I think it would be hard to overstate the importance of squirrel hunting and the effect it has had on hunting in America. It is no secret that many settlers who first went west and crossed the Appalachians survived by hunting squirrels and learned to relish the meat.
Most hunters today started out by learning to hunt squirrels. Hunting bushytails teaches us about all the hunting essentials: Finding the food and cover that game needs, reading sign that the animal leaves, learning to stalk, when to move and when to sit still. You couldn’t find a better, more plentiful animal for young hunters to hone their skills. Even today, if you find a really woods-wise deer or turkey hunter, odds are they started out on squirrels.
SCOUT IT OUT
Scouting for a good squirrel spot starts with the same question you would ask about any other game animal: What does the animal require to live?
Obviously, animals need food, water and cover. Squirrels seem to get by without an apparent water source, but they must have food, and in most places that means oak and hickory forests. Hickory nuts may well be the squirrel’s favorite food, but they may not last long and in many areas squirrels may be cutting these nuts in late August and have cleaned them out by the time your season arrives. Look for the cuttings, that is pieces of the hickory nut shell on the leaves under any hickory tree.
Squirrels love hickory, but what gets the squirrels (and a lot of other game) through the winter is the acorn crop.
Most oak trees fall into two broad categories: White oaks and red oaks. Most white oak acorns are highly prized by squirrels and other game as they contain less tannic acid and are sweeter in taste. In white oak trees, the leaves are deeply lobed and the tips of the leaves are rounded. White oak acorns are about 1 inch long and may appear a little more rounded than some red oaks.
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There are several species of red oaks, and squirrels will eat them all. In the absence of acorns, squirrels can turn to many different food sources including maple, ash, and locust seeds, dogwood berries, beechnuts (they love beech), even mushrooms and other types of fungi. But without a good food supply as fall progresses, squirrels can and will move out of an area.
After locating trees that will supply food, look for large, older trees that may serve as den trees. Many trees will develop hollow spaces and holes where squirrels will find shelter. These trees are important for squirrels to raise their young and survive the winter. Squirrels also build leafy nests and seeing them in your area is another indication that you have squirrels around. So find the food, look for nests and den trees and you will find squirrels.
Finding a place to sit and watch for squirrels can be as simple as returning to the best place you have scouted out for your hunt. If the food trees are there, position yourself in a good spot to observe them. In hilly terrain, this can be slightly above where you think the squirrels will appear, as craning your neck to look up for bushytails all morning can get old. Quietly make your way into the area before daylight and find a comfortable, somewhat level, spot at the base of a large tree to lean against.
At first light, right after the first song birds wake up, you should start to hear some squirrel activity. A squirrel leaping onto a leafy branch makes a good bit of noise. Once it is light enough to safely shoot, pick your shots carefully. Sometimes after dropping a squirrel, if you remain sitting, the other squirrels in the area will resume normal activity much quicker than they will if you move from your seat to retrieve your squirrel after the shot. Remain seated and see how many you can bag without moving.
Once you decide to move, your stalking skills come into play. Stalking can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of squirrel hunting. Moving on the forest floor, especially during the early season, with all the dry leaves, is very challenging. Hunting after a soaking rain can be productive as you can be very stealthy, but most of the time you are dealing with noisy stalking conditions. The trick is to be patient, not get in a hurry, and take one step at a time toward the squirrel you are stalking. Picture each step in several parts as you gently put more and more weight on the foot pressing down into the leaves. Use the terrain and larger trees to disguise your approach to the squirrel. As you keep your eyes on the squirrel, try to move ahead as it moves around a tree and out of sight.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
While early season squirrels may remain active most of the day, there is no time better than early morning and late evening. Squirrels will almost always stir right at daylight to go get some breakfast. If they don’t do anything the rest of the day, they will move at sunrise. Late evening is usually good as well, as squirrels, like many animals, want to get some calories before going in for the night. Be sure to plan your hunting accordingly.
In squirrel hunting circles there is always a question as to what squirrel gun you will carry—a shotgun or a .22 rifle. Squirrel stalking with a highly accurate rimfire seems custom made for a rifleman to hone their skills, although sometimes in early season you may want to use a shotgun, as the foliage cover can make getting a bead on a hyper active squirrel difficult. Although any reliable .22 rifle or shotgun will make do for a squirrel-getter here are two to consider.
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Savage Arms, long known for no-nonsense firearms, has come to the forefront in recent years with high-quality rifles that won’t break the bank. Savage wowed the rimfire world a few years ago with the introduction of the A17, the first high-performance semi-automatic rimfire specifically designed for the .17 HMR cartridge, as well as the A22, in .22 LR. The receiver on the A22 is machined from a single billet of case-hardened steel; this is a major upgrade from die-cast receivers in other rimfire rifles. Like its predecessors, the A17 and A22 Magnum, the A22 model features a thread-in barrel with zero tolerance headspace similar to how Savage constructs its centerfire rifles. The 22-inch carbon steel barrel is button rifled for improved accuracy.
The A22 runs on a straight blowback action and seems to cycle multiple types of ammo. We are told that the Savage engineers did exhaustive testing on this, and the dependable feeding is due to the 10-round, flush-fitting rotatory magazine. Savage has partnered with Butler Creek to provide a 25-round spring-fed magazine when you want more ammo on hand. With a total length of 41 1/2 inches and a weight of 5.63 pounds, the A22 is light and easy to handle for shooters of all shapes and sizes. The rifle comes equipped with adjustable open steel sights, so it’s ready to shoot right out of the box. The A22 is also drilled and tapped for scope mounts, allowing shooters to easily add their favorite optic. MSRP is $281.
The CZ-USA Upland Ultralight is a 12-gauge over-under shotgun weighing 6 pounds—that’s right, 6 pounds. The 20 gauge is 5.8 pounds and a joy to carry. The anodized, black matte finish makes these guns well suited to the squirrel woods. This shotgun is also available in Upland Ultralight Green. The anodized receiver is hunter green and will turn heads when uncased.
CZ-USA builds these guns on a dependable CNC-machined receiver. The mid-rib has been removed and the stock hollowed out to reduce weight. These shotguns have laser cut checkering and five screw in chokes. MSRP is $786 for the Green variant.