By Josh Boyd
As you sit patiently, well hidden amongst the shadows cast by the towering oaks that surround you, the sudden tell-tale sway of a tree limb alerts you to the presence of a meandering bushytail within the tree-top canopy. As you shoulder your trusty .22 rifle, a youthful exuberance takes hold.
Although squirrel hunting was the very activity through which many outdoorsmen were introduced to hunting, it is a timeless classic for which an individual never grows too old to enjoy. Often times, an afternoon spent squirrel hunting is all that is required to bring the twelve-year-old boy out of a man with many years showing upon his weathered face.
With every trip to the woods in pursuit of squirrels, memories flood the minds of hunters, recalling simpler times spent afield with their father or grandfather. These memories reflect a time where an age had not yet been reached of which life’s stresses become apparent. These times yielded a pure undiluted sense of enjoyment for all things new and the beauty of nature.
Although many states offer spring squirrel seasons, by large, the most popular squirrel hunting opportunities come in the fall of the year. Nothing signifies the onset of squirrel season quite as well as a brisk autumn breeze rustling through the multi-colored oak leaf laden tree-tops.
Fall squirrel hunting can be a time of vast diversity from one end of the season to the other. Many state’s seasons begin in what could be characterized as the late summer months, and run through the most frigid temperatures of late winter. This presents a near-endless array of conditions and circumstances in which hunting can be conducted.
In states that offer fall squirrel seasons starting in August and September, conditions are often warm and foliage is still heavy. This can, at times, lead to somewhat more difficult hunting in relation to the later portions of the fall season. Even this being as it may, any hunter with patience and a little bit of luck can scratch out a limit of squirrels.
During the early portions of many state’s fall seasons, squirrels can be found in abundance feeding freely on a multitude of food sources. Squirrels are often found feeding and moving about heavily during the early morning and late evening portions of the day, as to avoid the afternoon heat that is still prominent in many locations during this time of the year.
When hunting the earliest portion of fall squirrel season, a hunter must be reasonably quick in their target acquisition. This is due to the restrictive sight windows that heavy foliage presents a hunter, as squirrels dart among the vegetation from one location to another.
The months of October and November often offer some of the finest squirrel hunting opportunities of the fall season. The presence of a substantial amount of mast crops, such as acorns, send squirrels into a feeding frenzy of sorts.
Squirrels begin to gorge themselves upon the bountiful array of food that their native woodlands offer in abundance during this time of year, as they prepare for the upcoming winter. It is not uncommon for hunters during these months to experience excellent hunting during any portion of the day, as squirrels move about in an effort to consume what is available to them.
At this point in the season, leaves have also begun to fall, offering hunters increased sight distances and improved shooting. The ensuing leaf litter is also conducive to pinpointing the movement of feeding squirrels due to the sound that is produced underfoot.
As the frigid temperatures of winter’s coldest months take hold, excellent squirrel hunting can still be had for those willing to don an additional layer of clothing and head afield. Though the majority of the year’s acorn crop will have already been consumed, squirrels will continue to pilfer through leaf rubble in search for what remains.
The latest portion of fall squirrel season offers the distinct advantage of vastly improved sight distance. Because of the lack of vegetation and the absence of leaves among the tree-tops, many squirrels can be seen well before they are heard.
Because of the limited feed available to squirrels during the latter portion of the season, if a favored food source is observed, a hunter can often relocate within shooting distance, yielding stellar results. When applied, this strategy commonly offers up a limit of squirrel in relatively short order.
When choosing a firearm for fall squirrel hunting, much of the decision making comes down to personal preference, as well as situational considerations. For many, the firearm of choice for squirrel hunting is a .22 rifle. On the other hand, some squirrel hunters prefer the use of small-bore shotguns such as a .410 or 20 gauge.
Some hunters vary their firearm selection based upon the various segments of season. While a .22 rifle might be ideal for later portions of season when vegetation is scarce and the ability for precision aiming is improved, some find that the use of a shotgun works nicely when hunting the heavy foliage that accompanies the earliest months of the season.
Perhaps one of the greatest attributes of fall squirrel hunting is how well it bodes to the introduction of youth to the outdoors. When squirrel hunting, action is usually steady, while downtime is seldom prolonged. This makes squirrel hunting the perfect outing for youth hunters that often lack the patience of the average adult.
The mild weather that is commonplace during a large part of the fall squirrel season also serves well to add an element of comfort to a child’s introduction to the outdoors. In many cases, a child who is uncomfortable is a child who is not enjoying themselves as they could be. The pleasant weather of fall squirrel season helps to reinforce a positive experience within the minds of children as they participate in these outings.
This year as the chill in the air signals yet another fall’s arrival, leave your cares and stresses at the truck, and head afield in pursuit of one of America’s most prized small game species. As you sit among the aging oaks, the days of your hunting youth will trickle back to you in earnest.
As you scan the adjacent tree-tops, ever diligent in your efforts, you can truly gain an appreciation for where your hunting career likely began. This alone makes your time in the fall squirrel woods worthwhile. The quality table fare that a successful hunt garners, is just icing on the cake.