The simple joys of a squirrel hunt

by Jim Brewer
The Daily Progress

This week, I had the sudden urge to go squirrel hunting. It’s something I’ve not done for years, but as a boy, squirrel hunting was my passion.

The first game bird or animal I ever killed was a grey squirrel. As a 12-year-old, I intercepted that squirrel with a load of number 6 shot from my .410 shotgun and I wouldn’t have been more pleased if it was a 4x4 bull elk. I put the trophy in the back of my hunting coat and ran all the way home to tell my folks. It was the beginning of what has been a long and enjoyable hunting career.

And I want to do it again.

This is a very good year to go squirrel hunting and for two reasons. First, there are lots of squirrels, and perhaps more importantly, there is very little mast and many squirrels will perish this winter. If humans could harvest a few extra animals, it would mean less competition for a restricted food supply and healthier squirrels come next spring.

Squirrel hunting is an overlooked sport. All the basics of hunting can be learned when trying to bag a limit of squirrels. Not only would kids benefit from this practice, but also adults who have little or no experience in hunting. Before anyone takes a high-powered rifle into the woods for a deer hunt, they should first cut their teeth on squirrels. Few baseball players go directly to the majors without some minor league experience and squirrels, I suppose, are the hunting version of the minors.

All the safety rules that apply to any hunting experience apply in spades when hunting squirrels. First, always assume your gun is loaded. Always. Second, don’t point a gun at anything you don’t intend to kill, and finally, be sure what’s behind your target. Otherwise, don’t take the shot.

Squirrels also present the same challenges you will face when you later hunt deer or wild turkeys. Stealth is paramount. While the squirrels in your backyard or in a municipal park are unconcerned with the presence of a human, wild squirrels are extremely wary. If they see you before you see them, it’s all over. They’re gone. So you must be still, quiet and patient. Marksmanship is also important. I hunt now with a pellet gun and scope, but it’s not a toy. This air rifle will deliver a .177 lead pellet approximately 1,200 feet per second. That’s nearly as fast as a .22 rifle. It’s a deadly weapon with an accurate shot.

Some hunt squirrels with dogs, but I like to simply slip into a patch of woods, sit down quietly and wait. The squirrels are on the move this year, so it’s likely you’ll see plenty.

As for eating, I prefer fried squirrels to deer, assuming, of course, they are cooked properly. In a future column, I’ll reveal my secrets passed down from a lady named Gertie Green, who cooked my first squirrel way back when.

Squirrel season runs all the way through Feb. 28, though fox squirrel season ends on Jan. 31. The limit is six squirrels daily. If you’re new to hunting, give squirrels a try, and if you are a veteran hunter, an old-fashioned squirrel hunt will remind you why you began hunting in the first place.

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