By Josh Boyd
No matter how many years go by, or how we grow in the diversity of our outdoor endeavors, we never get too old for squirrel hunting. Even the most seasoned of hunters can still find enjoyment in setting their sights on a grey or fox squirrel, as they shimmy up the trunk of a mighty oak.
There is something magical about sitting on a fallen tree, scanning the treetops above, awaiting the tell-tale rustle of leaves and the glimmer of fur in the vibrant morning sunlight. It is virtually impossible to take part in such a hunt and not reflect back upon simpler days of our youth, spent chasing bushytails with our fathers or grandfathers.
One characteristic that makes squirrel hunting so appealing is the expansive seasons that can be found in most states. Opportunity is often vast, and many days per year can be spent chasing these pint-sized game animals.
Several states offer spring squirrel seasons, of various lengths, that allow hunters to extend their post-winter hunting endeavors past that of solely turkey hunting. Although consistent with the fall of the year regarding the task at hand, spring squirrel hunting offers its own unique set of challenges, which can make for an interesting morning or afternoon afield.
The following tips will help you make the most of your next spring squirrel hunt, and hopefully assist you in bagging a limit in short order.
Pick Your Battles
A significant factor in achieving spring squirrel hunting success is knowing when best to go. In regards to the best time of day to plan a hunt, the first and last couple hours of light tend to be best. This stems from the fact that consistently rising spring temperatures typically stifle squirrel movement when at their peak during the midday period. The cooler air of the morning and early evening hours become a squirrel’s favorite spring foraging hours.
When choosing which day to head to the woods, it is quite difficult to make an unwise choice. Any day chasing squirrels is better than being contained indoors. However, any morning following a steady overnight rain shower can be highly productive. Squirrels tend to be eager to feed, and their treebound movements are easily detected by the shaking of rainwater from the leaves overhead.
Arm Yourself Accordingly
Although a .22 rifle is likely the most commonly utilized firearm for squirrel hunting, a shotgun can be an excellent choice during the spring of the year. A hunter often finds themself competing with dense foliage during the spring bloom. The use of a shotgun allows you to easily cut through this foliage and blanket the precise location that a squirrel is located with shot, even when partially obscured by leaves.
Nearly any gauge of shotgun will work when squirrel hunting. Although a 12 gauge with light loads is the choice of many, a 20 gauge or .410 shotgun have their rightful place in the spring woods as well. When hunting with a shotgun, avoid extremely close shots if possible, as this prevents unnecessary meat loss.
Search High and Low
Squirrel hunting is generally an endeavor characterized by looking skyward, and this certainly holds true during the spring season. However, a number of squirrels can also be found foraging at ground level, in a feverish attempt to locate unconsumed nuts and other mast from the previous fall.
By constantly scanning the forest floor, you can pick up on squirrel movement that you might otherwise have missed. This also allows you to keep your eyes open for disturbed leaf litter that might indicate food sources that squirrels in that area are finding favor in.
Walk Your Way to a Limit
Squirrel hunting certainly does not have to be a stationary effort. On the contrary, walking to cover ground can be a great method for seeing, and taking, more squirrels. Try following certain topographical features such as creeks or ridges. Most of these same locations are often traveled by squirrels when they are in search of food.
When covering ground in an attempt to take a limit of springtime squirrels, it can also be beneficial to walk a secondary route on your return. By choosing a different trail as you return to your starting point, you can hunt subsets of squirrels that, in most cases, have not yet been disturbed on that given day.
Take a Friend or Family Member
Another wonderful tactic for making the most of your spring squirrel season is to take a hunting partner to the woods with you. Not only does this allow for good old-fashioned face-to-face camaraderie, but it can give you the ability to cover more ground, and bring home a greater number of squirrels for dinner.
When walking while hunting, it is often of benefit for hunters to space themselves 30-40 feet apart from one another. This gives the party a wider swath of effective range and assists in keeping squirrels from slipping to your left or right upon discovering your presence.
A Different Kind of Spring Hunting
Though many hunters visualize strutting gobblers when they think of springtime outings, squirrel hunting action can often be just as hot. By applying some of the aforementioned tips, tricks, and tactics, you can be well on your way to finding spring squirrel hunting success. Both the experience, and fine table fare that this success renders, is sure to not disappoint.