Squirrel Hunting – How to Do It

Most small game hunters start chasing squirrels only when the leaves fall off the trees and they are easier to locate in the canopy. I too love to chase these fuzzy tailed critters in the winter months, but if you want a challenge and some early season fun, I would suggest you get into the woods when the leaves are still on. This can be a fun way to kick off your hunting season and with a few pointers can be a great way to put some food on the table. 

Choose the Right Trees

We all think of squirrels as animals of the forest and we usually see them dashing for a tree when they spot us. However, knowing what kind of trees squirrels feed on during particular parts of the year can be an essential way to locate these shy critters when the leaves are still on. 

Finding a place that has long exposed trunks can offer better shot opportunities than smaller trees that are closer to the ground.

Squirrels usually choose trees for one of two reasons; they have a den in them or they are feeding off the nuts that the tree is dropping. In the denning situation, pay attention to any trees that appear to have hollow places or small openings where a squirrel can make their nests. They count on these hollows to escape predators and store their food for winter. Chances are that if you find a good denning tree the squirrels will not be far from them. 

When it comes to food, the two types of trees that drop their nuts first in the areas that I hunt are hickory and pecan trees. This is always a great area to pay attention too, sure, there are other nutting trees but these two species tend to fall in late September through August and as a result, condensed squirrel foraging under them.

Be Patient

Squirrels are a natural prey item for many creatures in the forest. As a result, they are very sensitive to disturbances and have a natural reaction to freeze when they think something is wrong. This can make things particularly difficult when the leaves are on the trees because all the squirrel has to do is tuck itself up above a thick clump of leaves and it disappears. My advice on this is to find yourself in a good spot and sit down. Place yourself on a high knob or even just an area with a good vantage and wait. You will notice the silence when you first sit down, but as time passes, you will start to hear the shuffling of leaves and soon after that, you will begin to see squirrels going about their business. I have had good luck with this tactic. 

I also bring along a set of binoculars to pick apart the trees and see if I can find a squirrel. This is more or less a way for me to pass the time between shots when I am waiting for the next opportunity. Nevertheless, it has proven successful a handful of times. 

Choose the Right Gun

Choosing the right gun can help you cut through the dense forest, choosing a shotgun for the early season can mean the chance between a missed opportunity and success.

I have found that choosing the right gun for your skill level and the area is key to early-season squirrel success. In the late season, I would only ever consider using a .22 or .17 hmr. This is because the opportunities are much more frequent and if you do miss a shot, it is much easier to track the squirrel through the naked canopy for a follow-up shot. However, in the early season you usually only get one crack at it and they disappear into the dense canopy. I would suggest that you would consider a 20 gauge or .410 when hunting in the early season. They offer the hunter more forgiveness and it is much easier to place a shot on a running squirrel with a shotgun. I personally hunt with a Savage Model 24v which is a .22 over .410. It is a blast to hunt with and offers the best of both worlds.

It took two days of hard hunting to gather up three grey squirrels for the pan.

No matter what gun you choose to hunt with, early-season squirrel hunting is a blast. It is a great way to get out into the woods after a long summer and brush up on your marksmanship skills before the big game seasons start later in the fall. It is also a great way to put some tasty snacks on the table. All you have to do is try squirrel and dumplings once and you will be a believer for life. I would strongly suggest that if you have never given squirrel hunting a chance that you consult your local game regulations and get out into the woods for a fun and often humbling experience.

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About the author: Jake Wallace was introduced to the shotgun sports after breaking his hips when he was 11, which forced him into a wheelchair for 23 months. He saw a shooting program on one of the outdoor networks and thought that it was something he could do from a chair. Jake started shooting ATA from a chair and progressed to international when he was able to walk again. He loves being in the outdoors because nothing clears his mind like sitting in the woods or on a boat. Jake was part of Lindenwood University’s history of success having graduated from there in 2012 after being a part of four ACUI National Championships for the Lions from 2009-12. He currently resides in Colorado Springs where he’s a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. JAKE WALLACE: Hunting for Trap Superiority http://www.usashooting.org/news/usasnews/USAnews-2017-August/?page=22 Competition Highlights • 2018 World Cup Gold Medalist, Mixed Team • 2017 Fall Selection, Silver Medalist • 2017 World Championships Team Member • 2017 Qatar Open, First Place • 2016 Fall Selection Match Champion • 2015 Shotgun Team Selection, Silver Medalist • 2014 USA Shooting National Championships, Gold Medalist • 2014 Championship of the Americas, Silver Medalist – shot a perfect 125 in qualification to tie World Record • 2014 Fall Selection, Silver Medalist • 2014 Spring Selection, Bronze Medalist • 2013 Granada World Cup, Sixth Place • 2013 World Clay Target Championships Team Member • 2013 National Championships, Bronze Medalist • 2013 Spring Selection Match, Bronze Medalist • 2010 World Championships Junior Team, Silver Medalist (w/ M. Gossett) • 2010 World Championships Junior Team Member

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  • Mike in a Truck October 5, 2021, 12:50 pm

    I borrowed Dads Browning Sweet 16, his new handmade wooden canoe, and a ratty F100 that belonged to my fathers contracting company. Oh…and Daisy. Dads new Lab pup. She loved chasing squirrels and at 8 months old would bark treed- for hours.The plan was to paddle along the NYS Barge Canal lined with cornfields and bushwack the abundant squirrels. Plan worked well until disaster struck. Which is another name for Daisy. An excitable lass.She spied the object of her desire in a treetop next to the canal and made a grand leap egressing the canoe.One of her toes caught the trigger guard of the Browning laying across the gunal and somehow discharged the gun.Blowing a hole through the side of Dads new canoe. Daisy was well on her way to shore as the canoe capsized throwing me and the 16 gauge into the canal. I had a nice swim. I could see the 16 laying on the rocks below in about 15 feet of water.So down I went and retrived it. Air temp was about 50 degrees. I dont know what the water temp was – cold. Please spare me the lecture about gun safety and common sense. Bad enough Dad made me work off the damage.

