Veteran squirrel hunter charts the steps it takes to make squirrel hunting in January an activity that can’t be missed
Jeffrey Wood turned his dogs loose, and they hit a hot trail almost instantly.
They opened up on a squirrel and treed him high in an oak. As the hunters surrounded the tree, shots rang out from rifles and shotguns as squirrels started running wild.
Pow! Thump! Tic-pow, thump! The hunters’ aim was true as they harvested not one, but two fox squirrels treed by Wood’s champion squirrel dogs.
The owner of Swamp Boy’s Custom Calls, Wood was trained in the ways of the woods by his father at an early age, and he learned how to train squirrel dogs, specifically treeing dogs. Both his father and grandfather owned treeing dogs, so it was in his blood. By the time he got out on his own, he was a champion trainer, making hunts across the Southeast, many to the Mississippi Delta.
These days, Wood, who hails from Stringer, is still training champion dogs and hunting squirrels, while also making innovative game calls and products to enhance his hunting opportunities. But the bottom line is enhancing the hunting experience so hunters will be successful. There’s nothing much better than taking kids and novice hunters on a successful squirrel hunt with dogs.
One of Jeffrey Wood’s champion squirrel dogs barks at a treed squirrel during an early season hunt.
Still hunting: Slip and bark
During the early season, many hunters head to the woods alone; that’s a good way to get started before the leaves fall, or if you just have a short time to hunt by yourself.
“I like to hunt by myself and shoot them with a .22,” Wood said. “I’ll shoot a round-head CCI bullet and shoot them in the head to save meat. You can also reach out and touch them pretty high in the tree, higher than some shotguns will effectively reach.”
Wood’s rifle of choice is a Browning Buck Mark .22 with a scope. An expert marksman, he has been known to kill two or three squirrels in one tree with that rifle.
“The prime time for still-hunting is from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, because that’s when most of the squirrels are moving,” Wood said. “I like to use a dove stool and slip through the woods, hunting quietly until I locate an area with squirrels, and then I’ll sit down and hit my barker and bring the squirrels right to me.”
When leaves are on trees you can’t really see well enough to spot the squirrels when you’re hunting with dogs, so Wood uses this technique then, and any time he’s by himself and wants to call up a few squirrels.
“If I hear a squirrel barking, I’ll slip up there and sit still for a little bit, and then bark at him and challenge him,” Wood said. “They’re inquisitive and will answer a challenge and come looking to see who’s barking at them. I made my own barker call just for this technique, and it works very well. When they bark, I bark right back and lure them in. I have killed my limit pretty quickly by locating an area with squirrels and barking them up.”
Early in the season, Wood also scouts for deer sign while he’s squirrel hunting, and he’s found some pretty good areas in WMAs and on national forest lands that led to successful deer hunts.
Prime time for dogs
“The prime time for hunting with dogs is (from) around the first of December through January,” Wood said. “When the squirrels get to rutting, you can find seven or eight squirrels in a tree, with one or two females and the rest males. It can be really fun”
Hunting squirrels is fun any time, but nothing beats hunting them with dogs after the leaves fall. That’s also the time to take children and novice hunters.
“The action is fast and furious at times, but in between the action, kids and new hunters can walk along and talk with the veteran hunters and enjoy time in the woods without having to be real still and quiet like when you’re deer hunting,” Wood said. “Then, when the dogs tree, you can get down to the business of shooting squirrels.”
Wood learned a lot about the outdoors, the woods and hunting while following his dad and grandad, watching dogs work.
“I learned the names of the trees and which ones produced acorns or fruit while we were walking behind the dogs and waiting on them to tree,” Wood said. “I also learned about buck scrapes and rubs and generally what to look for and how to find that particular animal. We also learned about the different tracks game made and where to find them a lot of the time.”
Where to hunt
Mississippi is blessed with some of the best hunting lands anywhere in the country, and most of the state’s WMAs, national forests, and national wildlife refuges are chock full of squirrels and squirrel-hunting opportunities. Since deer are the focus for many hunters, squirrels are often overlooked on many of these public areas, which makes for some good hunting.
“The Mississippi Delta is home to a pretty good fox squirrel population; you can find both the red and black phases of fox squirrels on public land in many of those areas,“ Wood said. “If you have a couple days to hunt, you can go to the Delta and get in some good action and maybe kill a fox squirrel, too.”
While going to the Delta is a treat for many hunters, look no further than your local WMA or other public land to enjoy some fast squirrel-hunting action in your own backyard. Every area of Mississippi has public land available for squirrel hunting, and squirrels live in those areas.
“These days, I stay right here at home in central Mississippi and hunt our WMAs locally,” Wood said. “There’s enough government land and WMA land to provide a lot of fine squirrel hunting action without having to make a long trip to the Delta if you don’t live close to the Delta WMAs.”
Squirrel dog hunting 101
There’s nothing really scientific when it comes to hunting squirrels with dogs, but first and foremost, you must have dogs capable of treeing squirrels. After that, it’s simply a matter of knowing what to do when the dog trees. Usually the dog owners are the “hunt masters” who call the shots and tell the hunters what to do around the tree.
“I like to have at least one hunter with a .22 rifle and one or two with a shotgun,” Wood said. “We’ll surround the tree with hunters and then look for that squirrel until somebody picks it out. You can pick them off with the .22 rifle, but if they break and start running, you can shoot more effectively with shotguns.”
“I’ll get to the woods at the break of day, but on really cold days, we’ll hunt from daylight until 11 or 12,” Wood said. “After lunch, we’ll hunt with another dog a couple hours, getting back out there from 2 to 2:30 and hunting until 3:30 until dark, which is the prime time they’re moving in the afternoon.”
“The best squirrel hunting action with dogs is in December and January. By February, a lot of the females are holed up in den trees.”
Tips to find treed squirrels
“Those squirrels will flatten out on those high limbs and hide in forks of the trees and on top of the limbs, so you really have to look hard to find them,” Wood said. “The gray squirrels are just about camouflaged when they flatten out in those oak trees, too.”
These days, Wood brings along binoculars so he can pick out squirrels hidden from view by eyes alone.
“The 8- to 10-power binoculars will help you pick out a gray squirrel on a gray tree,” he said. “Amber safety glasses will also help you pick out those squirrels on a hazy or cloudy day.”
“Another thing I’ll do to help people find the squirrels is to use a green or red laser pointer to help point the squirrels out to the kids or older hunters.”
Wood has also come up with a squirrel skinner that makes it easy to skin squirrels right by yourself.
For more information on hunting squirrels with dogs, or about Jeffrey Wood’s squirrel barker or skinner, call 601-479-3979 or visit Swamp Boys Custom Calls on Facebook.