The blazing late-summer sun makes it hard to conceive of the idea that hunting season has opened. However, a quick check of the calendar confirms that squirrel season has been open for almost a week.
The season in Georgia runs from August 15 to February 28. But it’s hard to find someone who wants to take advantage of that early opening during the heat of summer. Most hunters wait for the first frost to look for bushy tails, while many others don’t bother until deer season ends in January.
However, squirrel hunting has a special appeal for many hunters. Those gray streaks running through the trees are often the first game many hunters cut their teeth on. That was especially true for sportsmen who grew up in the 1960s to 1980s, before whitetails were plentiful.
Today, many youngsters begin their hunting careers with deer and in the process miss out on some of the fun and opportunity to learn patience and other skills in the woods. Squirrels may be small, but they can also be skittish and cunning when hunted.
Many non-hunters or novices assume that the bushytails they see in parks or backyards are representative of the species. What’s so hard about shooting a critter that’s likely to come to you for a handout? For those people, just walking through the woods and shooting the first 12 they see is how hunters reach their limit.
If it were that easy, gray squirrels would be on the endangered species list.
The truth of the matter is that wild squirrels can be almost as difficult to find as white-tailed deer, and successful squirrel hunting requires as much stealth and patience as deer hunting. If you just grab your .22 caliber rifle and start walking through the woods, you’ll likely get a shot or two. But getting to the forest in the early morning or late afternoon to hunt in the open is much more successful.
Veteran squirrel hunters dress in camouflage from head to toe. A morning squirrel hunt often begins before the sun rises. The hunters settled near thickets of oak or walnut trees. Then it’s time to settle down, sit still and wait for the squirrels to start moving at dawn. If it’s a good location, it’s possible to be home for breakfast with half a dozen or more.
Another method that is gaining in popularity is the use of feist dogs. The little canines are adept at chasing squirrels up trees and then following them as they jump from tree to tree. This allows the hunter to stay on the path until a shot can be obtained.
A couple of seasons ago, while hiking through the Russell Lake Wildlife Management Area, I went to my car in some squirrel hunters’ truck. As they drove, their feist ran to the front. Spotting a squirrel, the dog ran into the woods to clear the quarry. The hunters jumped out of the truck and followed the dog.
Before they let me into my vehicle, they had killed half a dozen squirrels.
Early in the season, many hunters prefer to use a shotgun. With all the leaves still on the trees, that weapon gives you a better chance. As the leaves fall, a rifle with a .22 scope is a better bet. With more open sight lines, long shots are needed so as not to scare the squirrels.
In north Georgia, squirrel hunters are blessed. Most of the 700,000 acres in the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests have hardwoods that are home to many bushy colas. The 17,300-acre Lake Russell WMAthey consist almost entirely of such habitat.