Get Primed Up for Deer Season by Squirrel Hunting
When I grew up in Starve Hollow, Indiana, money was scarce. Plain and simple, while most of the boys and men in our area enjoyed squirrel hunting, putting food on the table was the primary reason for hunting. And the best way to bring home the chow was by using a shotgun.
Because a shotgun throws a big pattern, it presents the highest percentage shot in squirrel hunting, especially for children. In addition, if you're using a pump-action or semi-automatic shotgun, and are a good shot on moving targets, you can pick several squirrels from one tree, even if they're running along limbs.
Years ago, kids started out with BB guns, then progressed to either a .410-gauge shotgun, or a 20 or 16 gauge. I started out using a .410, but they are a little short on firepower. If squirrels were in high trees, a .410 didn't do much more than scare them. Because of this, I learned how to get really close to squirrels before I shot. Today, there are many fine 20-gauge shotguns on the market designed specifically for youth and women. Their short barrels make it easy to slip through the timber, and with interchangeable choke tubes, you can easily use the pattern of your choice.
Because I could slip right up on squirrels, I preferred modified chokes since it didn't tear up the squirrels. If more of your shots are longer, then a full choke is the ticket to success. No. 6 shot is the most common shot size used for squirrels, with No. 5 shot coming in second.
When a youngster grows into his later teens, they normally switch over to a 12-gauge shotgun, and this is the most popular shotgun used in squirrel hunting today.
Make It Harder
Boy, you can't ever consider yourself a squirrel hunter until you use a rifle, one of the old-timers told me when I was just a pup. As I noted earlier, in my youth putting food on the table was important, so I used a shotgun. A few hunters back then, however, did use .22. Without question, it takes more skill to kill your limit of bushytails if you're shooting them with a rifle.
After many years of hunting with a shotgun, I switched over to a .22-caliber rifle. I enjoyed hunting with a rifle because it presented a challenge. When I had young eyes, I hunted with open sights. For several years now I've been hunting with a scoped rifle. A 4X fixed scope, or a 2-7X variable works well for squirrels. I've used both single-shot and semi-automatic rifles. Both do the job. A single-shot is great for kids to use because it's very safe, and makes them concentrate on making the first shot count. Shells are cheap, too, and plinking with a .22 caliber rifle just can't be beat for pure fun.
Where to Aim
I like to shoot my squirrels through the chest when using a rifle. Old-time squirrel hunters know why. Years ago, if you used a .22 rifle and shot the squirrels through the head, you could bet you would get a scolding from the old folks. Squirrel brains were considered a delicacy then, and they're still as good today as they were back then.
Go Old School
Using a shotgun is the easiest way to kill a squirrel. A .22-caliber rifle makes the sport more challenging, and if you shoot the squirrel through the chest, absolutely no meant is ruined. Some hunters, me included, now use a weapon that many consider the ultimate way to truly enjoy a day out of doors in the squirrel woods — they use a muzzleloading rifle.
The most popular caliber is the .32. A few hunters build .29 caliber, or even .25 caliber squirrel guns, but .32-caliber is the standard. It's what I use. You can use blackpowder, Pyrodex or some of the new cleaner powders for a charge, along with a pillow ticking patch and a .310 round ball. Percussion caps are the igniter, although a few hunters use flintlocks.
All of our muzzleloading rifles are handcrafted, and we actually have a squirrel-shooting contest twice each fall. Only open iron sights are allowed, and the hunter with the most head shots wins. Believe me, that is some fine-tuned shooting, and only a truly skilled hunter and shooter stands a chance of winning this unique event. However, I can guarantee this style of hunting produces as much fun as you'll ever have.
Bowhunting bushytails is only for the hardcore hunter. It takes great skill to get within bow range of squirrels, and careful shooting to accurately zing an arrow through the limbs and leaves. Some friends and I have bowhunted squirrels for several years with compounds, recurves and even longbows. We've probably killed between 2,000 and 3,000 squirrels.
A 50- to 60-pound bow is sufficient. We've used both fiberglass and wooden arrows, and use feathers wound spirally on the shaft to create our flu flus. Target points are used, with a stiff wire inserted behind this point to prevent the squirrels from pulling the arrow out. We hunted squirrels all fall with this setup. Shooting them out of the tops of trees was tough, but when they started carrying nuts later in the fall, we got lots of close shots.
I carried what I call a stun stick to finish off the squirrels, since they were always very much alive when they hit the ground. The key was to bop them on the head as they fought the arrow. I'll readily admit I wasn't the greatest squirrel hunter with a bow, but I did kill my limit a few times. My good friend Jay Mellencamp killed over 100 squirrels per year several times, often using a longbow.
Improve Your Shooting
Regardless of your weapon of choice, nothing will improve your shooting as much as having a knowledgeable coach to help you, whether it be a professional, a friend, or a family member.
On shotguns, make sure the gun fits the shooter. And don't ever put too much firepower in the hands of a child or small person. This results in flinching and will be responsible for poor shooting habits that will be hard to overcome. Use small bore shotguns for children, and use low brass shells when they practice. Be sure their form is correct, and teach them to squeeze the trigger, not jerk it. For moving shots, it's hard to beat joining a shooting club where skeet and trap ranges are available.
For .22-caliber rifles, make sure the gun fires consistent groups. A scoped rifle with an easy trigger pull is essential for top accuracy. Experiment with different types of shells as well. We use target velocity shells since they shoot more accurately out of our rifles. Another plus is they don't tear up much meat.
Muzzleloading rifles should be equipped with a quality trigger mechanism featuring a high-grade set trigger. Experiment with different ball sizes, patch thickness, and powder charges to see which load fires most accurately out of your muzzleloader. With open sights, try both the standard notched sight, as well as an aperture (round) sight on the back. Many hunters shoot much better with the aperture sight.
And don't' forget that any shooter is more accurate with a rifle if they take a rest. When I'm sneaking up on a squirrel, I'm always on the lookout for a good tree to rest on. A gun sling will also improve accuracy when shooting offhand with a .22-caliber rifle.
Archery takes the most skill and practice of all to shoot accurately. Arrows must be matched perfectly to the draw weight of your bow, and the bow must be in perfect tune. Then it's a matter of practicing frequently, making sure your form is correct, and your release is smooth and relaxed. Flu flu arrows, incidentally, will fly better than you will ever believe. I carry about a dozen flu flus in a back quiver. On a normal squirrel hunt, you should get several shots, and you will recover the majority of your arrows since they don't travel far. And watch out, some of them may come straight back down at you. And that's never any fun.
Editor's note: This was originally published in 2009.
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