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Now’s the time for squirrel hunting

 
September and early October offer some of the best, and in this writer’s opinion, the easiest, squirrel hunting to be had during the entire season. So what makes the early season so productive for small game hunters?
First, the squirrels are very easy to locate. Squirrels are busy feeding on hickory nuts and then acorns at this time of year. If you venture into the woods and get near either of those trees, you will find plenty of squirrels.
Second, I have heard more than a few guys say they hate hunting the early season because the shooting is so tough. Sure, the leafy boughs make the sight picture tough at times, but the fact that you can see a leafy branch bouncing around from quite a distance away more than makes up for the issue of getting a clear shot. You can easily spot squirrels feeding from over 100 yards out.

Last, because the squirrels are busy gorging themselves, they don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the things going on at ground level right now. This means that we can sneak up to an active tree and get lined up for the shot if we are even halfway careful. The trick is to be totally aware of your surroundings at all times when putting the stalk on a squirrel in a tree. Sometimes a closer and unobserved squirrel might make you and alert the neighborhood. However, even if this happens the squirrels soon go back to eating and become complacent in their behavior.

Getting the meat in the bag
As with most things, there are two ways to approach the task at hand. Some hunters prefer a scattergun for early season hunting. The thought is that a shotgun can cut through the leaves and drop the meat quickly and efficiently. This is very true. When faced with a tree full of feeding squirrels one could possibly get off three shots and bag three squirrels in a matter of seconds thereby getting half the bag limit with a shotgun. When using a shotgun go for the #4 shot to do the job cleanly. A 12, 16 or 20 gauge will do the best job and in that order of preference. Keep shots at 50 yards or less. With the 20 gauge it is recommended to keep the shots below 40 yards.
Riflemen do best at long shots in open country such as presented in late fall and winter when leaves are gone. However, some of us, to include this writer, prefer to use a .22 rifle or even a .17 HMR all the time to avoid wasting meat or picking shot out of the meat while attempting to enjoy the culinary delights of stew from the local woodlot. Obviously, there are drawbacks to using a rimfire rifle during this time of year. One problem is that leaves or twigs tend to deflect or redirect the bullets easily. This means possible misses. On the flip side the shooting may be more challenging but the report of a .22 is considerably less noticeable than a shotgun and a .17 and therefore less likely to spook game. I prefer to spook less game, keep a low profile and enjoy the woods with as little disturbance as possible. Headshots are best but anything to avoid the hindquarters is fine.

Getting an assist
Maybe you want to give the idea a shot (no pun intended) and you just are not too keen on going it alone. There are a couple of avenues here. Going hunting with a buddy to team up on a woodlot is great fun. When I do this I always keep in mind where my friend is before even considering a shot. Try to safely set up on opposite sides of a favorable or promising tree that has plenty of mast ripe and ready. This gives one of you a sure shot most of the time. If one misses the squirrel will likely move to the opposite side to offer a shot to your partner.
Second, you can take a youth along. I highly recommend this as well. Kids are not in tune with nature as many of us older people are. The great thing is that if you can get a kid into the woods you better be ready for the questions and enthusiasm that he or she will have. It does not take long for them to really learn to enjoy hunting. Even if the kids are too young to do any shooting, they really appreciate the time an adult will spend with them. Many are thrilled to be the game retriever too.
Last, you can take any dog to the woods, as long as it is trained in basic obedience. I love to take a dog with me because they can hear so much better than I can and they point the way to nearby squirrels. With a little encouragement they can be trained to retrieve your game too! That is a great thing when you are hunting and a squirrel drops to the bottom of a steep hill.
The season is in and the game is plenty. Enjoy the incredible weather and the great color that we will soon experience. The eating is good too.

Mark Fike

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