If you’ve ever been interested in hunting, then they say that it’s always a good idea to start small. Animals can be extremely hard to hunt, and starting off small will help you develop your aim and not worry about getting it wrong the first time. That’s why we’re going to provide you with squirrel hunting tips to get you started. Knowing how to hunt squirrels will provide you with enough target practice, since these small critters are always in abundance.
It’s important to remember that if this is your first time hunting squirrels or using a gun, it’s best to have company, as accidents can happen and you don’t want to be alone when they do. Always put your safe gun practices to use to ensure that you don’t increase your risk of being injured while you’re out hunting squirrels.
Practice is important
Before you go squirrel hunting, it’s best to practice on still targets. Work your way from bigger to smaller targets, as you don’t want to waste ammo if you miss. Practice will help you gauge how the gun feels in your hands and how to adjust your aim to deal with any kickback there might be. Training your muscles to become familiar with the feel and movement of the gun when you fire will help you aim better when it comes to your real target.
What to look for
It can be difficult to see squirrels when they’re up in trees, so the best thing to look out for is the sound of falling debris, as this means the squirrel is eating. You may also see branches moving, indicating that a squirrel is hopping from tree to tree, and you want to be quiet as you follow it.
You need to practice good woodsmanship to stalk a squirrel, as they have incredibly good hearing and will notice you if you’re not quiet enough or well hidden.
Stalking or waiting
When it comes to hunting squirrels, it pays to be patient. As soon as they notice you, they’re gone, and it can take an extremely long time for them to return. So the question is, do you sit and wait or do you try to stalk them? Stalking can help you to keep your sight on the squirrel, but it means having to move quietly and it’s very easy to lose them if the trees are full of leaves. On the other hand, if you sit and wait, you’ll increase your chances of improving your aim, but you could be waiting there for a really long time.
To be honest, you have a better bet of hitting a squirrel if you play the waiting game. Find a place where you’re confident you’ll see squirrels and make yourself comfortable. You can do this by scouting beforehand; you’ll find remnants of food that squirrels have been eating, and that’s likely to be a good spot for them to return to, especially nuts. Be wary that if you are hunting early in the season, you may have a hard time finding these, as they haven’t fallen on their own yet.
At this point, the squirrels are going to be high up in the trees trying to get the nuts down themselves, and that can be way too high for you to aim properly. It’s best to wait for the squirrels to forage for the nuts that have already fallen on the ground, as you have a better chance of hitting them.
Corn fields also provide an abundance of food that squirrels love to munch on. Hunting near these areas will provide you with a lot of targets to choose from, and will provide you with a much clearer shot than the trees they can hide in. Despite this, you’re more likely to find squirrels gathering when food is most scarce, so the best months are towards the end of fall.
One way you can attract squirrels to your area is to find discarded pieces of their food and sit nearby. Use your hand to move the litter and leaves at random intervals. This will fool the squirrels into thinking that you’re just another squirrel foraging for food, and will retreat from the trees to do the same.
Try using a call
If you’re a little impatient, you can sometimes coax squirrels out of hiding using a squirrel call. It’s a little bit more difficult than calling turkeys, as they have a more complex language system that is not common knowledge. Not to mention that squirrels are simply a lot smarter than turkeys. You shouldn’t perform calls in feeding areas, as they will see you quickly and stay in hiding, and shooting in these areas will scare even more squirrels away. Use the call in a travel corridor that they use to get from one source of food to the other.
There are a variety of calls on the market that you could invest in, but the best one to get is one that simulates the distress squeal of a young squirrel. Squeak it several times on a call while thrashing the ground with a leafy bush or sapling. It’s supposed to simulate the sound of a squirrel being taken down by an owl or a hawk, and the squirrels in the surrounding area will bark in response, revealing their locations. Be wary that on some days, you’ll get no responses at all, so it pays to be patient. See our post on the best predator call to give you more ideas.
Hunting on the move
If you’re not the patient kind to sit around when it comes to learning how to hunt squirrels, then you can try hunting them while you’re on the move. It takes a lot of practice to get these methods down, as it involves staying as quiet as possible and out of sight, and that can be difficult when squirrels have the higher vantage point. Expert hunters have two basic methods for hunting squirrels while they’re on the go: still-hunting and using a steady walk.
Still-hunting uses all of the essential hunting skills that are used in the pursuit of all kinds of game. You need to be extremely stealthy, alert, and be prepared to make difficult shots if necessary. Using natural cover and moving slowly can keep the hunter from being detected, thereby making it easier and faster to take down a squirrel when one has revealed itself. He may still have to spend a lot of time watching overhead to track a squirrel’s movement, but this method will bring him a kill sooner than you think.
Going at a steady walk helps you to take aim and shoot at squirrels that are moving. The pace should be steady and brisk, but not too fast that makes you miss the details in the overhead canopy. Look for the silhouettes of squirrels that are in the branches to make finding your targets easier. The best time to do this is when the ground is damp, so that the sounds of your footsteps are muffled, but there are steps you can take if it’s dry.
If you must hunt on dry ground that’s more noisy, take shorter, quicker steps in order to sound less like a human. Pause every ten to twenty yards; squirrels will know of your presence, but may not know exactly what you are until it’s too late. In these instances, you want to be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice so that you don’t lose your target.
So what do you do when you actually spot a squirrel in a tree or in a clearing that is unaware of your presence? The worst thing you can do is walk directly towards the squirrel. They’ll instantly see you coming and take off in the other direction. Instead, if you need to get a closer shot, angle your path slightly away from the squirrel to make it look like you’re passing it by so that it’s less wary of you and will refrain from running away.
