Putting The Sneak on Squirrels

With dry leaves crackling like cereal, the squirrel sounded like a rampaging buffalo as it scampered across the ground to another tree.

The hunters couldn’t see it because of the extremely thick, nearly impenetrable thickets and low brush of the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area near Slidell, La.

Silently, the hunters approached. About 15 yards away, the squirrel made a fatal mistake. It loped onto a branch, sat down to munch an acorn and presented a clear shot. With the report of the shotgun, two other squirrels raced into the swamps.

“With the leaves so crunchy, we could never have gotten this close to that squirrel without a boat,” I said.

Eric Yeates of Houma, La., poles through a slough looking for squirrels in Pearl River Wildlife Management Area near Slidell, La. (Photos by John N. Felsher)

“Yes, but if we are going to go squirrel hunting, we better get going,” replied Eric Yeates. “Let’s put down our fishing rods and make the run to our spot. Wait, I see two more squirrels on the other side of the bayou.”

Shoot Off The Bow
Yeates poled his boat across the bayou. In the bow, I grabbed my Remington Model 870, 20-gauge shotgun. One squirrel climbed up the cypress tree and sat on a branch. Another jumped from tree to tree spanning a small ditch leading back into Honey Island Swamp.

I nailed the one in the cypress with a load of No. 6 lead shot.

Every time we decided to “go squirrel hunting,” another bushytail hopped on a branch, barked or ran across the ground. Finally, we gave up on the idea of “going squirrel hunting” and simply stayed in the boat. We poled down the small bayou, searching trees for telltale movement or listened to squirrels barking and scolding in the swamp.

Although we never actually “went squirrel hunting,” we probably saw about 30 bushytails and heard a number of unseen squirrels. Some disappeared quickly; others seemingly ignored us as we approached in the boat. With the falling tide draining the swamps, we could not reach some squirrels nestled in thick cover along tiny tributaries.

From the boat, we bagged 11 squirrels in three hours on a windy afternoon before returning to the Sugar Shack, Yeates’ camp on West Pearl River. In contrast, while plowing through underbrush the previous morning, we only bagged four squirrels in five hours. With dry, noisy leaves carpeting the forest floor and palmettos trumpeting our passage, we couldn’t get close to squirrels on land. Had we paddled a small pirogue up tiny swamp ditches, we would undoubtedly have increased our coverage and harvest.

Eric Yeates of Houma, La., retrieves a squirrel he killed in Pearl River Wildlife Management Area.

Boat Technique Is Easy
Any hunter with a little knowledge about squirrel hunting on foot can easily master hunting bushytails by boat. Pole or slowly paddle a boat in a likely area. Avoid rubbing the paddle, gun or anything else against the boat. Scan trees for movement and listen for chattering, leaf rustling or claws scratching bark.

For safety, designate one shooter at a time and take turns. The person in the stern paddles or poles while the designated shooter in the bow keeps the gun ready, pointing forward or off to the side outside of the boat. While some sportsmen use .22 rifles effectively, a shotgun comes in handy for running shots or when the boat moves too much. To avoid running shots, paddle slowly and quietly close to shorelines for better concealment from squirrels.

Because boating saves wear and tear on human legs, this method offers superb opportunities to introduce small children to hunting. A boat moving through a swamp might keep children more interested than forcing them to sit still on cold ground. In addition, boat seats make more comfortable platforms than wet logs. Hunters can grab a few snacks or drinks from a convenient ice chest if they become hungry. If adults make the day more easy and comfortable, little sportsmen might enjoy the experience more and grow into adult hunters.

Check Local Regulations
Louisiana law allows hunters to shoot squirrels, rabbits, and nutrias from powerboats on private land. On public lands, people may not keep guns loaded in boats under power, but they can shoot from paddled or poled boats. Make sure you check your own state’s DNR site for specific regulations.

Squirrels lie on the deck of a boat after a successful day of hunting.

Along the Mississippi-Louisiana line, the Pearl River splits into East and West Pearl, creating Honey Island Swamp. These rivers further subdivide into West Middle, Middle, East Middle. and a myriad of bayous, sloughs and creeks teeming with wildlife. About 35,032 acres remains open for public hunting in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area.

Several launches off Military Road in Slidell enter West Pearl. Ramps, where U.S. 90 crosses West and East Pearl, provide access. Three unimproved ramps also allow small craft launching from Highway 90.

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