Hunting in Maine: Squirrel hunting provides a low-key opportunity to enjoy a leisurely day and hone your skills

Sitting quietly on a stump, I strained my ears to locate a distant whisper in the dry leaves that littered the forest floor. Something moved in the dawn light, quite possibly the object of my efforts. Staccato footsteps announced that the game was drawing near, close enough to reveal itself soon.

Then it did, a gray stain on the leaves, the twitch of a tail. Slowly, silently, I raised my rifle, took aim, took careful aim, and pulled the trigger. Pop! The sharp crack of my rimfire rifle broke the silence as its tiny projectile barely exceeded the speed of sound before hitting its target, a large male squirrel.

That and many similar scenes happened a long time ago.

Like many young men of the time, I began hunting small game such as rabbits and squirrels. We didn’t have many deer back then and thoughts of hunting them were put aside for later in life. Squirrels were much more abundant, providing ample opportunity to learn, mistake by mistake, the woodworking skills that would one day come in handy when stalking larger, more cautious animals.

Squirrels are still plentiful and the seasons still occur every year, but chasing them has become something of a faded tradition. Great gray squirrels and foxes were once among the most popular game animals in North America with a long history. Naturalist John James
Audubon wrote of a hunt he shared with renowned frontiersman Daniel Boone, who demonstrated the art of “barking squirrels.” Instead of trying to hit the squirrel with the projectile from his large-caliber Kentucky long rifle, Boone would hit the bark just below, which would explode with enough concussion to kill the animal.

That legend probably sent a lot of guys trying to recreate the event, and it no doubt rendered some character marks on oak boards that were later sawn for furniture.

Today, most new hunters skip their primary hunting education and graduate directly to big game hunting. Whitetails are much more abundant and popular than they once were, but it seems that those who go directly into deer hunting are missing out on a very important stage of development.
Squirrel hunting is a much more informal task. Instead of getting up long before the rooster crows, one can simply wander into the woods in the late afternoon, sit on a stump and wait.

Squirrels are much more numerous, offering ample opportunity to hone aiming and woodworking skills. Failures, mistakes and successes do not mean the end of the day or possibly the season. Lost targets will soon respawn, or be replaced by others, and daily rather than seasonal bag limits ensure the hunt can continue.

While simply sitting or stalking in a forest is effective, there are a few specific tactics that can increase your chances of bringing home some bacon. One is pairing up. Squirrels seem to have the ability to find the other side of a tree when potential predators pass under them. Placing a stationary hunter on one side while their partner turns to the other can sometimes trick them into revealing themselves. Traditionalists who still employ squirrel dogs often use this technique.

Squirrels can even be called outdoors. Some companies still make commercial squirrel calls, but with a little practice, sucking on wet knuckles will sometimes suffice.

Simple stealth and patience remain among the main tactics and skills a young hunter must learn. The constant passage of a human will cause the squirrels to scurry away, but a slow and deliberate stalk will attract less attention and provide more potential opportunities. Sometimes staying still is the best strategy and, without a doubt, the most relaxing. Sitting still on a sunny oak ridge and watching the world around you has its own charm. You can wait for the safest, optimal shooting opportunities and walk away as they present themselves.

And when a successful hunt is complete, you won’t need help lugging your daily bag out of the woods.

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