A number of states take advantage of the squirrel’s prolific nature. Since the first litter is born and weaned in late spring, why not have a season to harvest these tender, tasty critters? Perusing this challenging quarry will not only provide the shooting and hunting tone you’ll need for fall, but will introduce you to an outdoor world experienced by few hunters. Have you seen a week-old fawn, a hen turkey with a clutch, or grouse chicks the size of bumblebees? Aside from a squirrel or two for the pot, you’ll bring back experiences and knowledge to boost fall success. You may be surprised how large a whitetail’s antlers have grown by the last day of spring. Once you learn that big buck’s address, you can make plans to “visit” in October.
Spring squirrels will still be feeding on mast buried last year, which means they will be near oaks, hickories, walnuts, and other food sources. The first objective is to find a den tree, often a mature hardwood, with lots of bushytail sign in early morning and late afternoon. Eventually, the adults will drive the young from their territory, yet the “teenagers” hang around the “house” as long as they can.
The gray squirrel is America’s most common species, yet larger fox squirrels occupy certain regions of the country and provide vittles in economy size. Color phases of red, black, even black & white, occur throughout the South and Midwest. I hunted a trophy deer area in central Illinois last season that had incredibly handsome fox squirrels—easily “P&Y” in my book.
Depending upon where you live, there probably is a small mammal that’s considered a general nuisance by all but the greenest granola types. Prairie dogs, gophers, rock chucks, and the like can ruin grazing land, invade gardens and corn cribs, and otherwise fortify their image as a pest.
My daughter lives in Bozeman, Montana, and while visiting, I had the chance to stalk prairie dogs on a ranch that I would hunt for deer and elk in the fall. Visiting the location of a big game hunt during the summer proved to be very beneficial to me. The prairie dog town I stalked has been rifle hunted, making the critters very spooky. My best shot was a 45-yard, through-the-shoulders, “dog’s-eye” with a broadhead. I learned the lay of the land, envisioned the shooting scenarios, developed confidence in my gear and otherwise came away with a positive attitude. Two months later, I filled three big game tags on the ranch.
Accuracy is just as important on small game animals as large, possibly more so. If you use bent arrows or shafts mismatched to your equipment, you are destined for failure and frustration. Since we often change gear, the spring hunting is a good way to “use up” your next-to-best equipment. Did you switch from aluminum to carbon last year, or vice-versa? Perhaps you moved up to a stiffer spine for a bow with more horsepower. You can drop the draw weight a bit (a good idea in the spring, anyway) and shoot shafts that fly consistently.
You can treat broadheads the same way. If you have changed heads or have dull ones that can be resharpened, spring hunting will see that you get full value from your investment. Recycling in a sense.
Spring gobblers and woodchucks require broadheads and exacting accuracy. For squirrels and small varmints, rubber blunts or Judo points are excellent. Judos are forgiving to shafts and prevent arrows from burying in grass and under leaves.
Finally, except for bowfishing, your best hunting bow is the way to go. By fall, you want gripping that “stick” to become second nature. Tuning up through spring hunting will breeze you through the summer and have you smokin’ by fall.
One spring and summer, I hunted groundhogs almost every day. Was it coincidence that I arrowed the biggest buck of my life that fall—from the ground? As my buddy commented when he saw the hoss, “I guess all that groundhog hunting paid off.” It sure did.