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Airgun Hunting’s Ubiquitous Game: Tree Squirrels

Posted by on December 31, 2014

The gray, red, Aberts, and fox squirrels are all very cautious and elusive animals.  To consistently take squirrels requires an ability to stalk, a great deal of patience, and knowledge of the squirrels behavior.  I do a fair bit of deer hunting and find squirrel hunting excellent practice for bigger game. I also use my airgun hunting time in the woods pre deer season to find good places to set up my blind on opening day of deer season. If you can sneak up on a squirrel, you’re on your way to sneaking up on deer.

These creatures are spectacularly well suited for life in the trees, and move with a fluidity and speed that is truly amazing.  Gray, Aberts and red squirrels spend more time in the trees and less time on the ground, and fox squirrels spend more time on the ground scavenging than the others. Squirrels have the ability to literally disappear from sight in a seconds notice, and once that happens you probably won’t see him again for some time, if at all.  They are very adept at putting a tree between themselves and a hunter and making it difficult to line up a shot, though you can use this trait to advantage when stalking in to set up a shot.

Whether hunting fox, gray or Aberts squirrel, to be consistently successful you need to know your game and its habits.

Whether hunting fox, gray or Aberts squirrel, to be consistently successful you need to know your game and its habits.

This means knowing where to look for them, such as mast producing hardwoods.

This means knowing where to look for them, such as mast producing hardwoods.

And finding and understanding sign that they are in the area, where they are feeding and where the are denning.

And finding and understanding sign that they are in the area, where they are feeding and where the are denning.

Both gray and fox squirrel’s habitat is woodland with oak and hickory trees, yards, stands of trees around cultivated areas, actually just about anywhere there are trees and food.  As a general rule of thumb, grays like the denser wood area and foxes prefer some open ground area with the trees more spaced out. Squirrels nest in holes in trees or build leaf nests in tree branches. In inhabited areas, squirrels have the bad habit of building their homes inside human homes – and at that point they are no longer a game animal but a pest. One species or another can be found in most of the United States. Grey squirrels are active year-round and arboreal; they do not hibernate even in the very cold regions of their range, and they must have trees to survive. They are most frequently encountered around sun-rise and are the most active after sun-up. In the places I hunt, squirrels are classified as game animals and the fish and game regulations define the hours they may be hunted. Make sure you know the laws where you hunt. .Squirrels populations peak every five years or so. Squirrel tracks look a lot like a rabbit’s except the tracks of a squirrel are more bunched, and tend to end at the base of a tree.

These arboreal rodents eat a variety of foods; corn, sunflower seeds, hickory nuts bird food left in feeders, nuts insects, fungi, seeds, berries, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and in tough times, tree bark. Squirrels can be voracious carnivores and devour quantities of bird eggs and the chicks of many birds. I have to keep vigilance on my property as the large squirrel population will play havoc with the nesting songbirds and at the feeder During August-October, they are feeding heavily on hickory nuts, acorns, beech, dogwood or black gum. I have also seen them eat corn, sweetgum, poplar, cypress, pine, ironwood and wheat. They bury acorns and other nuts – but before they cache the nuts, they bite out the base that prevents the nut/seed from germinating. Squirrels must have a source of water and are seldom found far from it, I often hunt along the edges of streams and creeks. In some states, and Kentucky and Indiana come to mind, it is legal to hunt from boats if certain guidelines on the type of water craft used are adhered to. I use my Ocean 12’ SOT kayak as both a platform from which to hunt as well as a means of getting into secluded squirrel woods, and tie this into my other hobby of ultralight camping as well.

My kayak is a great platform for hunting squirrel (where legal) and a great way to getting into secluded hunting areas.

My kayak is a great platform for hunting squirrel (where legal) and a great way to getting into secluded hunting areas.

As mentioned, squirrels can be found in almost any wooded area within their range and have adjusted well to man. Often squirrels thrive within the city, making their homes wherever a suitable den can be found. We sometimes shoot squirrels within the city limits when they are pest, and for legal reasons this is one of the times I hunt with an airgun because I must rather than because I choose to. In the rural and wilderness areas one can usually find squirrels by finding a food source.

Squirrel_3

Gear also changes based on conditions, but I always carry range finder, binos, call, and a knife.

Gear also changes based on conditions, but I always carry range finder, binos, call, and a knife.

Once you have located the food source and know where the squirrel feeds eat, one must find where squirrels live. The favorite home of a squirrel is a hollowed out tree with a small opening of a couple of inches. The tree must be large enough to support a male and female squirrel and about 6 young, so the tree must be quite large in diameter. Squirrels also make temporary housing by bunch leaves and twigs in the upper parts of trees, and these often are seen as the leave start to fall, looking like large bird nest. Do not be tempted to shoot into these nests to scare out squirrels as this is illegal in most if not all states. Squirrels will often make a temporary nest in the same trees they have their permanent dens in, perhaps to get better airflow in the hot and humid summer nights, or perhaps where the male is chased off to when there are very young in the nest. These shelters are made near a food source so that food doesn’t have to be carried over a long distance.

 

Whether you are out for fox, gray, or Aberts squirrel, you have to hunt well and you have to hunt smart to be successful on a regular basis. The first step is knowing your quarry. Next installement I'll talk about some guns (the one in this photo is a home made PCP I built several years ago)

Whether you are out for fox, gray, or Aberts squirrel, you have to hunt well and you have to hunt smart to be successful on a regular basis. The first step is knowing your quarry. Next installement I’ll talk about some guns (the one in this photo is a home made PCP I built several years ago)

 

I’ll follow up with the second part of this discussion next post!

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