Squirrel hunting is a marvelous way to introduce a beginner into hunting. Most of the hunters in USA start their hunting life either with squirrels or rabbits. Taking their kids to squirrel hunting is pretty common for a adult hunters in USA. It also allows the kids get to know the wild life in a more proper way. This squirrel hunting guide includes all the basics that a new hunter would need to know to start hunting squirrel. I hope you'll find it useful.
Unlike big game hunting, squirrel hunting is action packed. You won’t need to wait to shoot for long. If you are at the right place and in the right time then you’ll find lots of opportunity to use your weapon. It’s also a great way to accustom with your weapon and shooting at a living thing. It makes you more agile, patient and accurate.
Starting with small games like squirrel will prepare you for more serious hunting i.e. deer hunting, hog hunting etc. For this reason, experts often advice new hunters starting their hunting career with squirrels, rabbits or other small games.
Besides, squirrels are delicious! It almost tastes like chicken, which justifies their status as “tree chicken”. Having a nice meal with squirrel meat is another motivation for hunting them.
In USA, sometimes, the abundances of squirrels cause public nuisance. They often raid farm lands and harm farmers by destroying their tomatoes, fruits and other harvests. Obviously, farmers don’t like that.
They also spread diseases. This could cause serious crisis.
In short, controlling their number is important and hunting is an effective means of doing that.
An Overview on Squirrels: Knowing Your Game
Squirrels are small mammals found all over the world. In USA they are everywhere - from the deep woods to your backyard, you can found them sneaking on the trees. Different kinds are available here. But, for hunting two kinds are most popular among the hunters. Let’s have a look at them:
Eastern Gray Squirrel or grey squirrel
It’s the most common tree squirrel exists in Eastern and Midwestern USA, so, is the most popular among the hunters. Usually, an adult squirrels grows up to 9 to 12 inches long excluding tails. And, they have around 9 inches long furry tails. Their weight varies from 400 to 600 grams. Gray squirrels are hard to differentiate from fox squirrels by look. But, if you’re keen enough then you’ll notice that gray squirrels have whitish under body whereas fox squirrels have reddish or brownish tint.
Nests/ Inhabitant of gray squirrels
Eastern gray squirrel, also referred as only gray squirrels, build their own nests with grass, feather, leafs etc known as drey. Sometimes, they takeover abandoned bird nests also. Gray squirrels often use permanent tree den as their home. They even live in home attics or abandoned farm houses.
Whatever they use for their nests, gray squirrels loves to live in evergreen forests with abundant food sources. Simple!
Gray squirrel’s favorite diets
Gray squirrels are herbivorous. They are very fond of different types of berries, nuts and seeds. These sneaky clever animals even rob gardens for fruits, tomatoes, strawberries and other garden crops. Poor farmers!
During winter, they face hard time finding their favorite foods, so they eat almost everything they could manage i.e. tree buds, insects, small animals, eggs etc. They stored their foods in different places for hard time during winter.
Easter gray squirrels stay busy for first few hours after sun rise and few hours just before sundown. They don’t like hot summer noon. Another thing you should know, gray squirrels aren’t nocturnal animals, which means, they like sleeping at night. So, there is no night time hunting for them!
These small animals are really clever. They have very sharp eyes and strong ears. They can easily identify alien noises, which make them pretty tough to hunt.
They are the largest tree squirrels found in USA, having up to 28 inch long body and 1000 grams weight. They have thick furry tail, which can be 13 inch long. Fox squirrels are larger than eastern squirrels. And, unlike eastern squirrels they have brownish-orange underbody. Fox squirrels are common in eastern and some of the southern part of USA.
Nests of fox squirrels
They like to inhabit in open forests with bushes and small tree stands. Like the other tree squirrels, they also build their own nests with leaf and grasses. But, they also live in tree dens. Like the eastern squirrels, sometimes, fox squirrels also make their home in the attics.
Fox squirrel’s favorite diets
They also herbivorous, lives mostly on berries, nuts, acorns and seeds. They often eat bird eggs, insects and small animals. Like eastern squirrels fox squirrels also consume harvested foods like corns, soybeans, fruits etc.
