In many places throughout the United States today, concrete and glass readily obscures our hunter-gatherer roots.
But a quick flick of the cable television remote is all the reminder we need that squirrel hunting is still a “big thing” in many parts.
In fact, ESPN reminds us that as recently as a few decades ago, squirrel hunting season’s opening day used to be a legitimate reason to stay home from work and school.
Plus, squirrel hunting is fun – and it makes for great eating later on (see our video here for some great recipe ideas!). In this article, learn four tactics that offer guaranteed success during your next squirrel hunting trip.
Squirrel Hunting Tactic #1: Sniper-Style Stakeout.
A sniper for the military will get in position, with all their gear set up just so, and wait. Sometimes they will wait for hours. Other times they will wait for days. But with sufficient waiting and patience, eventually the quarry usually appears within range, and the…..BOOM.
With this squirrel hunting tactic, you simply must have the patience to wait and let the squirrels come to you. For this reason, some squirrel hunters call this “still hunting.”
Sniper-Style Stakeout hunting may not be for everyone, but it is worth a try and definitely worth adding to your squirrel hunting tactical toolkit.
Gear suggestions to set up for a sniper-style squirrel stakeout:
- A comfortable cushion, stool or small portable chair.
- Props to mimic squirrel calls (rubbing two quarters together along their rough edges is a good one).
- A trusty rifle with a good hunting scope and tripod or mount if desired.
- Proper camouflage attire for the season, including long sleeves, long pants and a hat to protect you from ticks.
As well, while you don’t need to do anything as elaborate as building a hideout or blind to camouflage yourself, you do need to pick your stakeout location with care. Squirrel Hunting Journal recommends these stakeouts below.
Find a stakeout spot that offers these advantages:
- Look for a stakeout spot that offers a relatively unobstructed view of the surrounding terrain, including ground cover and surrounding tree canopy.
- If there is wind, situate yourself so it blows towards you rather than away (which could carry your scent to the squirrels and warn them of your presence in advance).
- Bring seating such as a small cushion, stool or chair that allows you to easily (and quietly!) move about while seated to scan the trees and ground around you on all sides.
- Locate near a possible source of squirrel food (oak trees are always nice) wherever possible.
- Find a quiet spot so you can hear the tell-tale sounds of squirrels feeding, caring for young, foraging or moving about.
- Consider your maximum range to target from your stakeout spot to potential squirrel feeding or nesting areas nearby.
After 45 to 60 minutes of stakeout with no signs of squirrels, you can move locations. But try to do so very quietly so as not to alert nearby squirrels to your presence.
Squirrel Hunting Tactic #2: Stalking and Tracking
Each hunter learns two critical things over time: what tactics work best for which game and what tactics are most enjoyable to use. Some hunters really enjoy the challenge of patiently staking out a spot, keeping all senses alert until the game shows itself.
Other hunters find their greatest satisfaction in the thrill of the chase – stalking and tracking the game, flushing it out of hiding and bringing it down while on the move.
Your personality and temperament as well as the terrain you are hunting will dictate what works best for you. With this second hunting tactic, you will learn how to stalk and track the bushytails while remaining as silent and inconspicuous as possible.
With this technique, you are still using all of your senses to detect the telltale signs and sounds that squirrels may be nearby. But you are on the move all the while, stopping every 10 to 20 steps to listen into the silence for sounds of your prey.
Of course, since you will be on the go, you will need to outfit yourself accordingly. The good news is, there are lots of great accessories to help you stay ready to take the kill shot at any moment.
When you are planning a stalk and track-style squirrel hunting trip, many hunters like to do some advance reconnaissance to find the best locations. This is especially true if you plan to head out on opening day of squirrel hunting season As North American Hunter describes below.
Advance scouting should not focus on counting squirrels, but rather on locating the following information:
- Old or fresh squirrel nests in trees.
- Signs of acorn cuttings.
- Signs of den trees (where squirrels make their nests).
- Potential food sources (acorns, hickory nuts, pine cones - these are called "mast crops").
- Squirrel sounds (barking, food alerts, distress calls from young or hurt squirrels).
- Claw marks that show where squirrels have been climbing or moving.
Gear suggestions to prepare for successfully stalking and tracking squirrels:
- Portable tripod or mount so you can steady your rifle to take a shot.
- A semi-quiet weapon (Game and Fish Magazine suggests a .17 or .22 rifle or a .410 shotgun with No. 4 or No. 6 shot).
- Binoculars (MUCH lighter and easier than using your rifle scope for magnification!).
- Sturdy, comfy hiking boots with moisture wicking socks.
- Camouflage hat and clothing with long sleeves and long pants plus a matching gear bag appropriate to the season (choose green camouflage patterns in spring and summer and grey/brown camouflage patterns in fall or winter).
