September and October have too much to offer for me to spend as much time as I would like hunting squirrels. You know, archery deer, maybe a couple of weeks bowhunting elk, a week or so of grouse hunting, duck hunting, goose hunting, pheasant hunting, and, oh yes, some fantastic fall fishing.
All of that leaves precious little time for squirrel hunting. But in December, January and February it’s a different story. And for me to get the most enjoyment out of squirrel hunting, it cannot be rushed. Trying to squeeze in an hour of squirrel hunting between say a morning of duck hunting and an afternoon of pheasant hunting, just does not do it for me.
Hunting, no matter what the game, should not be a rushed affair. We are forced to spend enough of our life rushing here and rushing there, I’ve tried hard not to let that tendency take over the time I am privileged to spend hunting. So instead of trying to squeeze in a few hours of squirrel hunting in an already busy October, I have come to look forward to late-season squirrel hunting when my time it seems is not all spoken for.
Weather Can Affect Success
If you decide to give late-season squirrel hunting a try, I will warn you now, that you want to watch the weather. Squirrels do not like either wind or cold and they really hate the two together. Oh sure, they will make a quick trip to the cornfield for breakfast, or maybe scurry around for a few minutes during the warmest part of the day looking for those acorns they buried in October, but for most of the day, they will be content to just curl up in their nest or tree cavity home and sleep. You should probably do the same.
But when the temperature rebounds and the winds die down, get to the woods! Squirrels will be hungry and active after being forced to lay low for a day or so.
The front side of a storm is also an excellent time to be in the woods. If you feed birds in the winter then you know that they are flocking to the feeder hours before the first flakes fall. It’s the same thing with squirrels. They know when weather, which might interfere with their eating, is on the horizon, so they chow down big time before the storm. An inexpensive weather radio will give you excellent forecasts for up to three days, no matter what part of the country you hunt. It’s a valuable tool for both hunting and fishing.
Once the winter storm arrives, what the squirrels do depends on the ferocity of the storm. If the wind howls and the snow is blowing sideways through the woods, don’t expect to find squirrels out feeding. But a storm which begins with just light winds and flurries, will give you perhaps an hour of decent hunting.
Still-hunt or Sit?
My squirrel hunting this late in the season is about a 50/50 split between still-hunting and sitting still in one spot for a half hour or longer. I actually prefer to still-hunt, which is simply moving slowly and quietly through the woods, stopping often to look and listen for squirrels. The problem is that squirrels have excellent hearing and eyesight and if the snow or the forest floor is crunchy underfoot, odds are excellent that the squirrels will pick you off before you ever spot them. Under those conditions, like it or not, I force myself to sit still in one location and let the squirrels make the first move. It might not be as exciting as gliding through the woods like some modern day Daniel Boone, but it sure puts meat in the pot.
I’m not about to tell you which gun you should use for squirrels, that is totally up to you. I don’t think that there is any arguing that at this time of the year a shotgun with a modified or full choke and loaded with No. 6 shot is probably a good all around choice. Squirrels are spooky late in the season and are more likely to present you with running, or at least moving shots, at this time of the year than they do early in the season.
There are also a growing number of squirrel hunters who are switching to the very accurate and fast .17 rimfires. Proponents will say that you get fewer ricochets with the .17 than with .22s, and in my experience with the .17, I would have to say that they are right. My only complaint with the .17 is that unless you make a perfect head shot, there is going to be more wasted meat than with a .22 short, long or long rifle. And since the meat is part of the reason I hunt winter squirrels, an accurate .22 is my personal choice.
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