Active time of fox squirrels
Fox squirrels are also diurnal animal. They get busy after the sun rises and take rest after sundown. Fox squirrels are often found foraging on the ground. It’s said that fox squirrels like ground more than trees. However, don’t underestimate them. They are very skillful climber and can jump a long distance from one tree to another which makes them very hard to shoot at.
American red squirrels
American red squirrels are the smallest among the three squirrels; their weight varies from 200 to 250 grams only. As the name indicates, they have reddish grey upper body with a whitish underbody. This species are often confused with other two gray and fox squirrels, though they are much smaller and have different color.
Nests of American red squirrels
They are mostly found in all over North America. They’re abundant in evergreen forest and hard wood forest in those places. Like other squirrels they build their house with leaf and tree materials. They also live in tree cavity and crotch of trees.
American red squirrel’s favorite diets
Their food habit is similar to other tree squirrels, mostly seeds, acorns, walnuts, seeds etc. Like grey squirrels American red squirrels also hoard (gather and hide) food for winter.
Grey squirrels are cunning as shit. They gather foods and hide them in different food catches for hard time. But, they can deceive other squirrels if they sense someone is watching them while hiding foods. Then, they just fake it! And, pretend like they are hiding their foods by mimicking every step, except, actually hiding the damn food!
While they are faking this hiding act, they are in fact keeping the food in their mouth to hide it somewhere else when there’s no one around.
Squirrel Hunting Tips
Best places for hunting squirrels
Squirrels are abundant in USA. Almost every state has a huge number of squirrels in the woods. So, actually there isn’t any “the best place” for squirrel hunting. However, hunting laws are different in different states. Few state gives more flexibility whereas others may have little rigid. Depending on that, some states may have little advantages over others. Check your local hunting laws to find out what rules it has about hunting squirrels.
Best time for hunting squirrels
If you already have acquired your required hunting licenses then, I assume, you’ve already checked your hunting season for squirrels as well. Although squirrels can be found all year round, you should stick to the legal hunting season no matter what.
In most of the states, squirrels hunting have the longest hunting span, which is good news for squirrel hunters. During winter when the trees become bare is the best time for hunting squirrels though. During this time they don’t have many foods sources, which make them more active. And, as they can’t hide under leafy brunches, locating them become a lot easier.
Squirrels aren’t nocturnal like most animals. They act in the day light. So, for hunting, the best time is first 2/3 hours after sunrise and 2/3 hours before dawn. They show most activities in those times.
Best weapons for hunting squirrel
If your state’s hunting laws allow then you can use almost anything to hunt them. Hunters mostly use -Bows, Cross bows, rifles, shotgun, pistols etc. Hunting squirrels with bow is incredibly difficult. If you really love challenge then you can try bows.
However, rifles and shotgun are the most popular weapons for hunting squirrels. Shotgun could be little messy for such a small animal. And, if you’re planning to eat them or want to use the fur, then shotgun isn’t a good option. It damages the meat and fur. If you still want to use shotgun then stay below 20 gauge cartridges for less impact.
My opinion - the best weapon for hunting squirrel is .22 LR caliber rifles. It allows higher range and accuracy, which are important for hunting this swiftly animal. Also, rifles reduce damage to the body and add more challenges.
Read this article to know more about suitable weapons for small game hunting.
Gears for hunting squirrels
A complete squirrel hunting guide: How to hunt squirrels
Two methods are popular for hunting squirrels. One is stalking; another is sitting in an ideal position and waiting for the squirrels.
This one is more active method. So, it’s more challenging. In this hunting method, instead of waiting for the squirrels to show up, you walk through the woods quietly and try to locate a squirrel. Best way is to walk 10/12 steps at a time and then observe carefully for any sign of their presence. Listen carefully for their sound. If you can locate one, then aim for a head shoot.
When you walk, walk as quietly as possible. If there’s no way to reduce your walking sound then try to make that sound natural, mimic the sounds of animal’s rapid footsteps.
