Tips for Hunting Squirrels in 3 Seasons

If you're a diehard squirrel hunter or get into the woods only a few times a year, here are tips to help bag more bushytails in three seasons.

Tips for Hunting Squirrels in 3 Seasons

With the Gamo break-action 22-caliber air rifle, once the scope is sighted in the combo gives hunters a bit more challenge when going after squirrels. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

Acorns rained through the leaves and peppered the ground as the limb shook overhead, thanks to a squirrel scampering around gathering nuts for winter.

I could see the moving limb and hear the acorns. I knew there was a squirrel up there. But I couldn't see it. It was obscured by the still-green leaves clinging to the oak, leaves that in just weeks would be brown and lying on the ground.

Hunting squirrels in early autumn can be challenging. Enough leaves remain on trees and vines give the swift bushytails ample concealment. Even with a good treeing dog to alert you to a hightop squirrel, you may not have time to arrive before it's timbered two trees over.

That doesn't mean you can't hunt them early. I do, here in Alabama, but it just takes a shift in strategy and gear. Here are some tips to hunt them in all three phases.

Early-Season

With leaves still thick, your chances decline to easily spot squirrels unless they're scampering up and down a trunk or are on the ground. Up in the tree, leaves obscure your view and give them a chance to sit still and chatter at you or flee.

During this time, I'll have a shotgun with Federal No. 6 shot. Federal's Upland Steel also works if you need a non-toxic load. You're not knocking down ducks or turkeys but do need to get through limbs and leaves. I prefer the 20-gauge Remington 870 youth model I bought almost 20 years ago for our kids. They're grown now so it's mine. With a Quake Claw sling, it's a good one to tote. Works if I see a rabbit, too.

I'll also have a binocular, which I take whenver I'm hunting squirrels no matter the time of year. They're great for finding them hiding in branches or flat against a trunk. Meopta's MeoPro HD line offers several choices in size with quality glass providing clear views at close or long range.

One thing to watch for with early-season squirrels are botfly larvae under their skin. These look disgusting. Most hunters will leave the squirrel for the coyotes or scavengers if these larvae are present.

Look for squirrels during this time around hard mast trees. Oak, hickory and beech are favorites. You may find them in pines, too, gnawing the cones for the tasty nuts inside. If you find a cones and cores littering the ground under a pine, set up camp and watch. That's a good sign.


Squirrel dogs are great fun to hunt with and helpful to put you on bushytails. (Photo: Alan Clemons)
Squirrel dogs are great fun to hunt with and helpful to put you on bushytails. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

Winter

I believe this is when most hunters think about squirrels, although an argument can be made that late winter may be better. Either way, and despite the frigid temperatures, the benefit of this period is the leaves are gone and squirrels have to eat.

Yes, they may still have stores of nuts to count on. But they don't sit on those. Squirrels always hunt for more.

Two things I do in winter: sit still and watch, or stalking quietly. If you're hunting in the morning, find areas with morning sun. Late afternoon before sundown is a good time, I think, for a stroll. Whether sitting or walking, I'm watching treetops and the ground for movement, listening for scampering and chatter, and if I hear or see anything I stop to focus.

I shift to a .22 rifle for winter and early spring, just because I enjoy it more and there are no leaves. The rifle can get up high in a tree or extend my range. I have an older, scoped Thompson-Center Classic semi-auto .22 that I enjoy.

Most recently, I've been hunting with a Ruger 10/22 Takedown with a lightweight but tough Magpul X-22 backpacker stock. It's only 35 inches long and weighs just 4.2 pounds without a scope. The stock has a compartment that holds three extra Ruger 10-round rotary magazines. The smartly designed rifle comes apart easily and, also very coolly, fits together so you can fit it into a backpack.

If the wind's not too strong I'll be out. If it's howling, I'm likely going to be at home because, based on what I've seen, the squirrels will be, too.

Late Winter

Late January and February probably are my favorite times to hunt. No  leaves, tangles of vines are easily visible and whatever buds are forming on trees become the first easy food sources.

Pulling on vines is a great way to get squirrels stirring. (Photo: Alan Clemons)
Pulling on vines is a great way to get squirrels stirring. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

The last couple of years at the Gamo Squirrel Masters Classic at Southern Sportsman lodge in Alabama, we've pulled just about every vine we could find. Our groups of a dozen or so rambling through the woods with dogs would spread out, talk, pull vines and scan limbs.

Even if it's one vine (which is usually isn't), that could get a squirrel moving. Most often, though, there are several vines that snake up the tree and sometimes join in a mass. This is where a squirrel might make a nest or otherwise hide.

If you're by yourself, snatch on a vine and back away to look up. Otherwise, you'll get debris in your eyes (not fun) and maybe miss the squirrel getting away (also not fun). If you're with another hunter or in a group, take turns yanking hard on the vines while the others watch. When I say hard, I mean pull on it like you're playing tug-of-war in 6th grade.

While a few nuts may remain on the ground, squirrels will be going after whatever berries are available and tender buds on trees. With more sun each day, they'll be on the move getting whatever sustenance they can find before mating season arrives.

Add a squirrel call to your kit, too. I prefer the bellows-type calls that create whines or chattering. The one made by Hardy's Custom Calls in West Virginia is a good one with a durable construction and nice sound. 

Want a Challenge?

The first year I participated in the Gamo Squirrel Masters Classic, we used the single-shot version of the break-action Swarm air rifle. While fun to get back to our days of youth, having to reload a pellet after every shot was not enjoyable.

The updated Swarm Magnum Gen2 features an inertia-fed 10-shot "Quick-Shot" magazine to keep you shooting. Merely load the magazine, break and close the barrel to cock it, and you're ready. The IGT Mach 1 33mm cylinder power plant that allows it to deliver pellets with 1,300 fps in .22 caliber.

The Swarm Magnum is more than enough air rifle to kill squirrels. It's quite enjoyable to shoot, with an ambidextrous stock and a non-slip tactile design on the forearm. With the 3-9×40 air rifle scope that comes with the combo package, (including rings), you're more than capable of dialing in to hit squirrels.

I've used Gamo's Rocket pellets and Red Fire pellets successfully for squirrels. Don't shrug off this air rifle as a toy because it's not. It's a legit varmint- and squirrel-killer. Get some extra magazines and pellets, and head to the range to zero the scope before you go hunting. Enjoy the challenge.

A good call that imitates whines or chattering can get a squirrel's attention. (Photo: Alan Clemons)
A good call that imitates whines or chattering can get a squirrel's attention. (Photo: Alan Clemons)
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