An ideal first hunt for your new Hunter Education Graduate: squirrels.
Yes, some people still do hunt squirrels, and I’m one of them.
One of my favorite early season tactics is hunting squirrels. It is a great way to introduce your new hunter education graduate to hunting before introducing them to big game later in the season.
Your new hunter education graduate will have to learn some of the basics of hunting: moving stealthily and quietly, listen, look, recognize feeding patterns and practice firearm safety as learned in hunter education.
Moving Stealthily and Quietly
To do this you have to creep quietly through the woods, taking only a few (three to five) steps at a time. Each step is conducted in slow motion; about the speed of flowing molasses in the wintertime. This is best done just after a rain or early in the morning when the forest floor is damp.
You want to listen for any noise that might be made from a squirrel such as the swish of a branch made when a squirrel jumps from limb to limb. Listen for the sound of their toenails scraping as they climb. The sound of dropping nutshells is music to a squirrel hunter’s ears. When they are eating nuts you can hear them half way through the woodlot on a quiet day and they are not focused on watching for danger.
Along with listening you must watch for squirrels. Many times you can see them before they see you. I carry a pair of binoculars to verify what I’m seeing when hunting as all hunters should. Never use the scope on your firearm for that purpose. Once you’ve positively identified that what you thought was a squirrel actually is a squirrel you can then plan you shot.
Once the squirrel is spotted the game really heats up as you try to get in position without him seeing you. When the squirrel is not moving you should be very still. Move only when the squirrel is moving or cannot see you. The perfect shot is one where you have clear vision of the squirrel at close distance and a safe backstop for your bullet or pellets.
Some hunters just find a good feeding area where there are a lot of oak or hickory trees. Both of the nuts from these trees (acorns and hickory nuts) are favorite food sources of the squirrel. Sitting while squirrel hunting is just as hard as sitting while turkey hunting. Bring along something that will cushion your backside as you will likely be sitting for long periods of time without moving. Move only your eyes and if you have to turn your head you should do so very slowly. Follow the rules of safe hunting as learned in hunter education, once a squirrel is sited and before you make the decision to shoot.
Remember that there are other seasons like bow hunting for deer that might be going on at the same time and other hunters may be in the woods with you.
This is an excellent time of the year to practice many of the hunting skills you will need later in the year for deer or turkey hunting. It’s also not so cold in the field during squirrel season so you don’t have to dress to look like the Michelin man in order to be comfortable.
Remember to know and practice the 4 basic rules of firearms safety taught during your hunter education course every time you handle a firearm: TAB-K.
- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
- Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
- Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it.
- Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.
Hunting squirrels can be an excellent way to kick-off the fall hunting season. Do your part and share the experience with other family members and friends. It’s a great time to be in the great outdoors.
About the Author
Tim Lawhern is a hunting and firearms safety consultant based in Madison, Wisconsin. Tim is the former Hunter Education Administrator for the Wisconsin DNR, a former President of International Hunter Education Association (IHEA-USA) and Co-Director of the IHEA-USA Hunter Incident Academy.