Understanding the effects of food sources and weather can drive success

During squirrel season, which runs from May 15 to February 29 in Arkansas, hunters may encounter a variety of hunting conditions, each of which has a unique effect on the success of the squirrel hunt. Consequently, to get the most out of every field trip, those looking for bushy tails need to be aware of how various conditions affect squirrel behavior. How will the squirrels behave when rainy or snowy weather comes? What effect does a year of poor mast production have? Will squirrels behave differently on warm, calm days than they do on cold, windy days? If so, how should the hunter respond to these variations?

Knowing the answers to these questions will make you a better hunter.

compression mast

Acorns are the staple and most abundant food for fox squirrels and gray squirrels, but it cannot be assumed that acorns will be plentiful each fall throughout Arkansas.

There are two main groups of oaks: white oaks and red oaks. Except during years of drought or other unfavorable conditions, white oaks produce mast every year. Red oak acorns require two years to mature, so red oak crops are staggered.

Squirrel hunters should also remember that all wildlife prefer white oak acorns because they are sweet. Red oak acorns are bitter. Squirrels will still eat them if they have to, but given a choice, bushy tails will almost always

they prefer white oak supports. Some oaks may also attract more squirrels simply because the trees produce larger acorns or because their acorns are exceptionally abundant.

What does this all mean? Simply this: don’t be fooled into thinking that squirrels will be found in every expanse of oak trees. The cunning squirrel hunter doesn’t just hunt squirrels in oak trees; he looks for them in or near particular varieties of oak, even narrowing it down to specific trees.

To determine which individual trees or groves may provide the best hunting opportunities, you need to do a bit of scouting, watching the trees and ground for squirrels and determining where acorns are most abundant. While in the woods, it also looks for fresh “cuttings” (squirrel-gnawed walnut shell fragments) on the ground. Fresh cuttings have brightly colored edges, a sign that squirrels are foraging in the area and should be good for hunting.

Of course, acorns aren’t the only trees that produce food for squirrels. Walnuts, beechnuts, hickory nuts, pecans and other hard nuts are eagerly sought after by hungry bushytails. Cunning hunters also seek out special forage items that other hunters may miss.

For example, fox squirrels love corn at all stages of their development; therefore, forest edges near cornfields are sure to be good places to take a stand. Fruits such as wild cherries, wild grapes, hackberry, blackberries, and persimmons also concentrate squirrels in small areas, if only for short periods.

The hunter who knows what is the best option on the squirrel menu in his area will probably enjoy a fried squirrel or squirrel and meatballs dinner.

The weather and squirrel hunting

Squirrels, like people, enjoy pleasant weather. Calm,

sunny mornings and afternoons will usually find them actively foraging.

If the woods are dry on these days, hunters should listen as much as they look because squirrels are often heard before they are seen. Listen to the rustle of leaves and the movement of branches. Their loud chattering can also give them away, or the sounds of rain from cuttings falling from above.

When the woods are dry, it is also advisable to sit while hunting, instead of loitering noisily. Squirrels have a keen sense of hearing, and leaves or twigs crunching under a hunter’s feet will cause a wary-limbed chicken to scurry away. The hunter who finds a comfortable place where he can rest while watching and listening to his prey is more likely to enjoy success.

If the forest is dry and it doesn’t suit you to sit down, all is not lost if you can find a nearby body of water. Expert squirrel hunters know that they are more likely to hit a cap if they wade across the banks of a river, stream, or bayou or lurk slowly along the wet shores of a lake, pond, or bayou.

Floating canoe or johnboat hunting is another preferred hunting technique in Arkansas. This is a great way to get close to the squirrels to feed them, even when the woods are dry. The wooded edges of streams provide perfect habitat for squirrels, and for some reason stream squirrels seem to pay little attention to floating hunters.

Humid forests and light rain change the image. If the temperature is mild, squirrel hunting can be excellent. Bushytails don’t mind wet days and often forage on the ground with their tails spread over their backs and their heads looking like a miniature umbrella. During these periods, the moist forest floor creates ideal conditions for the silent stalker.

Fast approaching fronts and persistent stormy weather often disrupt squirrel activity. The squirrels take shelter and remain there until the weather changes, drastically reducing the hunter’s chances of success. However, if a heavy rain suddenly stops and the sun comes out, head to the forest as soon as possible. In this situation, the treetops and forest floor are likely to be teeming with hungry squirrels.

The worst time to go squirrel hunting is when the wind is roaring through the treetops. But if your days in the field are limited, you may want to hunt even in these adverse conditions. If you must go, these tips for windy days can improve your chances of success.

If possible, hunt in mountains or mountainous areas when wind conditions are unfavorable. Exploration will often reveal some gaps where calmer conditions prevail and squirrels are more active.

Being in the woods at first light. If the wind is going to break, it’s likely to happen around sunrise, if only for a short time. The time just before dark is your second best bet.

Squirrels active on windy days are likely to be on the ground. Bushytails do not like windswept treetops, but may come down to feed and drink. Look for them on the ground, paying special attention to bushes, stream banks, and other features that might break the wind.

You don’t have to give up the joys of squirrel hunting just because the weather isn’t perfect or you’re having a hard time finding oak trees loaded with acorns. Knowing how your quarry will react to various conditions can help you make the most of your time in the field.

Learn to model squirrels and your hunts will be more successful.