Is it just me or have many of my fellow hunters lost respect for the squirrel as a game animal? Oh, they still enjoy watching the squirrel antics as they climb and scamper through the woods, but now it’s just a distraction while they wait to find the noble white-tailed deer.
Why the decline in interest in squirrel hunting, you ask? Isn’t it true that the squirrel can be found in good numbers throughout the Commonwealth? Isn’t it also true that the season is long and offers a liberal bag limit, creating plenty of hunting opportunities? And isn’t it also true that for many of Pennsylvania’s older hunters their first successful hunt centered around squirrel hunting? So why the loss of interest?
The answer to declining interest in squirrel hunting is simple. Let’s see what changes have taken place in the last 20 years or so. Today, the deer archery season is much longer. Today, we have an early hornless hunt for both Junior and Senior. And in addition to all the deer hunting going on now, the modern hunter can easily get multiple deer tags instead of being limited to one deer per year like before.
Can you see where this is going? With so many opportunities to chase whitetail deer, the nation’s #1 most sought after game animal, many species, like squirrel and rabbit, simply don’t attract the interest of hunters like they used to.
When I was young, in the 1970s, squirrel hunting was much more popular. With the long seasons, it was a game animal that we could easily find an opportunity to chase. After all, what did we, as young hunters, learn while hunting squirrels? The basic skills needed to be a successful deer hunter. That’s right, you learned to be still, to stay still, to use the forest to break your contour, to be patient, and to know how to locate the resting, feeding and travel routes of your prey. All the skills needed to be a good deer hunter.
Do I blame the modern hunter for overlooking the red squirrel, the fox squirrel, the gray squirrel, and the black squirrel? No, but I do think they are missing out on a lot of fun, not to mention skill-building opportunities. Honestly, squirrel season is long. It has a generous catch limit of six species combined per day, and it’s easy to find a good spot to hunt. Why not take advantage of these things? Oh, and in case you’ve never had squirrel before, it’s a very tasty and very versatile meat that can be used in any recipe that would normally call for chicken or turkey. The truth is, in the not too distant past, the squirrel was commonly found on dinner tables in rural Pennsylvania.
Here is my challenge to modern hunters who have never tried to hunt squirrels. Just one day this year, forget about chasing whitetails and try squirrel hunting. If possible, do it with a veteran who knows the ins and outs of the sport, as well as how to properly prepare bushytails for the table, and I look forward to bringing you home with a whole new respect for those agile nutcrackers of the woods.
Who knows, next thing you know, you might want to learn how to hunt cottontails too.