Late Season Squirrel, and How to Cook Them
January and February are considered late season for squirrel, and it is arguably the best time to chase them. With the trees bare of leaves squirrels are a little easier to spot up in the canopy allowing anyone with a .22 or shotgun an opportunity to pull the trigger. There are two primary ways to target squirrel: With dogs and still hunting.
Slipping around quietly in the mornings and evenings, trying to spot squirrels while they’re on the ground foraging for food or cutting small branches from the canopy, is extremely rewarding to those willing to take their time. Anyone who has sat in a deer stand for any amount of time knows that squirrels have a hard time being quiet. They are either bouncing around in the leaves sounding like a herd of cattle, sawing on branches, or barking at something (most likely you.)
Squirrels are always curious and often on the move, and the noise they make can be a dead giveaway.
But to the still hunter, the active nature of a squirrel is its weakness. As we slip through the woods or sit still in an oak thicket we focus on those sounds. Once we’ve locked on to that sound, we slip through the woods until we have spotted the squirrel. Most of the time there is more than one. An unsuspecting squirrel can easily be picked off from a distance by a .22 and a clean line of sight, but once that squirrel spots you it’s a different ballgame.
Hunting with Good Dogs
I got my first taste of hunting with squirrel dogs recently, and talk about a good time. There were two rules the handlers had for us: “Don’t shoot a squirrel on the ground" (for safety of everyone) and “Don’t shoot a squirrel that the dogs haven’t treed.” That meant we were on cruise control until we heard baying. There was no need to stay quiet, or slip around stealthily with two 20 pound dogs zooming around everywhere stirring the woods up.
Good squirrel dogs scent and locate squirrels and put them up trees, often giving you a good shot at knocking the bushy tail down.
Once we heard a bay it was game on. Everyone hustled to the tree the dog was barking up and from there it was the exact same as still hunting. Most “trees” yielded at least one squirrel and for the handful of trees that didn’t, a simple “in a hole!” sent the dogs off into the woods looking for another. After a casual couple of hours, we had 15 squirrels.
Squirrel Hunting Loadout and Tactics
Typically, when we hunt squirrels, there are three of us. One carries a shotgun for the greys that won’t sit still, one carries a T-bolt .22 with a 3x9 scope, and I carry my .22, a Ruger 10/22 with a Crossfire® red dot. This loadout allows us to counter about any play a squirrel might have, short of denning up.
I have my red-dot sighted in at 35 yards and it is a mid-range squirrel punisher. Having no zoom allows me to find my target faster, and to keep my eyes on quick moving squirrels as they speed up and down trees. As soon as they pause for a second, I’m already on them for the shot.
Shooting a semi-auto allows me a couple chances at narrow margin shots and helps flush squirrels from a good hiding spot. If they make it to the top of a tree or bunker down on top a big limb, we have no trouble bracing up and knocking them out using the 3x scope in the T-bolt.
There are two types of squirrel in the southern hardwoods: Grey squirrels and fox squirrels. Grey squirrels are little ninjas in the woods, they take off running through the woods up and down trees, bounding from branch to branch, and zig-zagging through the canopy looking for a den or hide of some sort.
Fox squirrels tend to bunker down on-tree, keeping the tree’s trunk or a big limb between you and them. They press their bodies near flat and quickly rotate around the tree to stay opposite of you.
Fox squirrels, grey squirrels, and a couple of good hunting dogs make for a great hunt.
So how do we shoot them once they have spooked? For fox squirrels, the best technique is to split up and have someone walk a wide circle around the tree while the other person stays still waiting for a shot.
As for the far flightier grey squirrel, keep a shotgun on hand. A skilled shotgunner has a good chance of killing a grey squirrel as they bounce around low in the canopy. It's imperative for someone to keep an eye on a grey, or at least the last place they saw it as people shuffle around for a shot.