By Mark Fike
I grew up learning to hunt squirrels and our family ate a lot of squirrel in the fall and winter months. My father started me on a .22 rifle on the fertile hills of our property that held many beech, oak and hickory trees.
I learned quickly that squirrels, like all animals, like to eat. Their desire for the ripe nuts in the heavens makes them very focused on their feeding binge when the mast crop comes due.
In the South, squirrels can be hunted as early as September and some states have their seasons extend until the end of February. Many states have started up early summer seasons too. However, the best and easiest time to hunt squirrels has to be when the nuts are raining down with every breeze that sways the treetops.
Depending on where you are in the United States, this can be anytime in late September through November. To have an unbelievable squirrel hunt, keep an eye on your mast or nut trees and when you start seeing lots of nuts littering the grounds, you know the time is prime.
One thing to look for in addition to nuts is nut hulls or shells. Squirrel activity is given away by the remains of their meal.
When the nuts are prime and falling, the squirrels lose focus on their surroundings in their gluttony and effort to eat as much and hide as many nuts as they can. White oak acorns, other oaks, beech nuts, hickory nuts, wall nuts, pecans… they all are squirrel magnets and many of them come ripe slightly before or after the others. So, do your scouting and it will pay off.
Hunting when the nuts are falling is as easy as slowly and stealthily walking through the woodlot pausing every few steps and watching the treetops. There is a distinct difference between the wind blowing a branch around and a squirrel clambering around out on the end of the limb to cut the tip off and gather the nuts. The bouncing of the limb is up and down vs. side to side most of the time. If you stand there a few minutes, you will see either the squirrel or you may see the end of the limb fall down as the squirrels often prune or trim the limbs.
It amazes me how the squirrels will often ignore a slow moving hunter when they are busy like this. Keep this in mind and find a good rest for your .22 rifle and wait for a safe shot. I try to wait until the squirrels run down the tree where I get a good backstop.
If you have had a windy night or day and there are a lot of nuts on the ground, you can literally just walk within range of squirrels many times. Our archery deer season coincides with the squirrel season and the prime nut crop. With a bow or crossbow in hand, I have walked up to within feet of squirrels while hoping for a deer.
One of these days I am going to carry my .22 pistol and take a stroll and get dinner on the ground!
Windy days or breezy days are far better than still days as the wind will cover your footsteps. Add in a little previous rain to dampen the leaves and you will have the easiest hunt you ever had. Some hunters prefer a shotgun so they can knock the squirrels out of the treetops while they are feeding vs. having to wait for them to come down where the shot would be safe for a rimfire rifle. Whatever your choice is, you can count on an unforgettable hunt when the nuts are raining. That should be happening soon starting up north. Get out there this fall and enjoy some lean stew meat or try one of our recipes from the site.