Like many of my generation I cut my teeth in the outdoors hunting squirrels along creeks and pastures. I will always remember my first successful hunt, sitting under a large cedar tree near an old abandoned farm house, motionless, imagining the family that used to call this place home, daydreaming of children playing under the tree, of chickens scratching for food and fields of cotton, corn and vegetables where giant trees now stand.
I remember the scurrying of the squirrel in the leaves and searching desperately for his movement. He appeared on the siding of the old home, 25 yards away. Cocking the hammer on the Western Auto 16-gauge single-barrel shotgun, I slowly raised the gun to my shoulder, placed the bead on his body and began my life as a hunter.
My first 10 years as a hunter, from age 14, I filled my days chasing squirrels. My only guns were the 16-gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle from Sears & Roebuck; I didn’t have many options for a kid growing up with a dad who didn’t share my passion. But it was in those squirrel woods where I garnered a love for the outdoors. I developed a system for stalking, a bent for patience and an eye for game.
Squirrel hunting is still the second most-popular form of small-game hunting as millions of Americans take to the woods annually in pursuit of bushytails. When it comes to hunting squirrels, three tried and true methods stand out; all have their place and can be successful. All of which have their place and their ability to be successful.
First is stand hunting, which is really a misnomer, because you’re really simply slipping into the woods, sitting by a tree in a likely location and allowing squirrels to reveal themselves. It may take a minute or two, or maybe 15, but any squirrels in the area that were spooked by your arrival will soon enough forget the danger and start scurrying about. Small rimfire rifles are well-suited for this type of hunting. The .22 long rifle is a great choice, but so are some of the newer magnums like the .17 HMR and the .22 Winchester Magnum, both of which are deadly out to much-longer ranges.
As squirrels reveal themselves, marksmen can take good head shots and carefully mark the location they fall. If you wait before rising to find them, other squirrels in the area will dismiss the crack of the rifle and continue about their business.
Next is stalking or still-hunting, another misnomer, since you are not still but moving. This method is very effective. Moving slowly through the woods allows you to get into the squirrels’ territory undetected. This type of hunting is great for shotgunners, but maybe the best is for two hunters, one carrying a rimfire and one with a scattergun. The rifleman can pick off the hiding squirrels and his partner can get the runners. Myron Williams of Cheraw, S.C., likes to use a combination of the still hunt and the stand hunt, preferring to sit still for a while at dawn, using his rimfire to pick off some squirrels.
“I shoot a squirrel and sit tight, don’t go get him immediately,” he said. “Often, I can get half my limit by sitting still.
“After the action is dead for 10 to 15 minutes, I get up, pick up the squirrels I’ve killed and move slowly another hundred yards and sit down again.”
Williams is quick to point out that by going slowly and really hunting, he has killed many squirrels during this transition.
The last method in chasing squirrels is the use of dogs. The Feist and Cur varieties are the most-popular breeds, and many different varieties have evolved from these breeds to bring out different characteristics.
Hunting squirrels with a dog is very similar to raccoon hunting, only it is done with the sun up and at closer ranges. The squirrel dog will scent-trail a squirrel to a tree and begin to bark an the tree. Hunters then get to the tree, and search for the squirrel. This can often take a while, because squirrels like to go hide in the tallest or thickest trees around. Once spotted, the squirrel is shot and the dog moves on to other squirrels. This type of hunting is all about the dog, and the camaraderie. It can really put a lot of squirrels in the game bag, and a group hunt can really fill the freezer of squirrels with a good dog. If you have not hunted with a good squirrel dog, it is worth the effort to seek out someone with a squirrel dog and watch the action. It is a lot of fun and exciting to see the dog chasing the squirrel from tree to tree.
Regardless of which type you choose to practice. Get into the woods, introduce youngsters to the great outdoors by chasing some squirrels along the ridges, streams and swamps of the Carolinas.