  • Greg April 23, 2021, 11:31 am

    I use pellet rifles I live on long island it’s a suburb of NYC. My neighbors are happy for me to do it. A lot of people have a garden or fruit tree’s. They will also ruin a nice lawn. If I sit quiet I will get three or four just in my yard. Long story short I can shoot between ten & twenty in a couple of hour’s. They are rats with tails I give them to a man on my block who eats them. They stay away for a while but come back after a week or so. I will also shoot raccoons too. They got into my attic once. I really hate them they are pests So now if it’s safe I shoot them. I use a .25 break barrel. I have ave a hunting licence but don’t hunt anymore because of wounds sustained while in service. I’m not really supposed to be shooting These pests. So I don’t use a rifle and like I said my neighbors encourage me.

  • Greg April 23, 2021, 11:19 am

    I use pellet rifles I live on long island it’s a suburb of NYC. My neighbors are happy for me to do it. A lot of people have a garden or fruit tree’s. They will also ruin a nice lawn. If I sit quiet I will get three or four just in my yard. Long story short I can shoot between ten & twenty in a couple of hour’s. I give them to a man on my block who eats them. They stay away for a while but come back after a week or so. I will also shoot raccoons too. They got into my attic once. So now if it’s safe I shoot them. I use a .25 break barrel

  • Leighton Cavendish June 6, 2020, 8:26 am

    Come to Florida…find a mango tree…start shooting…
    I usually like the fuzzy little tree rats…but they take a bite or two of a mango and go on to another one.
    Wouldn’t be so bad if they actually finished them.
    Grrrrr. LOL

  • David A. Boerboom June 6, 2020, 1:05 am

    Two days? Three squirrel? Whoa. I like you Mr. Wallace. You’re honest, you’re dedicated, you seem very bright & positive, you see the beauty of being in the woods and being in touch with nature. Plus, they say all the Wallace’s are related. No that’s not my last name, it’s on my mother’s side. Still.

    Sound the Charge.

  • howard June 5, 2020, 2:07 pm

    Nice article. My comment is a little tonge -in-cheek. Here is my plan. Step 1: set up a bird feeder with sunflower seeds. Step 2: Wait for the squirrel to come by and bag it. 🙂

    • mark wynn June 5, 2020, 3:38 pm

      I see what you did there … as I watch “my squirrels” try to get around the bird feeder cone. Then one flys five feet off the deck railing, onto the top of the bird feeder. Problem solved. Clever squirrels …

      However, we don’t hunt squirrels out of 50′ cottonwood trees here in Nebraska with a shotgun. A well sighted-in .22 rifle with scope and head shots preserve the most meat for the table. And who likes crunching down on lead shot while eating Sunday dinner?

  • COL.USA.Ret June 5, 2020, 12:26 pm

    Way back when I was a young lad, I would use this technique. I would go about 50 feet into the woods that bordered a corn field and sit on the ground with my back against a large tree. After about 5-10 minutes of quiet sitting, I would start clicking the safety of my .22 off and on several times (3 to 6 cycles) followed by silence for about a minute, then repeat the sound. Squirrels are extremely curious and it won’t be long before they are moving around trying to find out where the sound is coming from and what is making the sound. I have harvested as many as 6 squirrels from one location by shooting one, remaining sitting, going immediately still for a few minutes, and then starting the clicking routine again. Just make sure you remember where your downed squirrels are.

  • Big Al 45 June 5, 2020, 9:46 am

    I always did early season squirrels, and I never sat down. Full camo, still hunting is best, IMO. And locating is actually easy, seeing them is another thing. When the trees mast is ripening, you can locate easily by listening for the cutting, when the squirrel is chewing away the husk or shell. You can then move silently toward that and locate by the falling pieces of the nuts.
    Now the challenge, maneuvering to get a sight of the critter and then of course the shot itself.
    I love the Ruger 10/22 for this reason, and Remingtons Subsonic ammo is both quite and very accurate. And all my Rugers will cycle it.
    I’m in Colorado now, crappy squirrel hunting here, IMO. I do miss Indiana’s woods, and the great squirrel hunting there.
    And the Eastern Grey feeding on acorns is tasty meat, far better than any Fox ever.
    Damn I miss those days.

  • Mike in a Truck June 2, 2020, 10:24 am

    Want to up your success ratio? Hunt along cornfields bordered by woods. Squirrels love corn. Get permission from the farmer then use a combination of still hunting and standing.And dont be a fairweather friend. In the off season offer to lend that farmer a hand. It pays off big time. I was given permission once to hunt on private property but for squirrels only.Plenty of deer but the farmer didnt want a bunch of yahoos sending shotgun slugs all over the place. Helped out on his farm whenever I could that summer and into harvest. He let me hunt deer come November. Took a nice 9 point- would of been a ten but one tine was broken. One shot from my .54 TC Hawken and he was mine!

  • Super X June 2, 2020, 7:02 am

    Some of the very best memories of hunting is hunting squirrels in the early fall. I used to hunt them with my family and lot of the time some one in the group had a squirrel dog. If you like to hunt, my advice is to try squirrel hunting with a shotgun, rifle and if you are lucky enough to find some one that has a dog try that also is more fun than you can image.

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