Hunting squirrels in spring is a great way to end the winter hiatus, and this trip is another out of my journal from a few years back. I was living in Indiana, and hunting many of the midwestern states. The first squirrel season in my region, and a place I always liked going to was visit our neighbors to the south, Kentucky there were a couple public land hunting opportunities along the border, and I generally tried to get down a couple times a year. That’s the great thing about squirrel hunting, there is a lot of opportunity… also plentiful game and good on the table. So following is an account lifted from my hand scrawled mess of a notebook (journal always sounds better, but hand scrawled mess of a notebook is more accurate).
I hadn’t done any hunting since the winter had started winding down, and though I’d been testing some new guns was itching to get out in the field after game. The first hunting opportunity of the new year for me was to drive a couple hours south into Kentucky, where May brought in the states early spring squirrel season. I had thought about bringing my kayak down because the Kentucky regulations allow you hunt from a boat under paddle power, but decided at the last minute to go to another location (Note: my notebook doesn’t say why and I don’t remember). So I loaded up my gear and hit the road.
I get to do a lot of hunting for all kinds of game, but truly love squirrel hunting; lots of places to hunt, strong populations in most states, I like the terrain the occur in and stalking the woods for a native of the dry western states is a great change. I also like the fact that there are different species to pursue (gray, fox, aberts) and interesting hybrids, and they can offer lots of action and lots of shooting. Some shots are the ground and some in the trees, you to get on target fast and make the shot because they don’t sit still for long…. in my view it is just about the perfect small game!
In the early spring I’ll often set up an ambush. Listen for cutting, look a food source or den tree and eventually a squirrel will show up. The trick this time of year is to see them before they see you and keep still… You’ll get a shot!
Finding a place to hunt can be one of the major challenges for a lot of hunters, but there are a lot of state and national forest, and even in places where deer populations density requires a lot of land you can find high populations of the fast reproducing rodents. In a 20 acre stand of woods chances of finding deer or turkey while not impossible is not great, but in that same tract of woods you may well find a days limit of bushytails. The place I was hunting had been found doing a bit of internet detective work, and focusing in on google maps.On my way out to the hunting grounds I found a couple potential “squirrely looking” spots, and on my way home stopped to do some scouting for a return at a later time. Spotted a couple of squirrels on the ground as I drove up, and located what I am sure is a den tree….. I’ll come back here later in the year (I did, and it panned out, another story for another post).
Gear I carried on this hunt included my .25 Rainstorm, JSP Exact pellets, shooting sticks, my daypack loaded up with range finder, binoculars,shooting sticks, water bottle, granola bar, and emergency kit. I had my little GPS tracker that I set when I leave my car, because when I am in an unfamiliar area I sometimes get caught up in the hunt rather than paying attention to where I am going, and lore than once come out on the wrong road on the wrong side of the woods….. Not lost put “powerful confused” as Daniel Boone used to say. Nice to hit a key and be returned to my point of origin.
The season starts early in a lot of states, which means the foliage is fairly light. Camo is a must, and you have to stay till
It was early morning when I got to my destination I parked, set my GPS, looked at the satellite map I’d printed out, shouldered my pack and rifle, and headed off in the direction of a big tree I’d picked for my first set. Yes, the maps will let you zoom in enough to see where the big trees are, then I fine tuned it on the ground. Locating what looked like a den tree I set with my back to the tree and waited in ambush. This early in season there are few leaves out on the trees which is both good and bad. The good prt is that you can see the squirrels coming from a ways off, the bad is that they can see you if you’re moving or fidgeting. After 30 minutes I was ready to move, when I say a squirrel up in the branches heading directly at me. I was wearing a long sleeve camo shirt, camo pants, gloves, face mask, and hat. You don’t need to go full camo, but I think it makes a difference, and thing you should at least glove up and wear a face mask.
