Back to Basics — November is right time for squirrel hunting

Many hunters look down on squirrel hunting, but hunting the lowly tree rat requires a lot of woodsmanship. Here are some tips for success.

David Hawkins

November 01, 2012 at 7:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

A light jacket, a pocket full of shot-shells and a crisp November morning are a recipe for fun in the squirrel woods.
David Hawkins
A light jacket, a pocket full of shot-shells and a crisp November morning are a recipe for fun in the squirrel woods.
In the distance a limb shakes. The source of the movement is yet to be seen, but it has to be a squirrel. A flash of movement, and another limb shakes in the next tree. A crow calls in the distance; the hunter takes a few steps and freezes.

The end of yet another pin oak limb shakes, indicating multiple targets in the same tree. The hunter needs another 10 yards — 33 feet that must be crossed in complete stealth.

One step at a time, he eases toward the nearest tree to break up his silhouette. Blue jays are working the top of a nearby nutall oak, and the hunter can hear the cuttings of the squirrels falling to the forest floor, sounding like huge rain drops.

Suddenly the woods go quiet. The hunter freezes; he needs 10 more feet, but the squirrels have stopped feeding but are not moving. They are looking for the presence of danger.

The silence seems to last for an eternity. Then, once again — through youthful impatience or a false sense of security — the squirrels and jays begin to feed again.

Finally there is an open shot as a squirrel dangles near the end of a branch, reaching for an acorn it will never get the chance to eat.

The 16-gauge Model 12 swings up, the safety clicks off and the shot breaks the quiet of the November morning. A fast pump and a swing, and another squirrel is dispatched as it tries to escape to a den tree.

Another pump of the gun, and the hunter scans the branches for movement. There is none to be seen: The third squirrel is holding tight, hidden by the leaves of the tree’s canopy.

The hunter fetches the two rewards and eases down a lane toward another grove of trees, and another stalk.

"Before archery hunting for deer became so popular, squirrels were about the only thing to hunt from mid-October through the third weekend of November, when deer season opened," Pulaski’s David Livingston of Pulaski said. "After being a dyed-in-the-wool bowhunter for many years, I decided to try squirrels again, hunting them like I did when I was a kid.

"It turned out to be a great morning, and now I look forward to many more. Besides, I like eating squirrels, as well."

Livingston pointed out that November is a time when squirrels are busy putting away food for the winter. That means it’s a great time to catch them in their favorite feed trees.

And Livingston said he is not beyond going to those places where he has seen good squirrel activity while deer hunting.

Regardless of where you go, there should be plenty of targets.

"Squirrel populations tend to be higher in years following winters with abundant food resources," said Dave Godwin, small game coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "Most regions of our state had good hard-mast crops last year, which suggests we will see good squirrel numbers throughout the state this year. Actually, most regions of Mississippi have seen good hard-mast crops for the past few years, and early indications are favorable for another good mast crop this year."

The key to success chasing bushy-tails is stealth, Livingston said.

"When we catch a rain and the leaves are wet, the hunting is pretty easy, hunters can slip along pretty quietly," Livingston said. "When the leaves are dry and the woods are quiet, it’s another story.

"Squirrels have the best seat in the house when it comes to watching the woods, and their ears pick up any sound out of the ordinary."

Livingston has two techniques for taking bushy-tails: a sit-and-watch approach and leap frog with another hunter.

The first approach is to slip into an area, and be as still and quiet as possible.

The squirrels will eventually begin to move or return to feeding. One will instill some confidence in others, and if the hunter has patience, several targets may appear.

It’s a simple strategy: Shoot a couple of squirrels, and then move on to a new location — most of the time just a dozen yards away — and set up again.

The leap-frog approach places hunters 20 to 30 yards apart, with one hunter moving while the other remains still and watches for movement. Livingston said this is a great way to teach a child the importance of teamwork and woodscraft.

"Novice hunters are sometimes impatient, especially young people who are accustomed to the instant gratification of the technological world," Livingston said. "Stalking allows them to move and experience the old art of hunting by using stealth.

"I’ve never hunted with a young person who didn’t want to do it again."

Livingston also recommended a shotgun for squirrel hunting when the leaves are still heavy on the trees. The gauge doesn’t matter as much as the choke and the shot size; David likes a modified choke with high-velocity No. 6 shot, or even No. 5s.

"You want to make a clean kill," Livingston said. "Squirrels can be pretty tough at times, so the heavier shot has greater shock power and makes for a cleaner kill.

"If a wounded squirrel can make it to a nest or a hole, there is a chance it will die and be lost. And no hunter wants that to happen."

This is a transition month, the MDWFP’s Godwin said.

"November can be interesting," the avid squirrel hunter said. "Early in the month we normally have plenty of leaves, and still-hunting can be more effective than using treeing dogs. Later in November, we see leaves falling rapidly and dog hunting success starts to skyrocket as it gets easier to spot the treed squirrels."

Godwin went on to say still-hunting success is normally dependent on finding the current food sources, which change from early October to late November. Late summer/early fall groceries like beech, pine and hickory mast start to play out and more acorns are becoming available as the season progresses through November.

Determining what food source squirrels are utilizing is the key to success when hunting them.

"I don’t bow hunt for deer, and I only just started hunting during the primitive weapons season for deer," Clyde Risher said. "Squirrel hunting plays a dual role for me: I get to be with my grandson to squirrel hunt, and we look for deer sign at the same time. We’re always finding rubs and signs of deer activity in early November.

"My grandson Chandler actually sees squirrels better than me, and I think he’s a better shot, too. This cool spell (in September) has already got him asking when we’re going to the woods."

And there are plenty of options for small-gamers.

"Mississippians are very fortunate when it comes to public land squirrel hunting areas" Godwin said. "Nearly all of our WMAs offer great squirrel hunting, plus there are plenty of additional lands (national forests, national wildlife refuges, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer lands, etc.) that have plenty of squirrel hunting opportunity."

Visit the MDWFP Web site at www.mdwfp.com for WMA information.

The grey squirrel (a.k.a. cat squirrel) is found in abundance in all 82 counties of Mississippi. It was once the most popular game animal in the state.
In late November, as many trees shed their leaves, hunting with a dog becomes a popular option for Mississippi hunters. Here Anna has a squirrel treed for Dave Godwin of Starkville.
     

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