SQUIRRELS: SMALL GAME, BIG FUN
Squirrels, once the most hunted species in America, are now often the most abundant small game species in many states. Hunters seeking something to hunt after the deer and other big game hunting seasons close, will discover that squirrel seasons often remain open into late February. Many states also permit hunters to take a daily bag limit of six or more squirrels. Long seasons and liberal bag limits mean you should try hunting squirrels—or hunt them again. Be forewarned, these small mammals can present big hunting challenges!
Finding squirrels to set your sights on can sometimes be easy now that the leaves have fallen from most trees in many regions. The small rodents prefer the mast (or nuts) of hickory, oak, walnut and other such trees. Resourceful squirrels are also fond of corn from farmer’s fields or bins, and red dogwood berries. Find the popular or available food sources in winter, and you’ll find squirrels.
A good hunting strategy is to look for mast trees along hilltops and ridges. You can simply sneak along at a slow walking pace and step over to one side to observe the hillside below for squirrels that are feeding on the ground or sitting perched on nearby tree limbs. Also listen for the distinct gnawing sound overhead as a squirrel opens a nut, or the scratchy barking of an alarmed squirrel.
When it is time to make the shot, shotguns are a good choice for squirrel hunting, especially if you tend to see running squirrels. If most of the squirrels you see are simply sitting on a limb, stump or log, then a .22 rifle with or without a rifle scope will be a top squirrel-getter to carry. The Ruger 10-22 and Remington’s 597 are popular rifle models with squirrel hunters.
How does your squirrel hunting area compare to others? One Kentucky survey found that hunters observed an average of nearly five squirrels per hunt and roughly two squirrels per hour. Those hunters also saw more than three times as many gray squirrels (smaller) as fox squirrels. And the squirrel hunters averaged bagging three squirrels on each of their trips afield.
While squirrels do spend more time in tree dens during cold periods, they can be found out on sunny winter days and when it’s lightly raining or misting outdoors. Consider hunting with a partner but always follow the rules of firearm safety. As you hunt squirrels, use binoculars to scan the ground and trees ahead as you pursue what was once America’s most popular huntable species.