The air was so cold that my eyes watered. Snow hung heavily from low-lying branches and blanketed the ground, muffling the sound of my footsteps as I made my way through the hardwood trees. Late deer season in Ohio can be pretty quiet, and while I still had a deer tag burning a hole in my backpack, I was zeroing in on the squirrels. After weeks of struggling to even see a deer during gun season, I was thinking of pocketing something.
I saw a flash of gray, a flick of a tail. Just 50 feet away, perched on a branch of hemlock, was a fat gray squirrel. I felt my jacket bunch around my elbow as I drew my bow and nocked an arrow. It hit the target, and the squirrel fell, nearly disappearing into the fluffy snow.
Success. That’s what it was. Going home with something to throw in the Crockpot is always a good feeling. And sometimes, especially when deer season gets tough, it’s nice to just get out there and hunt.
Overlooked hunting opportunity
I grew up hunting squirrels and still enjoy it every year. However, hunting squirrels does not seem to be very popular. Small game in general tends to be overlooked for other larger and more glamorous game. And, in fact, the available data confirms it. According to a 2016 national survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 70% of the 11.5 million hunters in the US in 2016 said they hunted deer. A scant 13 percent, just 1.5 million people, hunted squirrels.
Although squirrels may be grossly underrated, hunting them is just plain fun for beginners and experienced hunters alike. It’s not as difficult, expensive, or time-consuming as big game hunting, and once you find a few honey holes, you’ll find countless opportunities to get out there and shoot some bushy tails.
Here’s why squirrel hunting is actually one of the best hunting opportunities we have.
Any method is fine
For starters, most states are pretty lenient on what you can use to hunt squirrels. Shotgun, rifle or bow? Up to you. This also means that most people won’t be limited if they only own one of those. Hunting with a shotgun is probably the easiest option for new people, as it will be a bit harder to miss with one.
Using a rifle chambered in .22LR is not only fun, but also good aiming practice for when new or young hunters move on to bigger game. Also, it makes it easier to take out squirrels with a headshot. This results in less meat being damaged, which is always a good thing since squirrels are small to begin with.
A bow is my weapon of choice, simply because I love bow hunting. It’s a challenge, of course, but it’s worth it, and much calmer. An arrow is less likely to alert nearby squirrels than the crack of a rifle or shotgun blast. Just make sure you bring plenty of arrows though, as I’ve lost a lot of them in the squirrel forest.
It costs very little to hunt squirrels. A resident small game hunting license is usually a small price to pay and, plus any ammunition you need, you’re good to go. You don’t need any special hunting gear, no expensive camouflage, not even game calls. Wearing the latest and greatest camouflage certainly won’t improve your chances of shooting some squirrels, just like wearing blue jeans and a hoodie won’t hurt them.
You also don’t need a lot of land to successfully hunt squirrels, not even private land. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve hunted squirrels on private land in my 20 years of hunting. Since squirrel hunters are few and far between these days, even a small tract of public land may be your best bet for a successful hunt.
it is flexible
The fact that it doesn’t need much or specialized squirrel hunting gear makes it an ideal candidate for a spontaneous hunt. I rarely plan on squirrel hunting…it just happens. Do you have an extra hour in the middle of the day? Grab your shotgun and go after her.
While the early morning hours and just before dusk are the best times to hunt squirrels, you can still hunt midday and kill your limit. There’s no reason to set your alarm for 4:30am unless you want to, which means it can fit into any hunter’s schedule. Also, the seasons are long, which means you can choose the best days and weather to hunt. Here in Ohio, squirrel season opens on the first of September each year (although in some states squirrel season is open year-round), which means it comes a full month before deer hunters are in the field. forest.
Read next: The ultimate guide to hunting squirrels
Tactics for any style
There are many different methods of hunting squirrels, and there is no single correct way to do it. If you like to stay in one place, you can camp at the base of a tree and wait for the squirrels to call. My brothers and I would often spend an hour or so sitting at the base of a large oak tree, waiting for a squirrel to pop its head out of the trunk and give us a chance. Patience is something you will need in abundance, as will humility, when you learn that a squirrel can wait for you nine times out of ten. Squirrel hunting is also suitable for more restless people and children. If you like to keep moving, walking and stopping to listen from time to time works well.
Also, finding squirrels is not like exploring and modeling deer. A squirrel’s main food source usually consists of some kind of nut, so if you find an area that has hickory, walnut, or oak trees, you’ll find the squirrels.
The odds of success are high
Unlike deer hunting, where a stray or injured animal can feel like a complete failure (or put a novice out of hunting forever), squirrels are low risk for new and young hunters. It’s also a discreet way for experienced hunters to get out into the woods, or have fun during a frustrating deer season, and for older hunters to stay in the game. If you pass or fail one, try again or move on. If you make even one good shot, you’ll have meat to take home.
Read next: A good squirrel hunt will set you up for a lifetime of hunting big game
Develop carpentry skills
Squirrel hunting will help you hone your sense of hearing and tune your eyes to small movements. Being aware of sound and movement is key to being a good hunter, no matter what game you are hunting.
It can be social… or not
Squirrel hunting is one of the few types of hunting that I enjoy doing with other people. It’s a great way to introduce new hunters or non-hunters to hunting, and it’s great for all ages. I took my daughter on the squirrel hunt when she was only one year old with excellent success; she even took our lonely squirrel back to the truck.
squirrel meat is great
As if you needed any more reasons to go squirrel hunting, squirrels are extremely good to eat, when cooked properly. Honestly, this is probably my favorite reason to go squirrel hunting, because I enjoy cooking.
Read next: How to Skin and Butcher a Squirrel in 9 Steps
When it comes to preparing squirrels, cooking them low and slow is definitely the way to go. As long as you follow this rule, it doesn’t matter if it’s baked, grilled, smoked, fried, or thrown in the pot. Squirrels tend to be tough, so simply breading them and frying them in hot oil does not usually result in a desirable texture. Take your time though and the end result is absolutely delicious.
Recipe: Squirrel Mushroom Bake
- 2-4 squirrels, quartered
- 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 white onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1/4 cup milk
- Salt and pepper
- cooking oil
- fresh parsley, to decorate
If possible, let your squirrels brine in salt water overnight. Simply fill a container with warm water and add a few teaspoons of salt. Mix until the salt dissolves, then add the squirrel meat and cover. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. When you’re ready to make your dish, simply remove the squirrels from the salt water, rinse well, and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside and continue with the recipe. If you don’t have time, just give the squirrels a good rinse and continue.
Your squirrels should be divided into five sections: both hind legs, both front legs, and the body section. If there are pieces that are too damaged from the shots, simply cut off the damaged part or discard if necessary.
Season the squirrel meat with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, add enough oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. Turn the burner on to medium high heat and wait for the oil to heat up.
Add onion, mushrooms and garlic and cook a few minutes until fragrant and mushrooms are cooked through. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Add your squirrel pieces to the pan and let them sear until golden brown, turning once. If you need to add a little more oil, feel free to wait for it to heat up before adding the squirrel. Do this in batches if necessary. Don’t worry about cooking the meat, you’re just trying to get a good color on the outside of the meat to add flavor.
Arrange the squirrel, mushrooms, and cooked onion in the bottom of a baking dish. Distribute evenly.
In a large bowl add the cream of mushroom soup, sour cream and milk and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Pour over the squirrel. Sprinkle the top with some Parmesan cheese and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil.
Cook at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Serve over egg noodles and sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.