If memory serves, I shot my first squirrel, which was my first game animal by the way, in 1972. I was eight years old at the time. My father, Mick, was there: an observer, an educator, a tutor, a coach, and a counselor. The place was Howard Klingeman’s forest; the gun, a single-shot Harrington & Richardson .410.
Dad found bushy tail, a big fox squirrel, chopping down a hickory tree. He beckoned me with a wave of his hand and stood on my shoulder as he transitioned from boy to young hunter.
Klingeman is gone; His woods were also replaced by a handful of rustic houses, none with the character of the old man’s two-story country house. But in the nearly 50 years since that day, I have never lost my love of squirrel hunting. However, what I have done over the years is try various things to put a little spice back into the game of squirrel hunting. I switched to a bolt action .410, limited myself to just .22 Shorts, tried a .22 semi-automatic pistol with a scope, and even a Crosman .22 caliber air rifle.
But it wasn’t until I took a muzzleloader into the squirrel forest that I found my salvation. Now East, I’ve told myself over and over again, is the way squirrel hunting should be done. I realize it’s not for everyone, but if, like me, you’re looking for a way to really test your mettle when it comes to all-round hunting skills like woodworking, stealth, camouflage, marksmanship, observation and, without a doubt, patience. then black powder and bushytails can definitely provide that challenge.
My Favorite Muzzleloaders for Squirrel Hunting
In fact, I have three muzzleloaders, two shotguns, and a long rifle, which I have taken to the field for the squirrels. The first is a Thompson/Center (T/C) New Englander, a nice piece with interchangeable quick-change 12-gauge and .50-gauge barrels. It has a straight barrel choke which means I have to choke the load the way I put it together. The gun uses percussion caps and is light, pretty enough and easy to maintain.
The second is a side-by-side (SxS) 12 gauge made by Davide Pedersoli, the classic standard, choked and modified barrel. It’s a handsome shotgun, very handy at 7lbs, and works in late fall as a fancy waterfowl and upland bird gun.
But it’s my third muzzleloader, the Long Rifle, that I’m partial to. Also made by Pedersoli, it is a Frontier-style rifle in .32 caliber. Surprisingly, for a 55-inch-long rifle, the gun is surprisingly well balanced. And at just 7 pounds, it’s certainly not a burden to pack all morning. Accuracy-wise, it’s as direct as any .22 LR I’ve ever worked with, and has no problem hitting anything my 57-year-old eyes can see, including the golf ball-sized head of an old fox squirrel.
Unfortunately, finding muzzle-loading shotguns and small-bore rifles has become a challenge in the last two decades. There are online sources, of course, as well as North American distributors of Davide Pedersoli products, including Dixie Gun Works (Tennessee), The Italian Firearms Group (Texas), and Taylor’s and Company (Virginia). Used muzzleloaders are another option, as local firearms dealers, pawn shops, and Internet auction sites such as gunbroker.com, gunauction.com, and gunsamerica.com present possibilities. Usually, though, finding something like my Pedersoli .32 Long Rifle will take some hunting.
Gunpowder, pellets and bait for muzzleloading squirrel hunting
As with any modern shotgun or rifle, determining what load each of my three weapons worked best with was a matter of experimentation, trial and error, and most importantly, a compromise with range time.
For shotguns, the load in both the T/C and Pedersoli are identical, consisting of 70 grains of GOEX FFg (2F) traditional black powder, a BP12 shot glass, and a BPGS gas seal (NOTE: a piston Old School Remington power gun also works) an ounce of #6 lead shot and a .035” M/L overshot card/disk, all sent down through a #11 RWS percussion cap . What about the muzzle velocity? As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t know; however, it seems adequate and doesn’t seem to matter much to the squirrels on the receiving end.
The .32 caliber Long Rifle took a little longer to demystify, but the recipe is just as simple from 20 grains of Hodgdon Triple 7 FFFg (3F) granulated powder. He placed a .32 caliber Hornady round ball of .315 diameter on top of a thin cotton pad lightly lubricated with Bore Butter, and pressed it firmly. In the field, cleaning between shots takes seconds. Recoil is virtually nonexistent and accuracy is comparable to any .22 LR I’ve ever owned.
In both cases, the shotguns and the long rifle, I use a RWS (Dynamit Nobel) 1075/#11 percussion casing. These German-made hats are often hard to find, but I find them more attractive than other hats I’ve worn over the years. This provides safer firing, particularly on 90 degree percussion fired pistols. They are also more consistent and reliable in all types of weather.
Read Next: The 17 Best Squirrel Guns Ever
What to pack in your possible bag
One possible bag is the Black Powder Hunter’s All-Gear Bag. I use an old style Avery Outdoors. energy hunter blind bag instead of a more traditional leather wallet. It is true that in this bag I carry more things than necessary, but I learned a long time ago that it is better to have something and not need it than vice versa. With that being said, my bag of squirrel hunting possibilities will contain:
With the above equipment, I can do just about anything I need to do in the field, short of completely breaking a firearm down to the last remaining bolt; however, if that were necessary, I would probably go home anyway.