Hunting Small Game Hunting Squirrel Hunting

A Good Squirrel Hunt Will Prepare You for a Lifetime of Bigger Game

Squirrel hunting isn’t just for kids—it’s the foundation for every big game hunt you’ll ever have
A squirrel climbs down the side of a tree in the snow.
A fox squirrel freezes on the trunk of a shagbark hickory tree. skip moody/dembinsky photo/alamy

As with so many hunters, my baptism was by squirrel blood. A fat fox squirrel that thought it was hidden high in a post oak behind my grandmother’s house fell to a load of No. 6s from my H&R 12-gauge after several frustrating rounds of hide-and-seek.

My last-ditch strategy was to wait it out, an exercise that taxed my 10-year-old patience to the limit. But as I held the squirrel’s body in my hands, a sense of satisfaction warmed my young body. And though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, there was a lesson here: When all else fails, tenacity and patience are a deadly combination.

In the decades since, the wisdom gleaned from that hunt has contributed to more hunting success. It works when a gobbler stalls behind a tree trunk for what seems an eternity. It works when a whitetail inside 20 yards takes forever to turn just a bit more for the arrow’s best angle. It works when the woods have seemed barren for hours before the soft crunch of hoof steps in autumn leaves makes your heart pound.

Squirrels were also the gatekeepers of woods secrets, teaching me how to read sign, make sense of every sight and sound in the forest, and understand the necessity of taking only a clear and ethical shot.

But here’s something that should never be a ­secret: Squirrels aren’t just for kids. The beautiful thing about squirrel hunting is that you can easily build ­degrees of difficulty that will challenge even the most seasoned hunters.

You can always shove shells into the shotgun on a prime ­October morning, slip through a stand of hickory trees, and fill a limit in little time. Or you can even the odds by stalking through frosty December woodlands with an air rifle, trying to close within 25 yards of educated squirrels in the open woods.

My favorite method is a slow still-hunt with a .22, pausing here and there to listen for squabbling barks, scrambling clawed feet, or the drizzle of mast hulls. After a hunt like this on pressured public lands, you’ll never view squirrels as a lesser challenge again. You may even feel like a fool at your inability to close the deal, because squirrels are supposed to be easy. Right?

The squirrels might be tougher to kill than you remember. The game bag might be lighter than you thought it would be. But with every successful stalk, you’re closing the distance on something more than nostalgia as that primal satisfaction warms your much older body. You’re still learning. And the squirrels still have plenty to teach.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Hunting Squirrels

Four Timeless Squirrel Tactics

  1. Hunt with the sun at your back. The rays will spotlight squirrels and keep the bright light in their eyes, masking your movement.
  2. Stay still and listen. Let squirrels give away their location. Listen for swishing branches and foliage in the early season, the rustle of falling mast on dried leaves later in the fall, or the chatter of barking squirrels at any time.
  3. Watch your steps and go slowly. Snapping twigs and rustling leaves will cause squirrels to flee the scene or go into ultrastealth mode. Both make killing a squirrel more difficult than when you have the drop on them.
  4. Use trees to steady your gun. Offhand shots are tough when you’re trying to head-shoot a squirrel, which has a brain the size of an acorn. Use limb crotches, or place your hand on a trunk and your gun in the web of your thumb.