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Though small, squirrels are still a very exciting game animal to hunt. Their quick and agile movements through the forest offer a challenge for both beginners and seasoned hunters. Squirrel hunting is also a great way to brush up on your skills in the off-season.
Hunting Squirrels Can Be Challenging
Squirrels are abundant in almost every state across the US, and there are plenty of opportunities for hunting them. The regulations vary from state to state, but in general, there isn't a lot of hunting pressure on squirrels. Because of this, bag limits also tend to be liberal. In many states, you can hunt up to 10 or 12 squirrels a day.
Main Squirrel Hunting Season
Hunting season for squirrels typically ranges from mid-summer to mid-fall. During those months, squirrels are out in the woods looking for food and storing it for the winter. As a result, it’s easier to find them at this time than in winter, although they can hide a lot more easily behind leaves and branches.
However, it’s still possible to hunt them in winter, although they keep a lot closer to their nests. In much of the country, squirrel hunting season is still open during February.
Tips on Hunting Squirrels in Early Season
Choose a Hunting Method
The first method of hunting squirrels is actively moving through a forest and looking for squirrels. When looking for squirrels, you need to use stealth. Squirrels freeze when they sense danger which can make it extremely difficult to locate them in dense foliage. Therefore, Still-hunting is the preferred active technique for hunting squirrels. Move slowly and cautiously through the woods, taking a 5-10 minute break every 30 yards to listen for the squirrels’ characteristic chitter or detect movement.
The second method of hunting squirrels is sit-and-wait, similar to how you would hunt deer or turkey. Deer hunters know that very often, squirrels will pass by their hiding spot or treestand. If you sit quietly for 20 or 30 minutes in an area with squirrels, you will likely end up spotting one. First, however, you need to conceal yourself with camouflage gear and a hunting blind.
Know Where to Look
It’s important to know where you are most likely to find squirrels. The best places to hunt squirrels are woods filled with walnut, hickory, oak, and beech trees. Red and white oaks are major sources of food for squirrels. Look for an old-growth forest close to a running water source, like a river or creek.
In late summer, squirrels graze on pine seeds. They like to spend time in an area with lots of pine trees and may take hours digging the seeds out of pine cones. Unfortunately, squirrels don’t make noise when they are eating, so the hunter has to rely on his sight only to spot the animals.
Use the Appropriate Rifle
When it comes to guns, there are several options for hunting squirrels. Some popular options are a small gauge shotgun or a .22 caliber rifle. A great option is a semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle. If you use a squirrel call and find yourself surrounded by a few squirrels, an automatic weapon is useful because you don’t have to reload.
However, if you are hunting squirrels close to urban areas or are concerned about gunfire spooking the remaining squirrel population, an air rifle operates almost silently while still offering deadly accuracy.
Use a Squirrel Call
Using a squirrel call can be useful, especially if you passively hunt squirrels by sitting at a specific location. In addition, you can use the squirrel call to make squirrels show themselves. The device produces a sound that imitates the squeak of a young squirrel being caught by a hawk.
To use it properly, you need a leafy branch as well. When you produce the call, hit the branch against the ground a couple of times simultaneously. If there are squirrels nearby, they usually start barking in the direction of the commotion.
Choose Your Day
Squirrels prefer days with good weather to go out, so you should choose sunny days for hunting them. They especially dislike strong winds, because it gets in the way of moving freely through the branches.
Tips for Hunting Squirrels in Late Season
Hunting squirrels in the late-season requires different techniques and squirrel hunting tips. First of all, there aren’t many squirrels around, and second, they can easily spot you walking around through the bare trees.
Know What Time to Hunt
When hunting squirrels in winter, you don’t need to get up very early. You should be in the forest around 9 am. The few still active squirrels prefer to look for food in the morning when the sun is out. During this time of year, squirrels are the most active at midday. Later in the day, it gets too cold to go out and look for food.
Be Prepared to Shoot Longer Distances
Bare-branched trees in winter mean that squirrels can see you coming from afar. So, one of the best squirrel hunting tips for the late season is to invest in a set of high-quality binoculars. A pair of binoculars allows you to spot them from further away and take longer shots.
Watch the Black Walnut Trees
Food becomes more scarce for late-season squirrels; however, one food source that can survive well into the winter season is black walnut. Black walnut trees typically don’t fully drop their mast until the middle of January, which means you are likely to find squirrels scrounging for fallen nuts at the base of black walnut trees or feeding in the treetops. Look for tracks on the forest floor or scratches on walnut tree trunks.
Scout for Squirrel Nests
During winter, squirrels stay for longer periods in their nests. When they go out, they often don’t wander very far. A common technique in winter is to scout for nests and wait patiently until a squirrel comes out. The nests are up in trees or many times in the holes of dying trees. If you know where some den trees are located, leave early in the morning and wait until the squirrels start coming out.
Don’t Forget Field Edges
An observation many experienced hunters make is that squirrels often look for food in cornfields late in winter. They like to profit from what is left behind after the fall harvest. Therefore, a good place to hunt is along field edges. You can walk around and wait for a squirrel to come out of the woods.
Make the Most of Late Season Squirrel Hunting
Hunting squirrels is an exciting challenge for both beginner and experienced hunters. In many states, you can hunt 10 or 12 a day, making them a great target for brushing up on your hunting skills. The meat also tastes great, and you can find plenty of good recipes online.