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Photo by: Ralph Hensley

Every squirrel hunter dreams of a frosty dawn in an oak glade, a brisk sunny morning on a hickory ridge, or a crisp afternoon stalking through an old pasture grown over with walnut trees. But here are September’s realities: sultry dawns; muggy days; green, leafy woods; and nuts that aren’t ready for squirrels to eat. What’s a bushy­tail hunter to do? Find the soft mast squirrels prefer as forage now, and put proven early-season hunting strategies to work.

Preferred Soft Mast
When hard mast (acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, beechnuts, and others) isn’t ripe, look for the food that attracts squirrels now, and hunt in their vicinity.

Plums These purple to red fruits grow in thickets, ripen in early September, and drop in abundance.
Apples and Pears Find abandoned fruit-bearing trees or an old orchard, and you’ll find squirrels.
Persimmons These orange fruits ripen in early fall.
Blackberries Thick tangles of canes produce bumper blackberry crops some years.
Crab Apples Small, spreading trees display their red mini-apples come September.
Wild Grapes Fence lines and sunny forest edges provide sunlight for vines full of juicy purple grapes.
Chokecherries The red, dark-purple, or black fruits attract squirrels from far and wide to their shrubby trees.
Elderberries Mounds of blue-black or black berries grow on these shrubs in early fall.
Highbush Cranberries Look for these red viburnum-­family berries on bushes.

Proven Strategies
In the first few weeks of squirrel season, tangles of foliage make visibility a challenge. You have two hunting options.

Find a soft-mast food source, set up, and wait for squirrels to come to you. Many of these foods grow on sunny woods edges or in transition zones between forest and field. Watch open areas for squirrels traveling to the forage. Top squirrel-feeding times are early morning until 10 a.m., and then again after 3 p.m.

If your squirrel stand isn’t producing, or you get antsy, moving out on a still-hunt can produce bushytails too. Hunt slow, stop often, look hard, listen a lot, and use a good binocular to pick apart the squirrel-friendly foliage.

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