There’s another method also used for hunting squirrels – walking and shooting. In this case, you won’t need to hide your walking sound. Just walk cautiously and shoot when you see a squirrel. Squirrels, almost certainly, see you before you can locate them. Then they move for taking cover. It’s easier to locate them when they moves but you’ll have to be a very skillful marksman to hunt this way.
Sit and wait
This is a passive method. You just have to locate an ideal place for sitting and waiting, and, when they show up then shoot them in the head.
Fact is - it’s not that easy. You’ll have to struggle with your patience.
Also, finding an ideal spot is very tricky. For that, you need to scout first for signs of their presence i.e. gnawed foods e.g. hazelnut, acorn etc. If you can find large amount of gnawed foods (part of foods used by squirrel) then this could be a good place for your station.
Remember, the idea behind this hunting method is to remain unnoticed to your target. So, you need to use a camouflage vest and reduce your movement to a minimum level.
To increase your success, you can use a squirrel call to attract them. Commercially you’ll find many options of squirrel call in the market. You can either get one of them or you can use metal coin to mimicking squirrel’s sound. Mimicking the squirrel call with two coins is a popular and easier way. For that, rub a coins edge to another coins edge or tap at the middle part to make squirrel like noises.
Here's a nice video demonstrating how to call squirrels using simple coins -
Hunting with dog
Squirrel hunting can be easier if you use a hunting dog. Your dog can do the hard work for you in that case – locating a squirrel. Hunting dogs normally identify a squirrel with their sharp nose and eye and start barking when the find one. Then your task is simple – just make a perfect shoot. Hunting with dogs is a good for group hunting, as other methods become less effective in group hunting.
Here's a video on squirrel hunting -
Squirrel Hunting Tips
After hunt processing
Experienced hunters may follow different efficient and shortcut procedures for processing their game. But, as a beginner some of those procedures may seem awkward and difficult for you. So, here I’ll keep it standard and easy, later when you become more experienced then you’ll be able to choose your own shortcuts.
Skinning Method 1:
Step 1: Cut off the tail, head, wrists and ankles using your shear first.
Step 2: Wet the rest of the carcass very well. It cleans up the corps and also eased up the body if it gets stiff.
Step 3: Firmly pinch an inch of skin just above the backbone.
Step 4: Use a sharp knife to cut a hole below the place you are pinching.
Step 5: Now the hardest part - put two fingers of both hand into the slit you’ve just created. And, use your strength to pull of the skin to both ends. Sometimes you may get stuck and cannot pull the skin for strong connection between skin and body, use your knife to ease up the process in that case.
Here’s a nice video to demonstrate this method of skinning process-
There’s another popular way of doing the skinning rapidly –
Skinning Method 2:
Step 1: Cut off the head, ankles and wrist with your shear, but keep the tail as it is.
Step 2: Cut the skin just below the tail and using the slit break the tailbone with pliers and disconnect it from the backbone completely.
Step 3: Make the slit wider.
Ste 4: Now, put your hill on the tail and grab both legs of the squirrel firmly.
Step 5: Pull the legs while keeping the pressure on the tail until the upper skin pulled completely.
Step 6: Now, use your pliers to grab the skin on the front belly and pull the skin down like a pant to remove it from the lower body of the squirrel. Done!
Watch this video demonstration to learn this process -
After skinning the squirrel, cleaning becomes lot easier. First, you need to use you knife to open up the stomach and then put two fingers all the way into the ribs to pull all the inside out.
After that, wash the body with clean water and make your likable pieces to cook later. Or, you can grill it in one piece if you want that way.
Safety is the first concern. You wouldn’t get hurt for a sport, right? So, during hunting, always wear hunter orange for safety. Also, if you are taking your kids with you then it’s better to use earmuff during shooting.
If you use dogs for hunting, be aware of them while shooting to avoid injuring them.
There’re some endangered species of squirrels protected by the laws of some states, so be aware of that too.
Finally, Squirrel hunting is always a great hunting sport, a great way to start hunting career. Especially for young hunters, hunting squirrels is an effective means of learning about hunting and outdoor lives, in a challenging, fun and practical way.