June 15, 2016
Squirrel hunting is the most popular small game pursuit in the nation and one of the most popular hunting endeavors period, according to recent surveys of American hunting interests. Squirrel hunting led small game by a large margin and was third most popular overall, behind only whitetail deer and wild turkey hunting.
Many folks' first foray into the hunting fraternity is by cutting their teeth on squirrel hunting and not only is it a great introduction for newbies; it is also a tremendous amount of fun for seasoned hunters.
One of the best things to happen with squirrel hunting recently is the increased amount of hunting opportunity in the spring. Many areas of the country now allow several days up to several weeks of spring squirrel hunting, but hunter participation is lagging far behind fall hunting effort.
Spring hunting is much different than fall and in some ways more difficult, but spring is a great time to be outside and success is easily bolstered with just a few tips.
1. TIMING IS CRUCIAL
The timing of spring squirrel hunting is much different than fall hunting. Squirrels do not move much during the heat of the day, so the best times are only the first couple hours after sunup and maybe an hour before dark. Opportunity is extended by hunting areas protected from the sun or during overcast or drizzle rain periods.
2. LOCATE THE FOOD
Just like fall, food is the most important key to finding squirrels, but the food sources are much different. Squirrels are not found crunching nuts high in the treetops. Instead, they rely more on soft mast and mulberries are a special favorite. They also eat buds on trees, various berries, seeds, ground vegetation and even occasionally dine on mushrooms and insects.
3. GROUND LEVEL
Looking for feeding squirrels still primarily means scanning the trees for active bushytails, but do not forget about eye level or even the ground.
Squirrels feed in various bushes and search the ground for buds, seeds, leftover hard mast and other items. Forgetting to take in the entire surroundings means missed opportunities.
4. BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING
Squirrel hunting success comes from being adaptable. Most people advise finding a likely feeding location, staying put and waiting for the squirrels to arrive. When this works it is a perfect tactic, but do not be afraid to move to a better location if the action is slow. Spot and stalk is harder due to spring foliage, but it is a waste of time sitting in a location with no activity.
5. CREEKSIDE AMBUSH
Creeks are great locations to find spring squirrels. Not only is there water available, but also the areas alongside creeks are often lush with lots of different types of trees and plants, many of which provide spring forage for hungry tree rats. If a creek is not present, lakeshores, ponds and water holes offer opportunity too. Where legal, floating and hunting from a canoe is a great tactic and a lot of fun.
6. DEN TREES
Another overlooked method is to locate areas with lots of den trees or even squirrel nests. If there are ample dens and nests in an area, it is quite likely there are a lot of squirrels present, especially right at first light when they start leaving to feed. Obviously, one should never shoot into a squirrel nest, but hunting in the proximity is most certainly ethical.
7. CALLING ALL SQUIRRELS
Squirrel hunting in the spring may be a perfect opportunity to experiment with squirrel calls. There are a variety of squirrel calls on the market that make most all known squirrel vocalizations. Few calls bring squirrels in running, but they do help hunters locate them and then plan an intercept strategy.
The debate on whether to hunt with a rifle or a shotgun when squirrel hunting is one never to be settled; but one thing is obvious. A shotgun offers much more shooting opportunity in the spring due to the heavy foliage.
That certainly does not mean rifle hunting is not a viable option and in fact, many folks who want an even greater challenge like to hunt with a pellet rifle. An advantage to the pellet gun is it often allows hunting in some urban and suburban areas that would not tolerate rifle or shotgun blasts. Always check local hunting regulations first though.
9. TAKE HEED THE HEAT
Spring temperatures are not only uncomfortable in some areas with spring squirrel hunting seasons, but can be downright dangerous, especially for those with medical conditions. Hunt early, take it easy and always stay well hydrated. If hunting with a squirrel dog, remember to bring along extra water and a bowl.
Also, the heat quickly takes a toll on harvested squirrels, so get them field dressed right away (where legal) and bring along a cooler to put them on ice as soon as reaching the vehicle. Sure an iced squirrel is much harder to dress later, but the protection it provides the meat is well worth the extra effort.
10. OTHER SPRING CAUTIONS
Along with the heat, there are other precautions to consider. The first of course is the plethora of biting insects such as flies, mosquitos, gnats, chiggers and others. Of even more concern are ticks, which carry various serious diseases including Lyme disease.
To combat these pests, wear appropriate clothing, use repellents on skin and clothing, plus a ThermaCell is also a great addition. In addition to bugs and insects, take extra caution in areas inhabited by venomous snakes.
Spring turkey season does not have to mean the end of hunting until fall arrives. Spring squirrel hunting season offers lots of fun, a chance to get more days in the field and a perfect opportunity to introduce someone new to hunting. Get out and give it a try.