One of the things that gets my blood pumping as summer turns to fall, is the start of squirrel season. I had never seriously hunted the tree dwelling variety, but on moving to the Midwest about a decade ago found them to be a great small game species for airgun hunting. It was once said that squirrels were the favorite game animal in North America, and squirrel hunting was an anticipated event in much of the country. It still is in many places, though the increased populations of deer and turkey has diminished it somewhat. This means that even if you hunt public land, you’ll often have the woods to yourself before and after deer season.
The great thing about squirrel hunting is that bushytails occur almost everywhere in the country; populations are generally good, seasons long, limits high, and they are a fun to hunt! I go after them in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia, Missouri, and a few other states almost every year. In my current home state of Indiana, the season starts around mid-August and continues into January. But if I get real hard up for a hunt, I’ll drop down to Kentucky for their spring season which last for a couple short weeks.
Traditionally hunters use a .22 rimfire or a shotgun, but I’m telling you that nothing is better than an accurate mid to high power air rifle in .22 or .25 calibers. A .177 is fine as well, but the bigger calibers slam these tenacious rodents and gives a bit more latitude on shot placement. I prefer head shots, but will take a chest shot if that’s all that’s being offered. A gun with a shrouded barrel is a big plus when hunting around farms and small holdings as the occupants aren’t bothered by your early morning ramblings.
And an early morning start will help you fill your limit more consistently. Tree squirrels can be seen moving about any time of the day; however they are definitely most active at daybreak, followed by dusk. My favorite way to hunt them when there are still leaves on the trees is to (very) slowly wander through the woods, stopping often and listening. Lates summer and early fall squirrels will leave their nests and dreys early in the morning and climb up into the canopy, where they’ll start gnawing mast (acorns, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc) and dropping them to the forest floor to be buried later. It’s hard to see them at first because the foliage is so thick at this time of year, but when you see these “cuttings” raining down you’ll eventually be able to track the source.
In the winter time the early mornings are still best, but you’ll find squirrels on the ground much more frequently. I hunt both gray and fox squirrels in my area and their territories overlap, though as a rule the grays are out a bit earlier and spend more time in the trees while the larger fox squirrels stay active later in the morning and spend more time on the ground. But that’s a rule of thumb, you might well find either species in either place, at any time! Being out on an early morning when there is snow on the ground is my favorite time to hunt squirrels, in my experience it’s the most productive as well.
I hunt them with PCP’s and springers, both are effective and both are fun. I’ve been out seven or eight times this season (which is only two weeks old), and have been using my new Daystate Huntsman Classic the most, but have also used the AirForce Talon, a Crosman Nitro Piston springer, and my RWS 350 Magnum rifles. One of the great things about squirrel hunting is that in most places you can find a hunting ground close to home. Like a lot of people I have a pretty busy life with my family and day job (yes I do have one of those), so being able to do a couple hour hunt early in the morning or after work really increases my opportunities to get out into the field with my rifle!
A bit later in the season I’ll do a follow up post featuring specific guns, pellets, and ancillary gear that I use such as binoculars, range finders, shooting sticks, hunting packs and game carriers. We’ll also take a look at useful techniques and I’ll get a couple of friends that are the masters of the game to talk with us. If you’re already out there squirrel hunting, have fun and good luck! If you like to hunt and haven’t tried tree squirrels (fox, grey, and Aberts), get out there and give it a try!