Are you missing the thrill of the hunt following the end of deer season? Never fear. The squirrels are here.
As the season for deer hunting comes to an end, switching your focus on bagging squirrels may be the perfect New Year’s resolution to keep your skills sharp during the winter months.
The Pro’s of Hunting Squirrels During the Off-Season
The low-entry level of squirrel hunting is perfect for young and old hunters alike. The opportunity allows for an extended hunting season, as well as introducing newcomers to an easier experience while venturing into the great outdoors compared to tracking and shooting big game.
The lessons of tracking can be obtained by stalking squirrels in order to prepare new hunters for taking on deer, turkey, and other popular game animals.
“I love squirrel hunting. It’s a great way to kind of wind your deer season down and get rid of those withdrawals,” says South Carolina hunter, Scott Hammond.
If suffering from hunting withdrawal, there are opportunities available to keep you connected to the wilderness and your love of hunting. These include the installation of cameras around last season’s main target areas, scouting for which locations are currently most prominent for hunting wildlife, and an inventory of equipment, along with hitting the firing range in order to keep skills refreshed.
However, this can only last for so long before cabin fever gets the best of many hunters as they hope to aim and fire at a live animal during the breaks between hunting seasons.
Simplicity is Key
Due to the simplicity of this past-time activity, squirrel hunting reminds even the most experienced hunters to enjoy the chase, the great outdoors, and brings awareness to the sights, sounds, and environment of your surroundings.
“It’s a wonderful time of year to be in the woods. All the leaves are off the trees and you can see everything,” says Hammond. “You end up finding deer sheds and deer trails you didn’t know existed when you’re out walking around. You can learn a lot about the woods in general this time of year.”
An activity perfect for teaching the novice, lessons can be learned from both still and stalk hunting. Going after squirrels is much less daunting than hunting bucks as you need less specialty equipment and experience.
Much of the deer hunt is filled with following specific guidelines on the size of the antlers, age of the deer, where to set up a tree stand, and ensuring the perfect scent to draw the animal near.
In comparison, the hunt for squirrels requires less practice and preparedness. It’s ok for the new hunter to miss a shot with a squirrel rather than a deer since it’s easier to find more of these small animals. Take your shot. If it’s productive, the hunt and enjoyment of eating the delicious squirrel meat will inspire confidence in the newcomer.
Where to Locate Squirrels
It’s easy to see the signs of squirrels in an approximate area, as cuttings can be found on hickory nuts, acorns, or walnuts within the forest. The perfect environment will be filled with an abundance of oak and hickory trees. Look in mature forests that provide the food, shelter, nesting, and denning locations the squirrels need.
“I target hardwood areas with lots of oaks. I’ll cover 30 to 50 yards real slow, walking. Then I’ll lean up against a tree and sit there and listen 10, 15, 20, sometimes 30 minutes,” Hammond explains.
Across the country, the gray squirrels, also referred to as “Bushy Tails” and the larger fox squirrel are the two breeds most commonly hunted.
Nine states currently allow the hunting of the rodent during this time of year. These include Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, eastern Texas, Virginia, and Kansas.
When is the Best Time to Hunt?
During the latter part of winter months following the leaves falling from the trees, these bushy-tailed marsupials are much easier to spot. Keep alert and watch for the flicking of tails and sounds among the trees. If you spot them first you’ll be more likely to hit your target with a shotgun, rimfire rifle, or air rifle. If you expose yourself first, they will dash to safety before you’re able to take your shot.
“Your ears are the best tool you have,” Scott adds. “You listen to the squirrels chattering back and forth, talking, whistling. You can hear them rustling on the ground in the leaves and feeding.”
If you’re not a morning person, this activity may be exactly what you need. Instead of venturing to the tree stand before dawn, squirrels are ready to be hunted after the sun has begun to brighten the sky and provide warmth.
Be prepared for less activity from these rodents during the colder months as they tend to retreat into their nests for longer periods of time.
“Once you’ve hunted them once or twice, it’s definitely more challenging,” he continues. “They are keen little critters. They start learning. It’s not because there aren’t hundreds of them there. They get wise real quick.”
Look for nests in the trees and squirrel’s foraging along the ground and in the nearest fields. Find a tree or brushy area to set up the shot where you know the squirrels are located. It’s also helpful to bring a pair of binoculars for easier spotting.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Experience
Other tips include wearing warm clothing and the correct footwear, along with being quiet and motionless upon seeing a squirrel. This also teaches new hunters how to behave while hunting for deer and turkey next season.
Another recommendation is to bring a fellow hunter along with you in order to corner the small mammal in the tree, giving you a greater chance to bring home the (squirrel) bacon. However, solo-hunting can also take place, but be ready for more preparation in order to single-handedly bag such a quick and aware animal.
When ready to shoot make a few barking noises or use a squirrel call to grab their attention and give you the time to properly pull the trigger.
Most Importantly… Enjoy Yourself!
Although these smaller animals provide much less meat than big game animals, it’s still considered delicious and productive. The experience also brings up positive memories of the beginning of their hunting careers during childhood
“I seem to enjoy squirrel hunting more and more,” adds Hammond. “It’s getting back to your roots of hunting. So many of us who are hunters, that’s how we got started, easing through the woods with our dads and shooting squirrels, missing a whole lot more than we hit. It’s fun.”