- Squirrel carrier to tote your kill as you stalk.
When planning your route, many hunters advise against trying to head off-trail and carve out your own route. The reason for this is simple: you will make more noise that could potentially alert your quarry to your presence.
- Pre-cleared hiking or walking trail routes.
- Lake or stream beds or sand/dirt banks.
- Gullies or rock-lined ravines.
- Walking against the wind.
- Walking into the sun.
- Hunt in the rain (squirrels like it and will often be more active).
These are some of the best routes to look for when stalking squirrels:
NOTE: Squirrels, like many wild animals, tend to become more active at dawn and again at dusk when there is more protection in the low light conditions. So any hunting trip that makes use of these hours may deliver more opportunities than trips planned for the middle of the day. Dawn hunts will give you more time to hunt productively, since squirrels often take shelter for as long as 30 minutes after each round fired).
Squirrel Hunting Tactic #3: Squirrel Dog Hunting
If you ever have the good fortune to work with a hunting dog, you may just find, as Outdoor Life states, that this is your favorite squirrel hunting tactic.
Not only is a dog great company when you are out on the hunt, but you will have the advantage of your dog’s incredibly keen senses to enhance your own. As well, often a dog can easily go places that would be difficult for you to access, making it less onerous to retrieve downed prey.
Even better, as Squirrel Dog Central points out, many breeds of dog seem pre-programmed with the urge to hunt squirrels. Hounds, curs, feists, terriers and shepherds seem particularly well-suited to jobs as working hunting dogs. So while these dogs’ technique may benefit from the refinement of further training, the urge is typically already there at full strength.
If you have a pup in mind that is not yet trained, here are some suggestions to get your dog ready to go out squirrel hunting with you:
- Wait until your pup is at least four or five months old.
- Let your dog smell live-trapped squirrels first, then let the squirrels out of the cage and encourage your dog to chase them (this probably won't require much encouragement, but be sure to offer heavy praise after!).
- Train your dog with an experienced squirrel dog so your dog can learn on-the-job.
- Train your dog daily, using positive reinforcement for each lesson learned.
- ONLY shoot a squirrel AFTER your dog has chased it up a tree (called "treeing").
- ONLY shoot at squirrels no matter what your dog "trees" so they learn which game to chase.
- Put some pebbles or buckshot in a can and rattle it around during training to get your dog used to the sound of gunshot (this will ensure they don't spook nearby squirrels after each shot).
- Be sure to car-train your pup before your first big hunt so your dog is used to riding in the car and doesn't get motion sick.
- Try to keep the first few hunts local and relatively short so you can learn what your dog still needs help with and do additional training before attempting a longer hunt.
Squirrel Hunting Tactic #4: Sitting and Stalking
Finally, this fourth time-honored squirrel hunting tactic is actually a fairly equal combination of tactics #1 and #2 here. As Discover the Outdoors points out, sitting and stalking are the most popular tactics among squirrel hunters today, which means that combining these two tactics into one method is like getting the best of both worlds.
- Continual alertness and awareness to spot squirrel signs.
- Calling and flushing skills to draw out the squirrels.
- The ability to position yourself for success (for more, see #1 and #2 here).
- The right gear and the knowledge to use it.
The best benefit of using this tactic is that you are prepared to do what works best for what that day’s hunt presents you with. For example, maybe while you are out stalking, you find that the squirrels are very active in a certain area, so you switch to sitting to try to bag as many of them as possible.
Or perhaps while you are sitting, you hear sounds of squirrels just out of range, so you decide to get up and quietly stalk them until you are within firing range. There is so much flexibility in this method, but it also requires a higher level of comfort with both techniques and with your gear to make it a success.
These tips can help you to maximize your chances of success using the combination sit/stalk approach:
- Choose lightweight, portable gear that you can quickly and QUIETLY pack and unpack.
- Become adept at aiming and shooting with and without a tripod or stabilizing aim.
- Carry binoculars to reduce your reliance on the magnification of your rifle scope.
- Bring a portable squirrel carrier so you can tote your prey as you stalk.
- Learn how to skin and prepare a squirrel on the go so as not to waste good hunting time.
After reading through all four of these techniques, you might be justified in feeling a bit overwhelmed or daunted by all there is to learn! So now, take a break and watch this Travel Channel featured video below. It will remind you of how much fun squirrel hunting’s can be with kids and dogs while gettinh your mouth watering thinking of all the rich and delicious dishes you can prepare after a day of squirrel hunting – yum!
Squirrels may not seem like the most glamorous of prey, but they are definitely not easy prey either. They are small and quick with keen senses and coloration to blend in with ground or tree cover just about anywhere. For many hunters, it only takes one squirrel hunting trip to get “bit by the bug” and become lifelong squirrel hunters.