Early-season Squirrel Hunting Tactics

A buddy of mine called me up one day last September and asked if I wanted to do some squirrel hunting inside of the Pinckney Recreation Area in southern Michigan. I quickly accepted the invite and began dusting off all of my small game hunting gear from the previous year. It had been a couple of years since I had hunted squirrels; typically the only small game that I will target are cottontails and ruffed grouse. However, I couldn’t resist joining him in the squirrel woods with gun in hand during this crisp fall morning.

As we reached the location we would be squirrel hunting that morning, my thoughts drifted back to my teenage years when my Dad, brother, and I would squirrel hunt on my grandparent’s property. There was a particular area nestled in the heart of the property where numerous fox squirrels could be found, and that’s usually where we spent most of our time hunting them. It was at this spot that I shot my first squirrel.

Like many other youngsters, squirrel hunting was my first taste of hunting after I completed a hunter safety course. It taught me the foundations of hunting: sit still, stay quiet, patience, and safe and responsible gun handling. While all of these are extremely important, several other tactics will increase your chances of success in the squirrel woods this fall.

Hunting methods

Most squirrel hunters either find a location in the woods and sit and wait for squirrels to appear (stand hunting), or still hunt and then stalk squirrels that are spotted. All of these methods have proven successful. I’ve had the most success with sitting in one spot and allowing the woods to settle for about twenty minutes before moving on to another setup. During one particular hunt, I shot a gray squirrel less than a minute after finding a log to sit on. If you deer hunt, you’ve probably seen numerous squirrels running around your treestand or blind. It doesn’t take long for them to come out from their hiding place after you get settled in to hunt.

When still hunting and stalking, be on the lookout for moving branches and leaves as squirrels hop from limb to limb. Eventually, the squirrel will stop, giving you a shot opportunity if you haven’t been spotted yet. Another thing: when scanning the trees and forest canopy on the move, pay attention to a squirrel’s tail. It is oftentimes wrapped around their backside as they feed. Sometimes, the tip of the tail is all you will see at first. After spotting a tail, quietly get into a position where you can pull a shot off.

A good place to find a squirrel is close to a tree trunk, where they feel safer while they are feeding. Also, listen for the sounds of squirrels as they are feeding. When they are chewing small debris from nut hulls, pieces will fall to the ground, forming piles called cuttings. These will allow you to pinpoint their locations.

If you’re hunting solo, try tossing a large stick or a rock to the opposite of a tree where you saw a squirrel escape. The motion will likely cause them to move to your side for a shot.

The best places to hunt squirrels are woods that are filled with hickory, walnut, beech and oak trees. Squirrels begin feeding heavily throughout the fall as they prepare for the winter months. Throughout the woods that I squirrel hunt, white and red oak are the major food sources for squirrels, so I concentrate my efforts in these areas. Some scouting before the season begins will allow you to find where the best locations are to hunt squirrels.

Squirrels are also drawn to cornfields throughout agricultural areas. You can often find bare corncobs several hundred yards away from the fields where that they have fed. During firearm deer season one year, I witnessed a determined fox squirrel dragging an entire ear of corn across the opening that I was hunting. Setting up near a fencerow by a picked cornfield could prove to be very productive.

I’ve found that the best time to hunt squirrels is during the early morning hours, just after the sun starts to appear, and a few hours before dusk. These daily periods cause squirrels to become more active as they scurry about, looking to fill their bellies and stock up for the winter.

If you have a hunting buddy join you on a squirrel hunt, the best way to hunt is to have one person slowly walk ahead of the other, scanning the trees and branches for squirrels, and then coming to a stop once they are around fifty yards or so ahead. The hunter that stayed behind then moves forward, while the hunter in front stands in one spot, watching for any squirrels. Squirrels like to conceal themselves by moving to the opposite side of the tree that a hunter is approaching. The hunter in front will be in a better position to pull a shot off on a squirrel trying to elude the moving hunter.

Squirrel calls

There are a variety of squirrel calls on the market that help you locate squirrels in the woods. These come in the form of a bellows call that you rapidly tap with your hand to create a bark, a blow-style call that produces a distress call. Using a squirrel call will entice a nearby squirrel to respond, thus giving up its location. Hearing the squirrel’s response allows you to begin a stalk in the direction of the squirrel.

A simple way to call in squirrels is by rubbing two quarters together. This produces a sound that imitates a scolding squirrel. Simply place one quarter beneath the other, and then rapidly rub them back and forth.

Squirrel hunting guns

Both shotguns and .22 rifles are what most hunters use to hunt squirrel. A 12- or 20-gauge shotgun shooting number 6 or 7 shot works best for longer ranges. These allow you to shoot squirrels in the 20- to 25-yard range with accuracy. I mostly use a 20-gauge with a modified choke, shooting number 6 shot.

A small, orange game vest with a game pouch and plenty of shotgun shell holders is essential when hunting in the squirrel woods. It will help keep all of your shells organized, and transport all of your harvested squirrels.

A .22 rifle mounted with a 2X to 4X scope is also a great gun to use for squirrel hunting. A .22 rifle is not nearly as loud as a shotgun, and won’t scare off nearby squirrels as much. A .22 will accurately shoot up to fifty yards, allowing you to shoot squirrels that are higher up in a tree. However, be careful which direction you’re shooting; a .22 bullet can travel extremely long distances.