Squirrel Hunting 101: Tips and Tricks
Squirrel hunting is a particularly entertaining sport. Many people might imagine these little creatures to be an easy quarry, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Besides being a small target, squirrels move very quickly, and will freeze motionless when they sense danger, making them very difficult to spot.
Why I like to hunt squirrels:
- A great challenge!
- Long seasons and generous bag limits in most states (check local regulations)
- Inexpensive, as there is very little necessary gear
- A great chance to practice spotting and stalking game
- Exciting way to introduce new hunters to the outdoors
- For food of course (I don't waste anything I kill, and personally I find them quite tasty when prepared right, but that's debated by some of my buddies, haha)
- The tails are the PERFECT hair for dressing out treble hooks on all your spinners and other fishing lures. (In fact certain fishing lure companies will buy these tails from hunters for just this reason!)
- It's fun!
- Just being outside!
This is just a short list, I'm sure if i gave it some more effort I could keep this list going forever but since you're already on this site chances are you're already interested in the sport and would rather have me provide some useful tips on squirrel hunting, so here goes!
Squirrel Hunting Guns
There's a lot of debate over what's the prefect gun for squirrel hunting. I'd say the majority of hunters either carry a .22 caliber rifle or a shotgun. Lets weigh the pros and cons:
.22 Caliber Rifle
- A greater challenge
- Allows longer shots
- Allows better shot placement
- Much cleaner kills
- Preserves more of the meat
- Ammo is much less expensive
- A greater challenge (it goes both ways I guess)
- Rifles are not always allowed in all areas due to their much longer range
- Easier to hit target
- Allows for quicker shots and moving shots
- More expensive ammo
- May ruin the meat
All right, so I know what some of you are saying, and yes I just lumped all shotguns into one category, but if I was to break this down by actions and gauges this would take forever. With that said, 12 ga and 20 ga are the most popular, and as far as squirrel hunting goes, I'd say the 20 ga would be the better of the two.
There are of course many, many, more viable choices. Two that come to mind are .17 hmr and of course airguns. It's all a matter of personal preference, or just using what you have.
As for myself, I generally make sure there is at least one shotgun and one .22 rifle in my hunting group, although the shotgun is generally saved for the occaisional forest grouse and rarely for squirrels. If you're wondering what models, on any given day its probably a Ruger 10/22 and a Remington 870. Yea, I know, how cliché. But enough of that, howbout the ammunition.
For a lot of other types of hunting this section would get a lot more attention, but for squirrels I find it doesn't matter as much, so I'll try to keep it short.
For rifles, my only suggestion would be a slower-moving round. This might go against what you might think but I find they have better knock-down power, and in my experience they do a better job of bringing them down out of the trees. And speaking from experience, there's nothing less fun then climbing 50 feet up a gnarly pine tree to retreive a squirrel that just happens to roll into the fork of two branches and get stuck. (I told you i don't let anything go to waste, haha). Hollow-point bullets will also transfer more energy leading to better knock-down power, but will also do unnecessary excess damage to the squirrel.
As for shotguns, again, anything will work, but I'd say 6 shot or 7 1/2 shot are the two I use most.
Ok so like I said earlier, squirrel hunting can be done rather inexpensively, and camouflage would be one thing you could do without. It will of course help to break up your shape in the woods and make you less visible to squirrels, but as most hunters know, its often quite expensive, and in this case not entirely necessary. For this reason, I usually opt for some hunter orange. I figure that extra safety factor far outweighs the possible spooked squirrel now and then. Any vest, jacket, or hat will do fine. Again, this is one you will want to check with local regulations, as certain states require hunter orange during different seasons.
As with any trip into the outdoors there is a list of things you should bring: water, food, extra clothing, matches, map, compass, knife etc.
Some other gear I would suggest is a really good pair of boots, as you might end up doing a lot of walking, a squirrel call, and a gps which can be indispensable in the woods. Also, don't forget your hunting license.
Adressing the obvious, there are two ways to locate a squirrel, either you will see it, or you will hear it, unless you have the nose of a bloodhound, in which case you could smell it, but chances are you don't so lets stick to the first two.
Squirrels can be very difficult to spot. They tend to run much before you see them, then freeze motionless until they feel the danger has passed. Training your eye to instead see motion rather than the squirrel itself will increase your hunting effectiveness. A common example is a tree branch moving much more than the rest of the tree. Very often this is much more easily noticed than the squirrel itself. Quick words of caution DO NOT SHOOT AT THE FIRST SIGN OF MOVEMENT, it might be a squirrel, it might also be me climbing up into the tree to retreive another squirrel haha. Follow up and keep your eyes open. Hunt smart.
The other way to spot them is to look for their shape. When squirrels sense danger is very close and has not yet spotted them they will often freeze motionless. The only way to find them now is to look for any unatural looking shapes sitting on limbs, trunks,or on the ground. Squirrels tend to be very well camouflaged themselves so shaped is much easier to spot than color.
So maybe you just don't have the eye to spot a squirrel from across a clearing, not everyone does. Instead, squirrels can be located by their vocalization. Every squirrel sounds a little different, so it is definitely helpful to have someone with experience in the field to help you identify a squirrel call. Usually, the easiest to identify is a high-pitched chatter. The difficult part though, is once you here this noice, its probably because they have spotted you first!
So what do I do? Our usual game plan is walk about 50 meters, depending on how thick the cover is, then sit and watch in all directions. Even if you have spooked a squirrel nearby, if you remain motionless longer enough, it will decide the coast is clear and make a move, offering you a shot. In general, we wait for about 5 or 10 minutes, or until we spot another squirrel. I realize this isn't very long, and some people might find it effective to wait much longer, but I enjoy hiking and finding new spots. I try to stay mobile.
Much could be said about stalking game in the woods, but I find two to be most important when stalking squirrels.
First, watch where you step. It's nearly impossible to be silent, but try to avoid dry sticks, pine cones, things that go crack in general. Also, you wouldn't wanna trip, that will surely give away your position.
Second, if you do spot a squirrel, either unaware of you or motionless on a branch, and feel you need a closer shot, do not walk directly at the squirrel. This goes for nearly all game animals. If you instead angle away from the squirrel slightly and make it seem as though you will pass right by, they will be much less wary of you than if you walk straight at it.
I hope you have found this short rundown of squirrel hunting to be helpful. Just remember to always check with your states hunting regulations before planning a trip. (Sometimes a phone call can be more time effective than the online regulations.)
So find someone to take hunting, be safe, have fun, and enjoy the Great Outdoors!