This area looked like it would hold both fox and gray squirrels, and they can overlap in territory, however its been my experience that grays start moving earlier than fox squirrels and while either can be found at any elevation, the grays tend to spend more time in the trees and the fox squirrels spend more time on the ground. This first squirrel was a gray, and was staying pretty high up. But he slowed down when he got to a beech tree I’d ranged at 40 yards, and started nibbling on a bud out on a thin branch. The squirrel was facing me and offered a frontal quartering target, I lined up on his upper left shoulder and my pellet hit him on point and went all the way through diagonally coming out just in front of his left hip, and that squirrel dropped like the proverbial brick.
My 2 hour / 2 squirrel limit keeps in hunting spots year round!
The second one I picked up coming out of a suspected den tree an hour latter. I saw a nose poking out of a hole, but the owner wouldn’t commit to coming out. I slowly sunk down and sat back against a tree waiting….. can’t believe I feel asleep for a couple minutes and when I opened my eyes he was sitting on a branch partially covered by by leaves, though I could see his body quite clearly. Another body shot, this one in the back, and heavy .25 pellet propelled him of his perch like he’d been fired out of a slingshot. Number two was down.
A little later I was playing cat and mouse with a squirrel I saw run around the side of a tree but lost him in the foliage. I got frustrated and decided to try a call, first using some barks and chatter, and getting no action started on a pup squeaking in distress. This went on for about ten minutes while I looked above for some movement, but there was nothing. However when I looked in front of me, there was a big black and white stripped house cat sitting on it’s haunches watching me…… I’d called in a barn cat from the farm bordering woods.
I hunted another hour and missed one squirrel and bagged a third, an up close opportunity shot when the squirrel came running down a tree trunk right in front of me and maybe 10 yards away. Sounds easy, but the really close shots are the ones I miss most frequently. This is in part due to the fact I shoot a lot of different guns and it can be hard to remember what the POI is in a range that is seldom shot. But this particular rifle I’d used a lot and got my hold just right.
I got back to my vehicle and dressed my three squirrels and threw them into the ice chest. I’d been out for a couple hours and had intended to follow my 2 squirrel/2 hour limited hunts; I give myself a two hour window to hunt, but if end when I get two squirrels if that is sooner. Then if I’ve scheduled a morning outing, I’ll spend the rest of my free time hiking and scouting new territory, or as I’d planned for this trip to meet a friend at Bass Pro for lunch. But when the third squirrel stepped in front of me, the plan did not survive ground truth…. I’ve talked about this before, by setting this limit I make sure I always have places to hunt. During the season I build up a directory contained in my field journals, which list out opportunities so I always have a place to go that I been to before. I mix these up with brand new spots and it keeps me hunting several days in the week…. You may say my little wildlife management scheme is over the top, but it works for me.
Anyway, this was the trip as I entered it, which prompted my memory and also led me to make a few observations. If you don’t carry a journal in the field it might be something to consider. I always find it interesting to thumb back through, and I’d never remember the details of what gun, pellet, what I shot or the conditions….. and if I did I wouldn’t be sure I could trust them…. every shot would have been perfect, every stalk successful…. my little notebook keeps me honest!
Getting a fair bit of shooting in, and did something out of the norm for me; Sig Sauer sent me there new P226 replica pistol and I’ve been down in the basement running pistol drills, what a blast! Metal construction and blow back slide, magazine fed .177 doing in the low 500’s it’s not a hunting gun by an means but I’ve been shooting cans, silhouettes, reactive targets…… had so much fun pulled out several other CO2 replicas I’d had stashed away and not shot for years.
Tomorrow morning I’m going out early on a squirrel hunt if the rain lets up, otherwise it’s another day shooting inside and catching up on my writing…. maybe edit a couple video clips as well. Been seeing lots of grays out moving about, have not seen a fox squirrel all year, wonder whats up with that? Populations are cyclic, but last winter was pretty mild so expected to see a lot more. On the other hand the coyotes are starting to move in the area, that might have something to do with it. Going to do a couple of sets calling yotes before I leave for Texas on Monday.
Catch up with you next week!