Squirrel hunting can be one of those “back to basics” hunts, and also a great way to start a young hunter in the field. It’s also a great way to sharpen experienced hunters’ woodsmanship for the upcoming big game seasons. It’s simply the hunter, her preferred firearm and a pocketful of shells.
The game plan
Early morning is the best time to get out and hunt squirrels. In the Midwest, we have 2 different species: smaller gray squirrels and larger-bodied fox squirrels, also known as “red squirrels.” Typically the grays are the early risers that you’ll see starting to move at first light. Fox squirrels generally start moving a little later. So, your best times will be the first 2 to 3 hours after daylight. Movement tends to slow down when it starts warming up later in the morning. Then again, movement can pick back up in the evening before dusk.
Still-hunting or stalking is your best bet. This is where your woodsmanship comes into play. Still-hunting is a combination of quietly slipping through the woods and sitting, while watching and listening for any clues that your quarry is in this area. You’re watching for any movement in the treetops, even just the tops of the trees moving from a squirrel scurrying along a limb or jumping from limb to limb. Don’t just watch the treetops; scan the ground as you’re walking, for cuttings.
Cuttings are the pieces of shells from the mast or nuts the squirrels are feeding on.
You want to listen for their barks or chatter. Also, listen for the cuttings falling to the ground. You can hear when squirrels jump from one treetop to the next if you’re close enough to them.
As I stated before, squirrel hunting is basic. My typical gear for a squirrel hunt is a good reliable .22 rifle, such as a Ruger 10/22, and a pocketful of Winchester .22 shells. I also prefer a scope on my .22 rifle. It makes it easier to pick out those little grey squirrels that blend in really well to the grey bark on the trees. I recommend the Bushnell Banner 3.5-10×36 or the Bushnell AR 3-12×40, if you’re using an AR platform rifle. Another item I usually take along is my ThermaCELL in a holster to ward off pesky mosquitoes.
Some people prefer using shotguns, especially when all the foliage is still on the trees. Just keep in mind when you clean your squirrel meat to make sure and pick out all the pellets from the shotgun shell.
Moving in for a shot
When you spot a squirrel, slowly move within range, as quietly as possible, so you don’t spook the squirrel. As always, be aware of what’s beyond your target. Since most of your shots will be directed up in a tree, make sure there is tree behind the squirrel when you take a shot. In case you miss the squirrel, the tree will stop the errant bullet.
Headshots are preferred, but shoulder shots will work also. This is another part of honing or sharpening your woodsmanship skills/shooting skills. Remember your targets, squirrels’ heads, aren’t very big, and if you do hit them in the shoulders you won’t have as much meat to prepare for the dinner table.
After you’ve make a good shot on a squirrel, mark the location in your mind and continue sitting or standing where you are. More than likely some of his buddies will show up in a few minutes.
Prepping for the table
I have found that it works quite well to skin all the squirrels first. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s website diagrams and shows the method I prefer. It’s one of the quickest, easiest and leaves very little hair on the meat.
After I get all the squirrels skinned, I then place them on their backs to make a slice from top to bottom to remove the guts. I use a pair of game shears to cut through the rib cage and pelvis. You can do this with a knife; I prefer the shears so I don’t dull my knife as quickly. Pull all the guts out and rinse thoroughly, making sure to remove any clotted areas of meat.
You’re squirrel meat is now ready for the frying pan or the freezer.
While the younger, smaller squirrels are tender enough to fry up and serve with some gravy, the older ones are a little tougher and need additional preparation. I recommend cooking them in a pressure cooker or slow cooker and then finishing using your favorite recipe.
Team WON and the World Championship Squirrel Cook-off
Team WON is sending a 3-person team down to Bentonville, Ark., on Sat., Sept. 13, 2014, to compete in the World Championship Squirrel Cook-off.
Barbara Baird, Marti Davis and Jackie Thompson will be representing Women’s Outdoor News while cooking up our best squirrel dish. In addition to the cook-off, there will be a squirrel-calling competition. It’s sure to be a good time.
You can follow our progress at the Cook-Off at The WON’s social media outlets.