Squirrel Hunting Basics: Best Tactics and Weapons

Many hunters start out chasing squirrels, only to be lured away by larger, more glamorous game. However, as the leaves begin to change and the temperature drops, the squirrels seem to appear in the branches and crotches of every tree, reminding us how much we enjoyed hunting them.

1. The restless hand
Squirrels have a natural inclination to stay still when predators approach. If you find yourself sitting in an area that should be productive, i.e. under an oak tree, drop your hand into the trash and ruffle the leaves at random intervals, repeating in a discontinuous pattern. The sound of your hand moving on the leaves mimics the sound of a squirrel that has begun to feed, encouraging all other squirrels in the area to follow suit.

2. Stream up
You’ll often find plentiful, unpressurized squirrels along streams and creeks bordered by hardwoods, particularly oak, hickory, sycamore, and ash. If you minimize movement in your canoe or kayak and keep your eyes open, you can quickly shoot squirrels that aren’t expecting danger from the water. If you’re with a partner, order only one of you to shoot at a time, and only from a sitting position.

3. Point and stem
Squirrels are most active during the day, and a morning or evening stalk through the woods can be very productive. The first step is to scout out the areas where the squirrels are likely to be found, which is anywhere the mast crops they eat, primarily acorns, beeches, and nuts, are present. With the sun at your back, practice walking very slowly, taking two or three steps at a time. Keep your eyes peeled and get ready to take down the squirrels that didn’t hear you approach.

4. The right dog
Allen Franklin Mountain Cur Squirrel Dogs hunt by sight and smell, tracking squirrels and then probing the site with a series of short barks until the hunter arrives. Squirrels instinctively head to the side of the tree opposite a predator, and a circling dog encourages the squirrel to move around the trunk and branches, offering the hunter an opportunity. In addition, the dogs catch injured squirrels that fall from the tree, preventing the animals from getting lost or hurt.

Know your tree squirrels

fox squirrel eating
fox squirrel Shutterstock

fox squirrels
The largest of all tree squirrels, fox squirrels have predominantly gray fur with rusty-orange bellies and tails. Unlike gray squirrels, which prefer wooded habitats, fox squirrels most often live in smaller forests mixed with open areas. Fox squirrels are found from Pennsylvania to the Great Plains states.

gray squirrel eating
gray squirrel Alamy

gray squirrels
The most common member of the family, the eastern gray squirrel, is found from New England to the Great Plains, and the closely related western gray squirrel is native to the Pacific coast. Eastern Greys, which can actually be black, white, brown, or gray, are medium-sized tree squirrels found in woodland and urban habitats.

abert's squirrel
abert’s squirrel Alamy

abert’s squirrels
Easily identifiable by their long grayish-black ear tufts, Abert’s squirrels are closely associated with ponderosa pine forests in the western and southwestern United States. This species is unique among tree squirrels in that they do not store food. Instead, they eat different parts of pine trees, including needles, bark, and cones, depending on the season.

Pine squirrel eating
pine squirrel Alamy

pine squirrels
This group includes Red, Pine, and Mearns squirrels, which are found in the western part of the US. The smallest of the tree squirrels, their diet consists of pinecones and seeds that are normally stored under the tree in the burrow. They are among the most vocal of all members of the Scuiridae (or squirrel) family, so once your cover is blown, all your neighbors will know.

The perfect bushy tail arsenal

the shotgun

Ithaca model 37 shotgun

Ithaca Model 37: Ithacas have been made in the US since the 1880s, but the current line of .28 calibers are perhaps the company’s best pump-action pistols. ($999 and up; ithacagun.com)

the gun

Browning Buck Mark Contour 5.5 URX .22 LR

Browning Buck Mark Contour 5.5 URX .22 LR: Accurate and reliable, this self-loading .22 is a well-balanced shooting pistol that comes with iron sights and an optic rail. ($540; browning.com)

The rifle

Ruger 10/22 rifle

Ruger 10/22: The 10/22 has earned a reputation for dependability, accuracy, and dependability. It’s available in a variety of flavors, including a new synthetic takedown model. ($279-$529; ruger.com)

the air rifle

Crosman Squirrel Sweeper

Crosman Squirrel Sweeper: This air rifle shoots .22-caliber pellets at 1,100 fps, powerful enough for squirrels. At 8.8 pounds, it’s heavy but accurate. ($285; www.crosman.com)