Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Introduction to Squirrel Hunting


Summer is the time to prepare for fall hunting, and for those who have never hunted, squirrel hunting is an easy and fun way to start.  Depending on the area, squirrel hunting season may begin as early as September or as late as November.  In the meantime, gear up for the hunt, scout out potential hunting areas, and familiarize yourself with the relevant laws in your area.  Many places in the U.S. are home to both grey and fox squirrels but not all states allow you to hunt both.  If this is the case where you live, make sure you know how to differentiate between the two species.

The first decision you need to make is a choice of firearm.  Shotguns, ranging from the small .410 gauge to the standard 12 gauge are effective and easy to use.  Shot sizes appropriate for birds work fine for squirrels.  The choke is a an interchangeable part of the shotgun at the end of the barrel that constricts the shot to varying degrees.  I recommend a full choke for squirrel hunting.

A rifle is another option for small game hunters.  A semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle such as the Ruger 10/22 is the standard for squirrel hunting.  Almost all rifles come equipped with open iron sights, but I recommend mounting an inexpensive scope if you want to actually hit a squirrel high in the trees.

A shotgun is a good option, but I prefer a rifle for several reasons.  Even with a scope, it takes more skill to hit a squirrel with a rifle than with a shotgun.  Also, .22 cartridges are significantly cheaper than shot shells.  Most importantly, the rifle simply does a better job of killing squirrels.  A .22 bullet will go in one side of a squirrel and out the other, while a shotgun pellet will barely penetrate its thick hide.  A squirrel shot with a rifle will usually be dead when it hits the ground, but one hit with a shotgun will often be found wounded but alive, presenting the hunter with the unpleasant task of cutting its head off.  The main advantage of the shotgun is its versatility; it can be used to kill everything from small game to home invaders, but if your principal interest is in squirrel hunting, I recommend a .22 caliber rifle.

You still need a few more things before you go hunting.  Unlike the squirrels in your city park, forest squirrels are wary of humans, and it pays to invest in some camouflage clothing.  If nothing else, at least get a camo hat.  You will also need a knife to clean squirrels in the field, and a bag or two to store snacks, ammo, and dead squirrels.  If you want to keep your hands clean while gutting your kills, bring latex gloves as well.  Now that your all geared up, its time for some hunting tips.

Squirrels live near food and though they may eat a variety of things depending on the region, bushytails can always be found near acorns.  If you can find oak trees, then you can find squirrels.  Once you locate some hardwoods, you can either stalk quietly along, hoping to find a squirrel, or sit down and wait for one to appear.  When in doubt, employ the second approach.  Wait for 15 to 20 minutes for squirrels to come out of hiding, and if they don't show, move on to another area.  The waiting is a great time to pray the rosary.  Keep watch on the trees for any movement and listen for the telltale signs of a squirrel jumping from one branch to another.  Then simply aim, shoot, and collect your kill from the forest floor.  If an area seems productive, stay  another 20 minutes after bagging a squirrel and you will probably get another one.  With patience and luck, you should be able to kill enough squirrels to make a nice meal for two.

During a lunch break or after you are done hunting for the day, be sure to clean your squirrels.  Opening the body cavity cools down the meat and prevents spoilage.  If the weather is warm, put the squirrels in a cooler with some ice.  Then bring them home, skin, cook, and eat!

Traditionally, squirrels are boiled and then fried, but I especially like them fricasseed and served with pineapple and rice.  For a particularly papist squirrel dish, I refer you to John Zmirak.

Happy Hunting!

5 comments:

  1. When I was growing up it was squirrel stew (with an occasional bit of lead shot missed in the cleaning). If I remember rightly Grandpa used a .410. He usually waited until he got home to clean them I used to tie 1 of the tails to the back of my bicycle. Ditto with a pheasant tail feather or 2.

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  2. Sounds like you had a great Grandfather!

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  3. Patrick, You'll never know how great he was.

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  4. A classic post. Should send it to PETA. By the way, what does squirrel taste like? "Like chicken"? Or is it "gamey"?

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  5. TH2: Squirrel doesn't taste like chicken. Chicken tastes like squirrel.

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