Squirrels torment me every deer season, moving over the leaves as if they’re imitating a big buck sneaking through the woods. Every winter after I’ve punched my tag, I’ve vowed to come back to get my revenge on the bushy-tailed scoundrels. It helps that they taste very good, too.
Most people who hunt, grew up chasing grey and fox squirrels through the timber. With the deer seasons coming to an end in West Virginia, it is a great time to get out and do some small game hunting.
Squirrels prefer white oak acorns, but they’ll eat the nuts from a variety of other oak species as well. Hickory nuts and black walnuts are staples. In other words, find a tree dropping some sort of nut and you’re probably in squirrel country. When you find nut husks atop stumps and logs, sit and wait.
What do you do when the mast crop doesn’t materialize? Hunt, of course. Squirrels eat a wide variety of other things when acorns are scarce—tree buds, seeds, berries, even mushrooms—which means the squirrels will be scattered. That’s not a bad thing. They will have to move longer distances, and more frequently, making them more visible and vulnerable.
Still-hunting can be a great way to beat the boredom of a long sit, but it can also be a great way to spook every animal in the woods. Most of us hunt too fast. We walk, stop for a few minutes and then walk some more. Many hunters treat it as if they’re on a Sunday stroll.
Instead, take a few slow, methodical steps, lean against a tree and stand still for 10 minutes. Study the trees above you. Scan the ground ahead. Ten minutes isn’t long enough to settle the closest squirrels, but the ones off in the distance will go back to shuffling through the leaves, giving away their location.
An effective still-hunter spends far more time glassing and listening than moving. If that doesn’t produce, pack up, move to an entirely new area and try again.
If squirrels are abundant, your best bet is to sit down, wait,and then wait some more. Be patient. You likely spooked a few squirrels on your way in, but they’ll come back out if you give each spot a good 30 minutes. Forty-five is even better. If you are in a spot with abundant signs, you should start seeing squirrels within 15 or 20 minutes, but that depends on a number of factors, including weather, squirrel density and hunting pressure.
In other words, treat a squirrel hunt as if it was a deer hunt. The longer you sit, the better your chances of success. If you shoot, move a few hundred yards and repeat the process.
Have the Right Tools
Aside from your gun, no other item is more valuable than a pair of binoculars. They allow you to scan the distant forest floor for movement and they give you a close-up view of the treetops. Squirrels are masters at hiding high in the fork of a tree or flattening themselves on a branch. Binoculars will find them where the naked eye can’t.
A seat cushion on a turkey or predator vest can be just as beneficial, as they’ll make a long sit more bearable. If you have room, consider carrying a cushion for your back, too.
Hunt with a Friend
Two people make twice as much noise and motion as a solo hunter, but hunting with a partner can boost your success. You can watch 2 different directions, carry 2 different types of guns and cover more ground.
You can also fool the slyest squirrels this way. They are notorious for circling a tree as you walk around it, staying out of sight with every step you take. Just park 1 hunter on 1 side of the tree while the other walks around it. That can push a squirrel around, right into your partner’s sights.
It might seem like squirrels are shuffling about from sunrise to sunset as they stash nuts for the upcoming winter. Sometimes they are, but more often than not, at midday they loaf on a branch if the weather is mild or snooze in their dens if it isn’t. Hit the woods when squirrels are most active at dawn and dusk for the best chance at a successful hunt.
Choose Your Day
Above all, hunt during the best weather. A cold, blustery day? Forget it.
Sure, you might catch a squirrel outside its den when the wind is howling, but most likely they’ll stay hidden. Squirrels don’t like a biting wind any more than you do. The constant motion of leaves and branches makes spotting predators that much more difficult, too. Squirrels are most active on calm days, whether it’s clear and sunny or overcast and damp.
Make the right movements with the right tools at the right time on the right days, and you’ll be able to fill your freezer with squirrel this season. ο