Squirrel Hunting: The Lost Art
As a youngster I looked forward to the opening day of squirrel season almost as much as my birthday. I cut my teeth as a hunter chasing squirrels with my father and grandfather, and still today, cannot think of a better way to spend a few hours in the woods.
Squirrels are abundant throughout the entire state. Because of their abundance, they provide plenty of action and a limit can easily be obtained in short order.
August first, the opening day of squirrel season might seem better suited for a day at the pool rather in the woods.
With the trees still full of leaves, it can be hard to spot squirrels. Not to mention having to contend with temperatures that can be 100 plus degrees, the mosquitos and ticks looking for an easy meal and the sticky cobwebs that seems to jump out of nowhere and paste to your face as you work your way through the woods is often enough to make a hunter want to wait another month before taking up the hunt. But the hunter who waits is missing some great hunting action.
As far as choosing which type of firearm to hunt with is up to the individual hunter. I prefer to hunt with a 20-gauge pump action that I use for deer to squirrels, and everything in between. The reason I use this gun is that I am familiar and comfortable with it, plus I always prefer to have more than one shot available to me.
Many serious squirrel hunters swear by the .22 caliber scoped rifle. They like it for the challenge it offers and that a good clean head shot wastes little meat. I have found that when I take a .22 to the woods, the squirrels rarely stay still long enough to offer a head shot. Instead, they seem to prefer to jump from limb to limb, tree to tree, which is better suited for a scattergun.
When it comes to shotguns the 410 and 20 gauges are the most widely used. The 12-gauge will work fine, but all that firepower is not necessary. When using a shell loaded with No.8 or No.6 shot size, aim for the head of the squirrel to reduce the amount of shot that is in the body. Full or modified chokes are best.
I have already explained my reasoning for using a pump action. However, any action including a single, double barrel, pump or semi-automatic will work fine. I recommend using what you are comfortable with, and you will not go wrong.
Squirrels easily notice the slightest movement. For that reason, I always wear camouflage from head to toe, including my hands, as well as on my face with either makeup or a facemask. Many hunters have success without the aid of camouflage clothing, but I prefer to have the odds of success in my favor, not the squirrels.
Like I wrote earlier, at the beginning of the season will find the trees still full of leaves. This will make it difficult to spot the squirrels. Hunting during the midday hours is not my preference. The heat is not worth it to me, and the squirrels feel the same way. They tend to stay in their nest during the heat of the day.
The best time to be in the woods is from dawn till a couple of hours later and again a couple of hours before dusk until legal shooting hours are over.
I like to get up early, fill my thermos full of coffee, and set up in a location that has several hickory trees close by. I do not move from one location to the next. Squirrels cannot resist hickory nuts and will eventually come for their favorite meal. At times you will be frustrated because all you can hear is barking from the squirrels hidden from view.
Try coaxing the squirrels within view by using a barking squirrel call. This might be all you need to get them to show themselves.
Also, use the call after you have shot. Squirrels will retreat out of harm’s way upon hearing the gun blast. Hearing the squirrel call will cause other squirrels to believe the coast is clear and they will come out, ready to socialize with the other squirrels.
Because the air temperatures can be hot, even shortly after sunrise, there is the question with what care should be taken with your kill to ensure it does not spoil.
There are three options: Simply do nothing until you return home; field-dress the animal; field-dress and skin the animal.
It is fine to do nothing until you get home within the next thirty minutes. Any longer than that and you should at the very least field-dress animal. There is a good chance that a squirrel being shot with a shotgun has been gut shot and vile fluids are tainting the meat causing it to go rancid, much like that of a gut shot whitetail. For that reason, I like to field-dress the animal. I also carry a couple of 1-liter pop bottles, filled with water. That way I am able to wash out the body cavities. Be sure to wipe away any excess water. Water is a breeding ground for bacteria. Because you will not be moving around early in the season, the added bulk is not that big of a deal.
The only reason to skin the squirrel after the shot is that a freshly killed squirrel is much easier to skin compared to one that has been dead for any period of time.
Putting these few simple tips to work will allow for an enjoyable morning or evening in the woods. Unfortunately, many hunters no longer hunt small game such as squirrels. Hopefully, more hunters will start. Squirrels are plentiful, the season is long, they are a joy to hunt, and they make great table fare.