Stay Sharp This Winter with These Squirrel Hunting Tips
When deer seasons end, it’s easy for many hunters to scratch their head a bit about what to do next. After spending weeks or months chasing deer, it would be tough to switch to something else, right? Not if you’re having a blast with some hunting buddies. Squirrel hunting is a great hunting activity after deer season because it lets you explore some new areas without the fear of spooking whitetails, and it keeps your shooting skills sharp. Here are some essential squirrel hunting tips and a lesson in squirrel hunting 101 if you plan to get out after some bushy tails this winter.
What to Hunt
The first of our squirrel hunting tips is to know what species you are hunting when we say squirrel hunting. Most commonly, people hunt gray squirrels. They are large enough to get a good meal out of it and very common across the country, but especially where there are hardwood forests with oak trees. In some areas, you might also be able to hunt fox squirrels, which are larger than the gray squirrel. They are usually found in agricultural areas with broken woodlots nearby. Luckily, the squirrel hunting season is usually pretty long, extending from late August/early September until mid-winter in some states.
Why is Winter Squirrel Hunting Harder?
Similar to late season deer hunting, late season squirrel hunting can be tougher. Early in the season, it might seem like squirrels are running everywhere you go in the woods. But once winter comes, it’s a different story. There are a few reasons why hunting squirrels in winter is a bit more challenging.
- The first one is a little confusing. You’d think it would be a good thing all the leaves have dropped because you could see squirrels better. But on the flip side, there is no cover to hide your approach either. And there’s a lot more of you to hide than a squirrel has. If you also have crunchy snow or frozen leaves underfoot, that just complicates the matter more.
- Another reason it can be tougher to see squirrels in winter is that most of the food has dropped from the trees, and squirrels are now foraging on the ground or relying on stashed food stores. If there is snow cover, they stand out well still, but they are generally harder to spot on the ground than up in a tree.
- Finally, in very cold weather, squirrels may choose not to leave their leafy nests and tree cavities. And if they’re not willing to come out, you don’t have much of a chance of finding one. All of these challenges make it more exciting when you do connect with one. Now let’s look at the squirrel hunting tips to help you overcome them.
Essential Squirrel Hunting Gear
Luckily, you do not need all that much gear for hunting squirrels, even in the depths of winter. Some warm clothes and hunting boots will keep you going all day. Squirrels have pretty good eyesight, so no matter how you decide to hunt them, wearing high quality Realtree® camouflage clothing will help you blend in better and avoid detection long enough for you to take a shot.
To help you see ahead further or up into the treetops, take a pair of binoculars with you. Bushnell® binoculars are the way to go because they are so clear and precise. As for squirrel hunting tips related to optics, scan ahead of you as you go, looking for swishing tails and sudden movements. If you find one, move in slowly and keep an eye on it. They will probably dart for cover once they see you.
Of course, you’ll also need a gun of some kind. Shotguns are best if you have very spooky or active squirrels – you’re almost guaranteed to hit them with a shotgun, even when they’re on the run. Some people like to use a .22 long rifle with a good scope. This is a good option for squirrels that don’t know you are there or that climb into a tree and watch you from a branch. Similar to that option, we also like to hunt squirrels with an air rifle these days. The Bone Collector® Maxxim .177 Cal. from Gamo® is the best air rifle for squirrels and you can use it the same way you would a standard .22. It is very easy to reload so follow-up shots are fairly fast. But the biggest benefit is that it is quieter than a .22 or shotgun, so you shouldn’t spook as many other squirrels.
Squirrel Hunting Strategies
Now we’re onto the real squirrel hunting tips. As we mentioned, squirrels might not want to leave their nests in the early winter mornings when it’s still brisk out. The best way to squirrel hunt in that situation is by setting up near a potential den tree (a tree with a hole in the side of it where squirrels could nest) or exposed leaf nest in the early morning. When they poke their heads out as the sun starts warming everything up, you can prepare for a shot – wait until they exit the nest or cavity though so you can actually retrieve them afterward. Generally, the best time of day to squirrel hunt in winter would be mid-morning to early afternoon. Afternoon squirrel hunting can work, but they tend to get more secretive towards evening, probably so they aren’t drawing a lot of attention to themselves from predators right before bedtime.
If you prefer a more active approach, try still hunting. Basically, you should walk slowly through the woods, focusing your efforts on hardwood stands – preferably oak trees with some acorns or leaves still hanging on. Take your time and be as silent as possible as you scan the treetops and ground. Even with less leaf cover, squirrels can still hide pretty well with almost any tree or log. So if you’re wondering how to find squirrels in the woods, don’t forget to use your ears – you can often hear them chirping or rustling in the leaves ahead of you if you move slow enough.
Solo squirrel hunting is definitely possible, but has its challenges. If you’re striking out with it yourself, here’s a late season squirrel hunting tip: try bringing a hunting buddy along. If you tree a squirrel by yourself, you’re probably way too familiar with their ability to sneak around to the opposite side of the tree every time you move. With a partner, you can have them get into a stationary position for a shot, while you move around the tree to essentially flush the squirrel into their shooting window. Alternatively, one of you can tap the tree or shake the surrounding brush beneath the tree to try to flush the squirrel out of a no-shot scenario.
We hope you can use these squirrel hunting tips to get out this winter and bag a few bushy tails. It’s an addicting new hunting activity if you haven’t tried it before. And it extends your effective hunting season just a little bit more, which is always a good thing.