October 16, 2020
By Larry Case
There was a time when most hunters east of the Mississippi started on squirrels, but that tradition has fallen off some in recent years, which is a shame. Besides being just plain fun, learning to stalk squirrels will make you a better hunter of any other game. First, though, you have to find them.
Focus on Food
Most wild animals spend almost all of their time looking for something to eat. If there is no food around, they’ll probably change their address. This is absolutely true of squirrels, which are most commonly found in forests with plentiful oak and hickory trees. There is no doubt that squirrels love hickory nuts and will leave most other forms of natural food (mast) to eat them. Hickory nuts mature in late summer to early fall. Once squirrels find them, they will feed on this thin-shelled nut until they are gone.
Once squirrels have exhausted the hickory supply, the usual move will be to some type of oak mast. White oak acorns are prized by deer, bears, turkeys and squirrels. If white oak is not available, squirrels will eat most any acorn, usually those from one of the red oaks. You might find squirrels for a short time on soft mast like dogwood berries, ash or maple seeds, or even some apples. Don’t forget the black walnut tree, either. Squirrels love walnuts and will eat them all winter. In most areas, though, it’s acorns that get squirrels through the late season.
I don’t put calling squirrels on the same level of effectiveness as calling turkeys, but it is certainly part of my bushytail playbook. Any bellows-type call will help you take more squirrels. Calling might not actually draw squirrels closer to you, but it will help you pinpoint their location.
Squirrels depend on one another to keep apprised of any danger or suspicious activity in the neighborhood. Using a call to bark or chatter will cause nearby squirrels to sound the alarm and reveal the location of candidates to begin stalking. The distress cry of a young squirrel will usually put squirrels into high gear, and some might actually advance in your direction. Sit tight and let them come.
A different and very effective type of call can be made by simply imitating the sound of a squirrel “cutting” on a hickory nut or acorn. Several items can be used for this, but the simplest is two quarters. Hold one flat in the circle made with your thumb and index finger and curl the other three fingers to your palm to create a sound chamber. Then, simply tap on the first quarter with the other coin to make the chipping, cutting noises of a squirrel having breakfast.
Make the Shot
Accuracy with any rifle calls for the shooter to be able to hold the weapon steady. Most of the time the squirrel sniper will take a rest on a nearby tree when sighting on his quarry, but sometimes a tree is not handy for the shot offered. In those instances, there’s another method you can try.
Mac English is a well-known squirrel shooter in South Carolina who developed a somewhat unorthodox method of making the high-angled shot typical of squirrel hunting. First, lie down on the ground, roll slightly onto your right side (assuming you are right-handed) and keep your right foot flat on the ground. Next, lift your left leg and cross it over your right leg. Your left ankle should rest on top of your right thigh. Then, shoulder the gun and press your left elbow into the bend of your left leg. Your left forearm will rest against your left shin. This sounds harder than it is, and with a little practice it will make you a deadlier squirrel sniper when no other rest is available.