Long before the popularity of deer and turkey hunting boomed across the country, there was squirrel hunting. There was a time when small game hunting was king. It was a way of life and a means of sustenance. However, those days are long gone. All that’s left are memories shared by the older generation of hunters, and a declining number of squirrel hunters across the country. Truth be known, squirrel hunting can be some of the most enjoyable hunting of the season. Ample targets make for endless excitement for hunters of all ages. Squirrels make for the perfect introductory hunt for newcomers wanting to try their hand at hunting. Whether for the first time, or the first time in a long time, hunters need to experience the joy of squirrel hunting. Here’s a look at some squirrel hunting tactics to help tip the odds in your favor this season.
Find the Food, Find the Squirrels
Like most any wild animal, if you find their food source, you’ll find the squirrels. And finding the food is relatively easy. Squirrels are foragers. They are opportunistic critters that’ll eat just about anything, depending on the season. Just remember squirrels and nuts pretty much go hand in hand. Hickory nuts and Beech nuts are preferred early season trees to find squirrels feeding in, while oak nuts will draw squirrels throughout the fall and winter months. When times get tough, squirrels will even eat tree bark. Other items in their diet can include: insects, grass, fruits and veggies. Squirrels make a lot of noise as they feed on nuts high above the ground. You’ll hear the cutting sound of their teeth chewing on nuts, as well as the sounds of the nuts and leftovers falling to the ground as squirrels feed.
Nests & Dens
Another way to identify where squirrels are hanging out is to locate their nest and/or dens. These are easily identified on a quick scouting trip through the woods. Squirrels make nests, a large cluster of leaves and sticks, high above the ground in the forks of tree limbs. Dens can be found in old, dead tree trunks. You’ll find small holes in the hollow den trees that make for an easy entry and exit point to these protected den sites. Dens offer more protection from the elements and will become the go-to hide when the weather calls for more cover during the winter months.
Setting up for squirrels is quite simple. Fortunately, there are no blinds, treestands, or other prep work that must take place for your squirrel setup. You simply find a comfortable spot to sit or stand against a large tree located in gun range of the food sources and dens mentioned above. It makes for an enjoyable hunt as you can hit the woods with nothing more than your gun slung over your shoulder and some ammo in your pocket. Slip into the woods before daylight, take post at whatever spot you choose, sit still and keep your eyes on the treetops. Squirrels will begin moving shortly after daybreak as they emerge from their nests or dens and begin looking for food. When you’ve exhausted one spot, move slowly through the woods to get into fresh ground, all while keeping your eyes on the trees around you. Some squirrels will boogey if they catch you moving, while others will sit tight, hoping you don’t actually see them. Move slow, and be ready for the shot when the opportunity arises.
Go-to-Guns for Squirrels
Some guys swear by the .22 rifle for squirrel hunting. “Save the meat – head shots only,” they’ll say. Others lean toward the more forgiving shotgun approach to maximize opportunities when squirrel hunting. The shotgun can be a great way to start, ensuring quick success and better shot coverage as squirrels move about through the trees. The 12 gauge, 20 gauge and even the .410 shotgun all work well for squirrel hunting. Shot size loads from 6-8 work well for squirrels, with 7 ½ size getting much of the playing time by shotgun-toting squirrel hunters. The .22 rifle has its place among seasoned squirrel hunters for the ultimate in accuracy and reach on squirrels hiding up high.
Gear for Squirrels
As mentioned above, there’s not much required for the squirrel hunter in the way of gear beyond the gun and ammo. But there are a few items that will help make your time in the woods a little more enjoyable. A squirrel vest (small game vest) has plenty of pockets to stash your ammo, snacks, and a water bottle. Better yet, it’s got a built-in game bag on the back that allows you to stash your squirrels. It’ll help keep squirrel blood off your clothes and keep your hands free as you move about the woods. Other items you might find in the squirrel vest include: bug spray/tick repellent, toilet paper, binos, gps/map, and a smart phone. Some guys like to pack a seat cushion or small folding stool if they plan to be sitting in one place for an extended period of time, or just want to keep their backside dry.
Squirrel Hunting Allows You to Keep It Simple
It’ll provide more shooting opportunity than most anything you’ll hunt all season, and some mighty fine table fare to boot. It’s the perfect hunt to introduce a child, spouse, or non-hunter to the world hunting and the outdoors. Squirrel seasons are typically the longest season on the hunting calendar, so don’t miss out on the abundance of opportunity. It just might be the most fun you’ll have all season long.