. Despite their size, squirrels are hard to kill;
for that reason, hunters using a .22 should never shoot at
a moving animal, and should always use hard-hitting
hollow-point bullets. To do otherwise is to risk watching a
wounded animal escape. In any hunting you owe it to your
quarry not to shoot unless you’re confident of a quick,
clean kill.

A variation of the sit-and-wait technique is still-hunting,
which involves moving slowly and quietly through the woods,
stopping in likely spots for up to half an hour at a time,
and keeping your eyes and ears peeled.

Or if you want to get complicated, you can use a call to
locate your game, or even invest in a trained squirrel dog
(called a feist dog in the South), which will tree
squirrels and circle the tree to force a hidden
animal to give its position away.

Whatever method you use, keep in mind that a hunted
squirrel can remain motionless, and all but
invisible, for hours at a time. If you find yourself
searching fruitlessly for a squirrel that suddenly
disappears, you can follow several courses of action.
First, if there’s any breeze, look for the movement of
blowing fur rather than trying to spot the whole animal. Or
if you’re with a friend, one of you can sit still while the
other circles the tree noisily, perhaps causing the
squirrel to move around the trunk to keep the tree between
it and the more obvious hunter. If alone, you can try
hanging your coat from a limb in view of the tree, then
circling the trunk yourself. In fleeing you, the animal may
think it’s exposed itself to another hunter (the coat), and
scoot into your view. Or, finally, you can just plunk
yourself down and try to wait the squirrel out. It might
take a long time, and you might even run out of day before
that squirrel shows itself, but if you’ve never spent an
afternoon sitting motionless in the woods, I can guarantee
that you’ll see and hear things that are every bit as
rewarding as bringing a squirrel home for the pot!