Using water to your advantage
If there is a body of water nearby, you might want to engage in some float hunting. It can be very effective if you have a kayak or canoe and are capable of shooting from these positions. They don’t make as much noise as walking, providing you with an excellent advantage. Some stream bottoms are even dens to squirrels, providing you with even more opportunities to find more targets.
Squirrels seem to have more curiosity than fear over hunters who approach their territory by boat, and will often run out onto tree limbs to scare these kinds of hunters away. This makes them easier targets to shoot, but take care. Shooting can often result in the squirrel falling into the water, and they’ll sink right to the bottom.
Other advantages to have
The best times to go hunting is during the early morning hours when they’ve just gotten up, and in the evening when they’re about to retire from the day’s activities. These hours are when they’re most active in looking for food, and so you’ll have an easier time of finding targets to hit.
If you plan on bringing a hunting dog, the best breed for the job is the Franklin mountain cur squirrel dog, as they’re trained specifically for this job. They hunt by both sight and smell, are excellent at treeing squirrels, and can alert their owners with a series of short barks that indicate when they’ve found their prey.
As the dog barks, a squirrel tends to flare itself on the opposite side of the tree trunk, and as the dog circles, the squirrel will continue to move. This provides you with a great opportunity to take a shot and hit your target. These dogs have also been known to catch the wounded squirrels before they hit the ground, preventing them from escaping.
Knowing the different squirrels
There are different breeds of squirrels that reside in North America.
And knowing the differences will help you to figure out what kind of areas to look for when you’re hunting them, as they prefer different kinds of trees and food sources.
- Fox squirrels: these live in Pennsylvania and the Great Plains states, and are the largest of the tree squirrels. They have mostly grey fur with orange underbellies and tails. They prefer living in small woods with large open areas.
- Grey squirrels: this is the most common member of the family and can be found just about everywhere. The eastern grey squirrel can be found from New England to the Great Plains, while the western grey squirrel lives on the Pacific Coast. These are medium-sized squirrels that live in both forests and urban habitats, as they are opportunistic by nature.
- Abert’s squirrels: these squirrels are easy to identify, as they have long grey-black tufts on their ears. They mostly live in ponderosa pine forests in the western and southwestern areas of the United States. These squirrels are quite unique, as they don’t store food. Instead, they eat different parts of pine trees, including the bark, needles and cones.
- Pine squirrels: found in the western parts of North America, they are the smallest of the tree squirrels. The name actually encompasses a variety of squirrels, including red, pine and Mearns squirrels. Their diet consists mostly of pine cones and seeds that they keep under the den tree. They’re the most vocal of all the squirrels, so if you ever startle one, all of their neighbors are going to know and your cover is blown.
Kinds of artillery
When it comes to the kind of gun you plan on using when you’re squirrel hunting, it pays to know which ones will be to your advantage. Most people use either rifles or shotguns to kill their targets, and there are pros and cons to both. It all depends on how well you can shoot.
The majority of hunters use rifles, as they provide a greater challenge in getting a hit. They also make it easier to make longer shots that are more accurate and allows for better placement of shots in order to take the squirrel out quickly. Do check on our review of the best hunting gear to make the activity more enjoyable for you.
The kills are also much cleaner and preserve more of the meat if you intend to use the squirrel for a meal. The ammo for rifles is a lot cheaper and can be found more easily at sporting goods stores. But this doesn’t mean that rifles aren’t without their disadvantages. They’re not the best weapons if you’re hunting for the first time and you don’t have very good aim. Another problem you could face is that many areas don’t allow the use of rifles because of their ability for long range.
Shotguns are the other alternative for hunting squirrels, and have advantages and disadvantages of their own. They make it easier for you to hit your targets, and also allow for quicker shots at moving targets. However, the ammunition is more expensive, and the spread of the shot can damage the meat, making it almost impossible for you to salvage.
Which gun type you choose really depends on your purpose on hunting squirrels; if you just want to get rid of them so they can stop plaguing your property, then a shotgun may be a better bet.
Wearing the right gear
Hunting squirrels is extremely inexpensive, as you don’t have to do a lot of preparation beforehand in the way of camouflaging yourself. You’re capable of hunting squirrels even by wearing hunter orange as a safety factor, but having some kind of camouflage will definitely help. There’s no need to hide your smell or go through an elaborate ritual to ensure that the squirrels don’t find you. While you’re hunting, there is some other gear that you should keep on your person, just in case.
These include extra clothing, some food and water, matches, a map, knife, and a compass. Nothing would be more embarrassing than being lost in the woods without any way to keep yourself safe. It also pays to keep your hunting license with you if you’re ever stopped by the authorities. Being without it can result in some heavy fines. See our article on how to get a hunting license for more information on the topic.
Another important piece of gear to invest in is a good pair of hiking boots. You’re going to be walking for an extremely long time over sometimes difficult and wet terrain, so having waterproof boots can help to keep you dry and your feet comfortable. Are your boots equipped to the task? Check out our article on the what to look for in the best hunting boots to make hunting enjoyable. Hiking socks will help to wick away moisture, keeping your feet dry so that the material doesn’t stick to your skin and cause chafing.
Putting these tips to good use will definitely help you to learn and adapt your practices to improve your squirrel hunting skills and take down more targets.
When it comes to hunting of any kind, however, it’s important to check with the laws in your area so that you won’t find yourself in legal trouble further down the road. Adhering to these rules will keep you out of prison or save you from having to pay really high fines, and not all states allow the hunting of squirrels.