Still-Hunting For Branch Prancers

Sitting and waiting is OK for deer hunting, but if you want more squirrels, get up and stalk 'em!

Sneaking through the forest in fall is a rewarding hunting technique that gives you the feeling you are outwitting and ambushing your prey.

A squirrel feeds by taking an acorn up a tree and sitting on a limb with its back to the trunk.
Photo by Kenny Darwin.

This brand of squirrel hunting requires woodsmanship and a keen sense of hearing and eyesight. A silent approach requires stalking skills -- concentration on slipping silently through underbrush, calculating each footstep, selecting the best silent route through the forest -- while searching for game. It's not an easy task, but it's very exciting and rewarding. It requires agility, strength, coordination and attention to details as you silently glide along the forest floor.

The goal is to move without making noise and go undetected by the keen hearing and eyesight of wary squirrels. Done correctly, still-hunting is a tactic that allows you to move through the woods without disturbing wildlife and your reward is a full game bag at day's end.

Smart stalkers move at a snail's pace, with frequent pauses mixed in. If they break a branch, they stop, look and listen, wait until the woods return to silence, then continue hunting. They avoid fast movement that attracts the attention of wildlife. They keep their arms close to their sides, head movement is done slowly and steps are short to keep body motion to a minimum. The idea is to enter undetected into the center of a squirrel's activity range. Once in the quarry's home area, they stand or sit on the ground, a stump or fallen tree and remain motionless until they spot game. At times, they take a shot at lightning speed, other times, it may take an hour or more before they show.

Try this brand of hunting and you will feel like a predator. Stalking game is exciting and time flies as you plan your next move to get into shooting range. When still-hunting, you are silently stalking through the woods, constantly seeing new terrain, learning your hunting ground, hearing a variety of sounds and getting some exercise to boot. This style of hunting is far from boring; time passes quickly as you slip through the forest like a fox on the prowl. (Continued)

There is something powerfully addictive about still-hunting squirrels. It is thrilling sport that teaches lessons about nature and helps you rekindle your relationship with the great outdoors. After just a few outings, you feel more like a total hunter, a predator and your senses become finely honed. The first step to success is to respect the quarry.

Squirrels have keen eyesight and hearing. By wearing camouflage, you can break up your human outline. Try wearing camo boots, vest, hat, pants or any clothing that helps you blend with the surrounding environment. If your state requires blaze orange, check to see if you can legally wear orange camo. If not, wear camo on body parts that do not need to be blaze orange. Some hunters wear deer-hunting garb or turkey-hunting camo complete with facemask and camo gloves.

Fooling the keen eyesight of a squirrel is a difficult task; they can detect motion 10 times better than humans. Savvy hunters use trees or brush to conceal their approach. A deadly tactic is to block your movement by hiding behind trees until you are in range; then ease around the tree, rest the gun for a steady aim and squeeze off a shot.

Pick the time you want to hunt.

Some still-hunters prefer early morning when dew is still on leaves to hide their approach. Others wait until midday when the sun is high and squirrel activity is at its peak. Ideal conditions follow a rain when the forest floor is wet and you can move silently. Some hunt after rain, in fog, dew and early morning when woods are quiet. Avoid weather like heavy rain or high wind that sends squirrels scurrying for holes. As a rule of thumb, hunt on days when you can hear squirrels run across the forest floor, jumping through leaves or leaping from branch to branch.

Still-hunting squirrels is like stalking deer. Many hunters use squirrel season to scout deer territory and hone hunting skills used in the upcoming deer season. Important elements of the hunt are to move silently, slowly, pause often, listen and look for game. Learn how to feel the ground with your feet before you shift your weight to the next step. If you detect twigs that could snap and give away your position, reposition your foot for a more silent approach. Learn how to keep your weight on your back foot until the next step is solid and silent. If you break branches or brush, stop moving, relax a few minutes until animals in the area have calmed. Scan the woods for animal movement and keep your head up, constantly looking for game.

The key word for fantastic squirrel hunting is acorns. Concentrate your efforts in an area with food, preferably a nut crop, and you will greatly increase your odds of success. There are a variety of nuts that squirrels like, but most forests are highlighted by oak trees found on ridges and hardwood edges. Any acorn will attract squirrels, although when white oaks drop their fruit and the ground becomes littered with thumbnail size acorns, you can expect deer, turkeys, squirrels and a variety of other game to flock to the food source. Piles of broken nuts are a sure sign squirrels are nearby.

Squirrels will also scratch through leaves in search of fallen nuts, leaving small hollow depressions and scattered leaves. Your goal is to locate a feeding area, try to find several mature white oaks, which will attract squirrels from long distances, and concentrate them in specific areas. Find one of these acorn hotspots and you can count on some fast-paced shooting fun. Sometimes you can find the biggest, sweetest acorn tree in the county by following well-used deer trails. Most white acorn trees drop fruit in September and some drop every year, while others have acorns every other year.

Scouting will help you find acorn trees that have abundant fruit. Another option is to still-hunt the edge of a standing corn field.

Once you locate acorns, you need a route that offers a silent approach. Old logging roads, two track trails and heavily used deer runways are natural pathways you can walk without making noise. Rather than stomping through noisy leaves, walk sandy ridges or through grass, avoid jerky movements, pause frequently and spot critters before they see you.

Many times, you will catch a squirrel running up a tree before you can get a shot. Usually, they go in a hole and you will have to wait them out, which takes about 40 minutes. Scan limbs carefully and look for a tail, ear or hair waving in the breeze. Don't expect to see the entire animal, seek bits and pieces,

look for leaves moving, and expect them to hide in limb crotches. Squirrels hiding behind trunks or limbs will eventually move, so be ready for a quick shot.

Some days the best strategy is to stalk until you find acorns and set up. This tactic requires patience, because squirrels do not always show up on cue. Sitting is relaxing and once you have taken a critter or two, continue still-hunting to a new location. Don't make the common mistake of marching into the woods, sitting all day under one tree and marching back out.

Try still-hunting; take advantage of animals you encounter on the way to your favorite stand. Other days, stalking is used to learn new territory and find new colonies of unhunted squirrels. In your area, there is an abundance of squirrels that seldom see a hunter. Grab your favorite gun and go for a peaceful walk, soon.

Another deadly tactic is to still-hunt with a friend. One hunter moves 40 yards ahead of the other; when a critter scampers up a tree, the second hunter waits for it to circle and provide an easy shot. Team hunting is a good strategy on windy days when other tactics fall flat. This requires teamwork between hunters moving at an even pace. Experienced team hunters know which trees hold squirrel and how to dance around them to give their buddy a clear shot. Savvy hunters know how to spot squirrels, which trees they prefer and how to flush them from holes, behind limbs or trunks or around palmed limb crotches.

In many ways, squirrel hunting is overlooked by hunters, a last frontier where you can go afield and cover ground without encountering other hunters. It is an excellent opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and the many gifts of nature. Squirrel populations are booming in your area, seasons are long; bag limits are liberal, providing unlimited hunting opportunities and good eating when fried and served with hot gravy or made into stew. Isn't it about time you gave squirrel hunting a try?

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