Take a look at what squirrel hunting has to offer as a low entry level to hunting and extending your seasons
I grew up squirrel hunting. I killed my first Eastern gray squirrel when I was in the fourth grade, which made me what, 7 or 8 years old? I can see still that grey squirrel crawl out on a limb of a dead snag. I can hear my Dad say “Shoot at his head,” and I cocked that little Winchester Model 37 .410 and did just that. This was over 50 years ago. I may like squirrel hunting more now than I did back then.
We seem to live in a time where hunting has become very complicated. Most of the attention centers around big game, and in the East it’s all about deer and turkeys. Follow the scuttlebutt of whitetail deer hunting for the past several years and it would appear that to be a deer hunter you also have to be a farmer. You need to own or lease large quantities of land, plant various forms of food plots for different times of the year and deal with all of the necessary equipment to do this. Bucks are followed on trail cameras almost from birth and are named and judged as to age and antler size long before anyone releases an arrow or jerks a trigger. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for deer hunting, and I’m certainly a dyed-in-the-wool turkey hunter, spring and fall. But doesn’t anyone just go hunting anymore?
You do if you’re a squirrel hunter.
I submit to you that most of us need to get back to basics, especially if you are a beginning hunter. Squirrel hunting will get you there; it will teach you how to hunt. Most anything you need to know to stalk other game you can learn on squirrels. Here in no particular order are some of the reasons you need to start squirrel hunting. For the purposes of this article we will talk about stalking and still hunting. Hunting squirrels with dogs is an entirely wonderful form of hunting and I highly recommend it, but we will address dog hunting later. (If Project Upland will have me.)
Squirrel hunting gets you in the woods and hunting
In a time where everyone is too busy to do anything, squirrel hunting gets you outside where you should be, hunting. Squirrel hunting doesn’t require a lot of complicated preparation, setting up treestands, checking trail cams, or where legal, placing bait or other attractants. Foresters estimate that east of the Big Muddy alone we have over 384 million acres of woodlands. In most places if you have woodland, you have squirrels. A lot of this woodland acreage is on public land, and for what is not public you stand a good chance of getting permission to squirrel hunt.
Landowners are much more likely to let you squirrel hunt than they are for deer or turkeys. You may get a look like, “Squirrel hunt? Really?” But chances are, you will get permission. The first thing required to be a successful hunter is a place to go, and with a little legwork you should find lots of squirrel hunting spots. Remember, the first priority is just to get in the woods, go hunting.
Squirrel hunting is 101 for all hunters.
Whether you are a novice hunter or an experienced hand, squirrel hunting will teach you something. If you are hitting a baseball, casting a dry fly, or swinging a shotgun on flying targets there are basic fundamentals to be learned. For any type of spot and stalk or still hunting, the squirrel woods are where you train.
Scouting for squirrels is very similar to scouting for deer: find the right food sources, usually an oak and hickory based forest, and you should find squirrels. Squirrels leave signs that betray their presence like most animals. Cuttings where they have fed on hickory nuts, acorns, or walnuts are the most obvious. When it comes to the actual hunting, who among us could not use some brushing up on our stalking skills? Sitting quietly in a hickory grove and waiting for a foraging squirrel to come into .22 rifle range, or better yet, attempting to slip up on that squirrel in dry leaves will just plain make you a better hunter.
Squirrel hunting doesn’t require a lot of special gear
If you have a .22 rifle or a shotgun and a pair of boots you are ready to go squirrel hunting. Camouflage clothing may help but is not absolutely necessary; wear your old jeans and a sweatshirt. If you have a turkey vest they are a great way to carry squirrels and whatever gear you chose to take plus they supply a seat cushion. Any small game or bird vest is also handy.
Any .22 rifle that you can shoot accurately out to 50 yards will do as well as most any shotgun. Want to use your grouse gun on a squirrel hunt? Why not? If your shotgun has screw in chokes you may want to throw in a full or modified choke. In future articles we can discuss special firearms for squirrel hunting and believe me, there are some great .22 rifles out there to step up our squirrel game. Right now, we just need to get you in the woods.
Squirrel hunting is fun
Here is a news flash for you: hunting should be fun. How about spending a day in the woods without worrying about how big a buck’s horns are, (I know they are antlers, I just like to say that), how old that deer is, where should I put my treestand, and do I have the right scent control? How about some time roaming the woodlands, tuning in to the sights, sounds, and smells, and putting a stalk on a pair of grey squirrels cutting hickory nuts? You will score on some, spook a lot more, and enjoy every minute. Plus you get some of the best wild game fare to be had. We will explore that more in the future.
By my, count nine states have spring squirrel seasons, and many of these are going on right now — Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, eastern Texas, Virginia, and Kansas. (Check your local regulations.) If your home state offers no spring season, most states start early for squirrel, usually September, and stay late, often till the end of February.
The woodlands are there, the squirrels are there, what’s keeping you? Get out there and go huntin’!
Larry Case worked as a West Virginia Conservation Officer for 36 years retiring with the rank of Captain. He has too many dogs, not enough shotguns, and some pretty strong opinions on most everything. He is a life long hunter and outdoorsman and hopes that you brought some extra lunch. He invites you to come along for the ride if you can stand it.