Most hunting guides talk endlessly about the benefits and techniques needed to hunt deer, turkeys, and other larger game species. But squirrel hunting can be a rewarding and exciting activity as well, but without nearly as much stress, preparation requirements, or hunting regulations.
This guide will break down everything you need to know about squirrel hunting for the upcoming season.
Advantages of Squirrel Hunting
Although it’s not as glamorous as big game hunting, where you and your buddies go after the bushy whitetails or turkeys, squirrel hunting does offer unique advantages.
For starters, squirrel hunting seasons are usually open earlier and longer than hunting seasons for other popular game species. This means more opportunity to hunt, both for your own pleasure and for the practice for any newbies you might be teaching along the way (such as your kids).
Squirrel hunting is excellent hunting practice since the little critters aren’t nearly as difficult to get as some bigger game. In fact, most squirrel hunting weapons are easy to handle and teach. Add to that the fact that hunting squirrels is just plain fun, and we don’t see why you wouldn’t want to give it a shot!
Squirrel Season and Legality
While squirrel hunting seasons are longer than most other hunting seasons in comparison, it’s still a good idea to consult with your state’s Parks Department if you haven’t hunted squirrels before. That’s because different squirrel species may or may not be protected depending on your state’s regulations.
If a squirrel isn’t protected, you don’t necessarily need a small game or furbearer’s license. The reverse is true if a species is protected or regulated for limited hunting.
Furthermore, different states have different hunting permit criteria, ranging from experience to age limits to fees. Do your research and make sure that you have all of your legal ducks in a row before heading out on your squirrel hunt.
In general, there are three main types of squirrels you’re allowed to hunt across states:
- The eastern fox squirrel
- The eastern gray squirrel
- The western gray squirrel
Many people accidentally call the eastern fox squirrel the “red squirrel”, but the two are actually separate species. The real red squirrel (which can also be known as a pine squirrel for further confusion) is usually ignored by squirrel hunters who know what they’re doing since red squirrels are typically small and aren’t as tasty as other varieties.
The majority of states’ squirrel seasons run between September to January, although some states also include limited springtime hunting seasons.
The good news is that squirrels are abundant throughout the entire continental US. Anywhere you can find forests or plentiful food, you can bet that there’ll be squirrels to fill the scavenger niche.
How Many Squirrels Can You Hunt?
This also depends on your state’s regulations and specific limitations based on whether a squirrel species is protected or not. But in general, licensed squirrel hunters can harvest between four and six squirrels across species each and every day. That is to say; you can’t hunt between four and six squirrels per species, just 4-6 total.
Where and When to Hunt Squirrels
This is one of the earliest tricks that squirrel hunters learn, as it determines how successful your hunt will be. Hunting squirrels isn’t typically hard, per se, especially compared to hunting other types of game. But if you aren’t in the right place at the right time, you may not find enough squirrels to take home a full bag.
Squirrels can be found anywhere you find densely wooded forests, particularly with tree species like hickory, ash, and oak.
Squirrels are also particularly common in the eastern United States – the eastern and gray fox squirrels are, of course, the most common varieties you’ll see.
You should also consider when you hunt squirrels, not just where. The ideal squirrel hunting season is around early to mid-fall. This is when squirrels will be most active as they stockpile food for the winter.
Squirrels typically move around the most during the beginning of the day, spending their time scavenging for food and bringing it back to their dens for storage. Squirrels usually rest during the warmest part of the day in the afternoon, as do most herbivores and scavengers. Some squirrels may also forage in the evening as the temperature drops again, and visibility becomes a little more difficult.
There is some species variety to keep in mind as well. For instance, gray squirrels often start their foraging activities before sunrise. Meanwhile, some fox squirrel species are active right after dawn. Either way, morning hunting is the favorite time among squirrel hunters for a reason.
When it comes to weather, most squirrels prefer relatively sunny weather when they’ll be in the treetops. Squirrels usually only descend to the ground when there is significant weather cover, such as fog or rain. Even in these cases, squirrels will usually stick relatively close to the bases of their home trees.
Tools of the Trade – Weapons to Hunt Squirrels
Now that we’ve gone over where and when to hunt squirrels let’s break down the tools you’ll use to do the job. There are three main weapon categories you might choose.
The .22 caliber rifle is the weapon of choice for most squirrel hunters. It offers precision and effective stopping power at a distance enough to regularly down squirrels in a single shot. This, in turn, allows you to hit squirrels from farther away than you could with a shotgun or bow.
Why .22 caliber? Because that caliber offers enough stopping power at a distance without doing too much damage to squirrels’ meat or hides. Furthermore, .22 rifles aren’t terribly loud, so you won’t be likely to scare away other prey.
Shotguns offer wide spreads of buckshot, making it relatively easy to hit targets, even from afar, without damaging any of the squirrel meat. However, as with rifles, you’ll want to make sure that you use an appropriate caliber that doesn’t totally destroy the animal as you take it down.
Shotguns that use .410-gauge shells are a perfect choice as the pallets aren’t likely to penetrate too deep into a target’s meat.
Shotguns are preferred if you’re hunting in larger groups or in a relatively populated area. That’s because shotgun pellets won’t be lethal over long distances. However, shotguns also create more noise compared to other options.
Lastly, you can use bows to hunt squirrels successfully. However, these weapons require greater aim and accuracy than the other two, both due to the complexity of handling the weapon and the small size of your quarry.
Flu-flu arrows are recommended, but be sure to use the correct arrow points for smaller animals, so you don’t destroy your target entirely. You can choose between blunts, judos, or SGHs.
Bows can be a good choice if you want to hone your target shooting skills before another hunting season.
Regardless of the weapon you choose to use, remember to aim for the head – this is the best way to down a squirrel in a single shot while doing minimum damage to the rest of its body.
Hunting Squirrels: Tips and Tricks
There are two main hunting strategies (for hunting any animal, really): passive and active.
Passively hunting squirrels means setting up shop in an area where there’s lots of food and nesting trees and waiting for squirrels to show themselves. You’ll most likely want to sit inside a tree or in a place with plenty of visibility. This is a relaxing hunting strategy that’s most effective in the early summer months.
Actively hunting squirrels means actually going into the woods to seek them out. This tactic is a lot more involved and is preferred if you’re planning to teach young hunters the right techniques. When actively hunting squirrels, try to keep your noise down, but be aware that you don’t have to be downright silent to still see squirrels rustling about in the treetops.
One thing to remember is that squirrels are jittery, fast-moving critters. Take your time lining up your shot and wait for them to stop moving before pulling the trigger. Firing and missing is liable to make a squirrel run for a den, making it almost impossible to get them later.
Use Your Ears!
Your ears are valuable tools to help you hear small squirrels rustling around. In many cases, your ears may be able to pinpoint the location of a squirrel faster than your eyes can, especially if they blend into the environment!
Learn to call
Believe it or not, squirrels can be called in much like ducks. There are a few different methods to doing this. One method that I find works best is using two coins, simply rub or tap two quarters together to sound like a squirrel chattering. There are also calls available on the market such as the Primos Squirrel Buster Call
Wear Visible Clothing
You don’t need to worry too much about wearing camouflage clothing while hunting squirrels. Instead, wear bright, visible clothing to minimize the likelihood of friendly fire incidents.
As you can see, squirrel hunting is accessible and enjoyable for both novice and experienced hunters. Our recommendation is to try it out for yourself if you haven’t already, or to use squirrel hunting as a perfect opportunity to teach newer hunters the ropes. Squirrels make for incredibly tasty table fare and are easy to process. Good hunting!