The first step in a successful hunt is to select a good woods to hunt. I look for large mature trees with mast or another food source close at hand. The last few years I’ve used google maps to scout areas that look like good squirrel habitat, which has helped me locate some productive new hunting grounds on public land. I also keep a notebook which list the details on the areas in which I have seen squirrels, as they continue to be productive if not over harvested. You can often find two or three areas that contain most of the squirrels in an area, and then focus on these spots. I like to pick a protected pathway to so that I can quietly move to the site where I have set up my blind, and hunker down. I like to move into position before first light and set up, that way I am able to sit back undetected, as the squirrels start moving about. The blind I use is a wire frame pop up tent with shooting windows all around. These blinds set up and break down in seconds, keep me dry, and lets me move around without being seen. An alternative to setting up a blind is to wear camouflage, and I have several sets to match the different environments in which I hunt. My normal outfit consists of pants, jacket, mesh gloves and face cover, and hat. The advantage of this over the blind is that I can move around and still hunt. Another piece of gear I’ve really come to like over the last couple years is a leafy 3d camo poncho, which can be worn or used to set up a variety of different hides.
I like to use stalking and still hunting techniques when I’m entering the woods anytime after daybreak. Moving in a haphazard way through the woods will result in not seeing any squirrels for hours after; this is the perfect way to ruin a hunt. Take a few slow steps and stop for at least a minute. The squirrels may think you are a deer quietly foraging, and resume whatever they were doing. If you happen to spot a squirrel in the distance, move slowly and only when he has his attention dedicated to something else. Often you can get close enough for a shot, which is the name of the game when hunting with an airgun.
Another technique is a variation on the theme, which is to combine stalking or sitting a blind, and using a call. I sometimes favor using a squirrel call when I am hunting an area I know holds a population of bushytails but I’m not seeing any. I have the best results with a chatter call. Squirrels are both social and vocal animals, and you’ll frequently hear more than one chattering at a time. A chatter call can get others chattering and reveal locations. I have had mixed results with this call, sometimes it works and sometimes nothing. But I use these when I am not having luck otherwise, so I find them worth a try. If you do get a response, put on a stalk. If not, keep still, quiet, and wait! Chances are a curious squirrel is coming in to investigate. I have used the distressed squirrel pup and the barking calls on occasion, but I don’t seem to have the much success with these. But I don’t claim to be an expert squirrel caller, so it might be me! Often when stalking through the woods, you and the squirrels will become aware of each other at about the same time, and these arboreal escape artists are very adept at keeping the tree between the two of you as they scamper to the offside precluding a shot. If hunting with a partner, have your buddy walk around the tree and quite often the squirrel will slide around right into your crosshairs. When hunting alone I’ll sit for a few minutes before throwing a rock or a branch to the other side of the tree, which will often move him back into shooting position.
Depending on the gun I am using, I will either take a head or a chest shot, but prefer the head shot. These kill zones are about the same size, so it’s really a matter of what target the squirrel presents me with. Squirrels are fairly tenacious little animals, so I prefer to use a heavy round nose pellet.
Ok, so we have a squirrel down, now what? These animals are actually make quite good table fare when prepared properly. Regardless of what game you shoot in the field, how it comes out on the dinner table has a lot to do with the way you care for it in the field. I prefer to skin and clean my kills as soon as possible, and have found a few ways to quickly and effectively prepare bushytails. The approach I’ve found to work quite well is to grasp the squirrel by the tail and use your knife and cut into the tail just above where the tail connects to the body above the anis at the underside of tail. Cut through the tailbone being careful not to cut the tail off the squirrel. Cut through to the skin on the other side of the bone leaving the tail attached by a narrow band of skin holding it to the rest of the hide. Hold onto the rear legs and skin the tail down the squirrel’s back a couple inches. Now take the tail and clamp it down to the ground with your boot, and put all your weight on it. Grasp the rear legs tightly and pull upwards until the skin peels off up to the squirrel’s neck. Next, grab the front legs that are still in the skin and pull them out of the skin up to the feet. Then let go of the rear legs as you grasp the edge of the hide left on the rear portion that looks like his pants on the belly side and pull it off like pulling his pants off , down toward his rear feet. Cut the front and rear feet off and your done with the skinning. A great advantage with this technique is that it leaves little or no hair on the meat. I did not realize early on that it is a good idea to remove all of the musk glands during cleaning and gutting to prevent a bitter taste. The glands are small grayish balls found on the neck, under front leg arm pits, on belly and hips areas, directly behind rear leg knee joints under the flesh. You must cut into the flesh behind the rear knee all the way to the bone in order to find the gland here. The other glands are readily apparent after the animal has been skinned.
There are several airguns that I like for squirrel hunting, which include springers and PCPs in various calibers. My favorite springers these days are; the RWS 34 .22 which is light and compact making it very easy to carry and bring into action, even in heavy spring foliage. The RWS 350 Pro Compact is a gun that I really enjoy for its classic lines, and it delivers the pellet on target with excellent accuracy and power. The Walther LGV comes in a variety of configurations, and are high quality guns that are smooth shooting and offer excellent power and accuracy, but the reason I like them specifically for squirrel hunting is that I can shoot them well from just about any position, whether I am sitting, standing, or prone. I also like my old Webley Patriot in .25 because this gun is a powerhouse, and in the heavy spring bush where I want to anchor the animal this gun does the job. I have found that when matched to the right gun, the JSB Exacts and Predator Polymags.177 and .22 work very well, and the JSB Exacts and Benjamin Domes pellets are great in the .25. Some of the PCPs I like to use for Mr. Bushytail are the Daystate Huntsman Classic, the Wolverine type B in .22, the FX Verminator, and the Brocock Concept elite which are all accurate rifles with a multishot magazine and shrouded barrels. Another old favorite is the Prairie Falcon .22 with the eight shot rotary magazine that is a tack driver, and of the entry level guns that offer big performance, I’ve been getting great results with the Hatsan AT44 and Benjamin Marauder which shows you can get in the game on a budget as well. Saying that this list comprises my favorites is a bit arbitrary, as there are many guns I enjoy taking to the woods with, but they exemplify the type of gun I like. Sometimes when out for predators and an opportunistic shot at a squirrel comes up, I will use my mid bores to take small game as well, not the ideal squirrel guns but they do a good job anchoring squirrels!
So that’s my quick look at squirrel hunting, which arguably is the most popular airgun hunting quarry in North America. Of all the hunting I’ve done for different game in different places, some of my best memories are of squirrel hunts. If you haven’t tried it, and I mean seriously hunting them not just shooting them out of the bird feeder in the backyard for pest control, which is a valid application for an airgun but is not the same as hunting them in the woods, give it a try. Even as an experience hunter you may be surprised that such a small animal can provide such a big challenge!