Honestly folks, I’ve spent a LOT of my life outdoors. I am lucky, I know, to have hunted so much, with the people and in the places that I have. With everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve been, I think I can honestly say I’d rather hunt squirrels than anything else.
A bunch of you are picking up the phone, opening email programs, and generally probably about to send notes to my editor about how crazy the new guy is.
“Why?” you yell!
Well, it’s simple. That is the answer. Squirrel hunting is as hard or as easy as you want. It can involve your best friends, your kids, or a solo trip. You can have dogs, walk or sit quietly. Squirrels can be hunted in swamps, river bottoms, flat land, rolling hills around my house, or mountains. Really, what more do you want from a game animal? Food? Oh good! Why didn’t you say it? Anyone who doesn’t like squirrels probably doesn’t love their mom, football, or trucks. Spicy Squirrel Wings, Squirrel and Meatballs, Squirrel and Salsa over Rice, Squirrel Tacos! Honestly, I’m about to become Bubba from Forrest Gump.
We are going to break this into a few groups to discuss it. Equipment, time of year and recipe ideas.
- Firearms: I prefer to hunt with a .22lr bolt action rifle or 20 gauge shotgun early in the season. The rifle allows for a much more accurate shot and longer range than the shotgun. However, the beginning of the season, when the leaves are full on the shotgun, is nice. If you’re hunting dogs, it’s always a good idea to have at least one friend with a shotgun for when they run or run. My .22 has a good clear range but nothing fancy.
- Binoculars: A small pair of binoculars with 6 or 8 motors is of great help. You don’t need Swarovskis or Leicas, just a cheap pair from the sporting goods store is fine. These will help identify small ears, tail wags, and eyeballs. Great help later in the season.
- A vest: Before you could find a good quality small game hunting vest. Today there are so few small game hunters that you have to settle for. I wear a Cabela’s tank vest from the world of bird hunting. Very comfortable vest that is lightweight. You need to be able to carry squirrels, ammo, water, etc. with you all day.
- Seat: Have you seen those turkey hunting seats? Yes. Those are great. I am over 40 years old and let me tell you that comfort is important for my old back. Get yourself something that will allow you to be outside all afternoon or all day during cold weather.
- Shooting sticks: Yes, I’m serious here. No, I don’t care how well you can shoot handheld. Very few people can hit a target at 40 yards that is smaller than a golf ball. I use a single adjustable pole style monopod. A guy I read and follow on Instagram uses Primos Trigger stix and loves them.
- Calls: There are several squirrel whistles and barkers on the market. Be careful with these. Whistles really do indicate distress, and while they may make a squirrel look or run away from hiding, they will also send unseen squirrels running into a hole. Use them sparingly, but pick one. I personally use a HS call stealer.
- Ammo – .22 ammo is just about anything you can shoot accurately. I use Aquila and Eley subsonic ammunition. Shoot lights and hit hard without actually breaking the meat. Shotgun ammo is somewhat flexible. In my 20s, I run anything from 4s to 7s. It just depends on where and how I’m hunting. I like the smaller throw on dogs because it throws up a larger pattern when they run.
- Hunting scissors: they make cleaning the squirrels much easier.
- Small Game Knife – A small, fixed blade that is EXTREMELY sharp makes a great skinning tool.
Time of the year
- Early Season: Squirrels will be on the first trees to produce mast. So put on your walking boots and go after him. If you also hunt deer, I promise you if you find squirrels, you WILL find deer. The squirrels will knock down the first acorns of the year for the deer. Walk through the forest not only looking for bouncing branches, but also studying the trees for acorns.
- Shoulder Season: This is because the popularity of deer hunting becomes increasingly difficult to find a place to hunt in October and November. However, this is one hell of a hunt. Squirrels are hard after acorns and fatten up for the winter. They will cover a good portion of the ground and really move around during this period.
- Late Season – When winter comes it gets tough and unfortunately that is when we often go out hunting because deer season ends. If we experience really cold weather (single digits or lows in the teens), you have to wait for the sun to warm the areas. Look for sunny slopes, treetops, etc. and you will find squirrels warming themselves in the branches. However, the colder it is, the less they move. They will also dig up buried nuts, so pay attention to ground cover and look for disturbed areas.
- The squirrel doesn’t taste like chicken. In fact, chicken doesn’t even taste like chicken anymore, so there you have it.
- One of my favorite ways to cook it is to simply skin and quarter the squirrel and fry it. Squirrel, crackers and gravy!
- Squirrel and meatballs. Just like chicken and meatballs, but with squirrel instead.
- Spicy squirrel wings! This is unique and impressive. Quarter the squirrels and soak them in buttermilk for at least 3 hours (overnight is best). Dry them, season them with salt and pepper and fry them like chicken wings. When they’re done, drain them, toss them in buffalo sauce, and serve with ranch.
- Squirrel Cake – My wife learned how to make this from my best friend Virgil’s wife. Once, on a visit to the Virginia mountains, she sent me out to kill a bunch of squirrels one morning and that night we had squirrel pie with cookies and damson jam. Awesome!
When I was a kid, squirrel hunting was a big deal. Now that I’m an adult, it still is. I love it because in the end, it’s hunting in its purest form.