Using a handgun for squirrels adds a whole new dimension to the sport. Stealth, patience and good shooting skills are necessary to take home a meal.
In our modern world, it is not easy being a squirrel hunter. Hunters pursuing monster whitetail bucks with incredible racks, bugling elk and gobbling wild turkeys cast scornful looks at those of us who chase bushytails. And wingshooters declare that their style of hunting carries more class.
Only a few decades ago, squirrels were the most sought after game animal in the United States. A heavily rural population drifted to the suburbs. As lifestyles changed, interests changed and the need to put wild meat on the table vanished with the introduction of supermarkets.
Nevertheless, squirrel hunting is steeped in tradition and history and still provides elements basic to all hunting adventures. My American History teacher, at a small rural school, proclaimed proudly that the British received a sound thrashing from a bunch of Revolutionary squirrel hunters. Squirrel hunting camps still thrive in some parts of the country and my family relishes a meal of fried squirrel adorned with buttermilk biscuits and milk gravy. And squirrel hunting hones outdoor skills necessary for any type of big game hunting. Class can be argued, but who wants to argue with folks who liken to their ancestors who whipped foreign invaders with squirrel rifles?
Harvesting squirrels is most often done with shotguns or .22 rifles. I have enjoyed both methods many times. However, I added a whole new dimension to my squirrel hunting forays many years ago with the purchase of a Browning BuckMark .22 pistol topped with a Bushnell Red Dot Scope. Knocking a feeding gray squirrel from the top of a 100-foot tall hickory tree is every bit as classy as downing an elk at 400-yards with a 7mm magnum rifle.
Squirrels are abundant in many parts of the United States and hunter access to state and federal lands and private properties, too, is plentiful. Asking permission to hunt squirrels on private property may raise landowner eyebrows, but I have never been declined. Landowners seem to reason that anyone who takes the time to hunt bushytails has to be an OK person. A key to maintaining private properties to hunt squirrels is to not ask to hunt other game. Often, however, landowners make the offer, which I happily accept.
Squirrels are opportunistic feeders. Knowing what food sources are in season and where they are located are key factors for successful squirrel hunting.
Choosing a handgun to use for squirrel hunting can be perplexing. The key to satisfaction is becoming familiar with several makes and models and choosing what suits you best. Visit several gun shops and visit the websites of Browning, Ruger, Smith and Wesson and others. Options are plentiful.
After choosing a suitable firearm, buy several types of ammo and spend some time on the range. Learning to shot a pistol accurately and consistently takes time and good basic shooting techniques. Instructors can be very helpful in getting the proper start to handgunning. My first experience with handguns occurred while I served as an Army Officer. Fortunately, for me, I entered the first class of officers required to qualify with the notorious .45. Our honest instructor suggested, when in combat, we fire our rounds quickly and then use the weapon as a club.
I prefer to be a bit more accurate with my shooting. Fortunately, for me, again, my wife, Dian, is a certified NRA pistol instructor. Although she claims I am not the best student she has taught, she does keep me on track with proper shooting techniques.
Beyond choosing a pistol, testing ammo, tweaking technique and finding a place to hunt, a new handgunner is ready to hunt squirrels. Basic squirrel hunting with a handgun does not require a lot of fancy equipment. However, if being classy is your thing, you can add a horde of hunting accessories to your equipment list. Scopes, shooting glasses, binoculars, range finders, squirrel calls, camo, shooting sticks, skinning knives and high bred squirrel dogs can put you styling with the best dressed waterfowl hunter.
I utilize a few basic squirrel hunting tools. I top my Browning BuckMark pistol with a Bushnell Red Dot Scope. They have proven durable and accurate through thousands of rounds. I have found that hollow point .22 rimfire bullets do the job cleanly on squirrels. The expanding bullets insure fewer wounded animals.
Selecting a handgun for squirrel hunting is a matter of personal preference. There are many makes and models available to hunters. A Browning BuckMark .22 pistol topped with a Bushnell Trophy Red-Green Dot scope is the authors choice for hunting squirrels.
Arguments about the best spot to shoot a squirrel abound. Most claim a head shot is best, because the animal drops in its tracks. Others prefer a shot through the heart or lungs, because they eat the head and brains of their harvest, and place their shots just behind the shoulder. One old timer once told me that he prefers to "shot 'em in the middle". Sounds messy, but he employed a unique squirrel skinning technique that kept him from handling intestines. He split the squirrel's skin at the tail like the old time method. Next he stepped on the squirrel's tail and pulled upward on its back legs, effectively stripping the squirrel of most of its hide. Next, he grasped the hide left on the back legs and pulled it clear. Then he took a sharp knife (I use game shears) and clipped off the head and upper body skin, tail and lower body skin and clipped the feet at the ankles. Next he removed the front and back legs at the joints. All that remained was the torso. Backstraps lay alongside the spine on either side. He cut through the spine at the top and bottom of the straps, clipped the ribcage on both sides and removed a clean piece of meat. The ribcage and intestines were then discarded. This is the slickest and cleanest way to clean a squirrel I have ever seen.
Hunting squirrels is a fun and relaxing way to enjoy time the woods. Squirrels of the Midwest can be found on hardwood ridges, river bottoms and along the fencerows of old fields with a scattering of trees.
Knowing where the current food sources are located is essential to successful squirrel hunting. The author took these two gray squirrels from a 'pignut' hickory tree while they were cutting nuts.
Squirrels are prolific eaters, consuming their body weight, 1.5-pounds, in food each week. They are opportunists and will eat anything from wildflowers to mushrooms. Don't think you can eat the same fungi as squirrels, however. They have a tolerance for toxins which humans do not.
"Find the food source and you will find the squirrels," is an old adage which stands eternally true. In early spring, squirrels can be found high in the tree tops nipping tender buds. After spring rains, they forage heavily on mushrooms which pop up overnight. By late spring, bushytails congregate in mulberry trees and other soft mast food sources.
Squirrel hunters who live near hardwood forests impatiently wait for the ripening of hickory nuts. Dozens of squirrels may work one tree as nuts come into the "milky" stage. Experienced hunters know that this is the prime time for fast action squirrel hunting.
Taking up a stand or sitting on a stool near a tree loaded with hickory nuts and waiting patiently is a key to success. Squirrels will already be in such trees at daylight. The "crack" of a .22 pistol seldom disturbs feeding squirrels. You can knock one out of the branches and the others will resume feeding in a couple of minutes if you keep movement to a minimum. On many occasions, I have taken a limit of six squirrels from one tree. Squirrels will continue to feed on a "hot" tree throughout the day. So, sticking tight to a proven tree can pay big dividends.
Squirrel calls are fun to use, but not necessary for success. Shaker-type calls mimic the excited chatter of a squirrel. My Dad used two quarters and by rubbing the serrated edges together produced the grating sounds of a squirrel cutting on nuts. The sounds my Dad produced had a calming effect on feeding squirrels.
I placed the dot of my scope two inches over the top of the feeding squirrel's head. It was going to be a long shot of 40 yards and I knew from my practice sessions that the bullet would drop. At the crack of my pistol, the gray squirrel tumbled from the top of a massive white oak tree. I proudly claimed my prize, which had been struck through the temples. Other squirrels in the tree paused for a few seconds from their feeding spree, unsure of the strange sound, yet unaware of the danger which stalked them. I chuckled smugly to myself and reasoned that the classy British must have experienced the same feelings.