In this post I’ll explain how I go about finding new spots to hunt in unfamiliar territory. The internet has opened up a whole new set of tools for hunters, that accelerate the search for new hunting grounds!!
As many of you know, after several years living in the Indianapolis area we moved up to Minneapolis about two years ago. But I was completely booked on out-of-state hunts last year, so this is really my first year of serious hunting in Minnesota. I have a couple of places that have been offered to me to hunt deer and turkey this season on private land, but I’m on my own finding places to squirrel hunt. In the ten or so seasons I’d passed in Indiana, I had a personal directory full of private and public land locations with great squirrel populations that had been accumulated over several years.
But now I had to start over, and the steps I’ve taken have already started to pay off for me. I thought that my approach might be of interest to readers that are going through the same trials and tribulations. One of the great things about squirrel hunting, is that the habitat they call home is just about everywhere. I live about 20 miles out of the city, and every day as I drive to work I see squirrels in the parks, the wooded lots between housing developments, and in the technology park where my office is situated. It seems like I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a squirrel, but where to hunt them?
My approach focuses on three activities; a) talking to people at work, church, and that I know socially to see if they have contacts with farms or other properties I might be able to hunt, b) cold call farmers to see if they’ll let me do some low impact squirrel hunting, and c) do online research using google search engine and google earth to search out public hunting opportunities.
This year I’ve been lucky, a couple of the farmers I caught on their property during downtime (best not to bother them while they’re working) where they agreed to let me hunt squirrel with an airgun… no deer, no turkey, just squirrel and in both cases I believe it was the fact that I wasn’t using a firearm that sealed the deal. A guy at church has some friends with large properties, but ironically they welcome me to hunt deer, but really don’t me wandering over the places after squirrel until after the season ends. But the one that has paid off big for me has been my online research!
I started off searching for Minnesota Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), state forest, walk-ins, and other public hunting opportunities. Then I do a search to get information (on a WMA for instance) to find out what hunting opportunities are allowed. Once I find the areas I locate them on google map, and plan a route from my house to the site, noting the latitude and longitude to enter into my GPS. Next I start zooming in looking for stands of trees, hilly areas, woods bordering fields, etc to get some idea of where I might go.
I try to get out to a parcel of land I intend to hunt without a gun in non-peak hunting times, usually midday, and scout the area looking for mast producing trees and even better fresh cuttings. I print a highly magnified map before I go, and mark the places where I find food sources, likely den trees, and cuttings. Then on hunt day I get out before daybreak for my morning hunts or a couple hours before sunset for my afternoon hunts, slow stalking to my marked spots and sitting in wait when I reach them.
I went to one spot I’d found that’s about 20 miles from home, and ran over after church to do a quick scouting trip. Then I went home and gathered my girls for sushi and shopping, and then home to relax for a couple hours. At about 3:30 I drove back out, this time with my gun and gear and started working my way to a stand of hardwoods. This early in the fall the leaves are still in the trees, and it can be hard to get a shot even when you find the prey. I heard leaves being thrashed and some cuttings raining down, but never got an open shot so I moved on. Next stop was on a deep ravine with a small creek at the bottom, lots of vines, fallen branches, and shadows when I spotted a bushy tail popping over a log. Again he ran in and out of sight never giving me a shot, until about five yards later he appeared on my side of the bank to my extreme right. I moved excruciatingly slowly bringing my gun up, but just as I started to look through the scope he busted me and was off in a flash. So I moved on to a potential den tree I found on my earlier scouting trip, and set up about 40 yards away. Ten minutes came and went, it was getting late in the day and the sun was starting to drop, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a gray up gnawing on a nut. This time I had a shot and my pellet hit dead on, with the big male gray dropping DOA.
These places I hunt are not high density populations that you’d find around a pecan or walnut orchard, and I usually have to work for each squirrel, which is what I really enjoy. These hunts are more like mini deer hunts rather than the type of rapid fire target rich prairie dog or ground squirrel shoots. On most of the smaller properties I give myself a three squirrel limit per trip and my plan is that when I take ten squirrels that spot will close for year. I’ll mark it in my journal, and wait till next year to visit again.