How to Hunt Squirrel: 13 Hunting Tips (Best Times, Guns, & More)

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Finding squirrels like the red squirrel, western gray squirrel, round-tailed ground squirrel or tree squirrel in the woods is exhilarating. You can get quite a bit of squirrel meat off these small game mammals, too. Squirrel meat can be delicious when you beer batter and fry it. You can also use it in stews or barbecue it. Some people wrap the legs in bacon and toss them on the grill, too.

Squirrel hunting helps control overabundant squirrel populations. You can use a squirrel’s coat or hide for many purposes, too. Squirrel hunting requires planning and preparing, as well as having the right gear and equipment.

Always keep an eye on what you are doing when hunting squirrels. Safety is a crucial factor when you are out there on the hunt for these pesky little rodents. Take the time to find the best weapon to bring along, so you can be safer and more successful during your small game hunt.

1. Review the Legal Terms

Most importantly, you must have the legal right to go squirrel hunting. Before you head off to the woods, get a small game license (you need licenses for almost all types of game) for the place you are going to hunt. The terms for attaining a license vary by state or province. So, review the regulations for hunting squirrels in your specific area.

You might only be able to go hunting during specific times of the year when it is squirrel season. This season takes place in most regions during the fall and winter months. The dates vary by each place. There are also rules on where you can hunt.

You may be allowed to hunt on a certain state or provincial park grounds. Some places require you ask for direct permission from the property owner before you start hunting. Check the bag limits, too. There may be a limit to how many squirrels you can hunt in one day, as well as during an entire season.

2. Choose the Right Time

Look for squirrels during the early morning or late afternoon hours because squirrels are most active at these times. Morning is when squirrels go out to look for food. It is easy and necessary for them to find food early in the day when they are at their hungriest.  Avoid hunting squirrels in inclement weather, as like deer, they move around and can be harder to track.

Late afternoon to early evening is when squirrels bring food back to their habitats. This is when most squirrels are busy foraging, so you should be able to spot them moving around.

3. Look in the Right Places

Plan your hunts in areas where you are the most likely to find squirrels. Check areas where there are lots of trees. These include trees that produce nuts and other items squirrels commonly consume. An oak tree is one of the most popular places to see squirrels.

Any tree that produces the types of nuts or fruit that squirrels enjoy is the place to locate squirrels. Be aware of the type of trees in the area, so you can determine if they are places squirrels may be searching for food.

4. Find the Right Squirrel Hunting Weapon

Shop around to get the right squirrel hunting weapon before leaving on your trip. Do some target practice using a small game weapon that works best for squirrels. Here are a few for you to consider:

The Shotgun

Shotgun Squirrel Hunting
Shotguns can be effective when hunting squirrel.

Use a shotgun to cover a larger amount of space during your hunt. The spread of a shotgun shell can cover much of a squirrel’s body at once, thus ensuring a better chance of a kill without damaging too much meat.

Be sure to aim the shotgun carefully so it targets the precise area you want to shoot. Look for a six-shot because it is large enough to target a squirrel without destroying the flesh. Also, choose a barrel 26 inches in length or greater so the shell will move precisely.

Remember, a shotgun will make a loud sound with each round. The noise will most likely scare the other squirrels away. Focus on being precise and cautious when shooting at squirrels or any other small game, for that matter. When you take aim, remember that the spread on the shotgun shell will move outward a few centimeters after you shoot.

The .22 Caliber Rifle

22 Rifle Hunting Squirrel
A small rimfire rifle like the 22 rifle can be great when hunting small game.

The second option for a weapon to use is a .22 caliber rifle. This weapon uses a smaller bullet that targets the squirrel with precision. The ammo will not damage much of the squirrel meat, either. A .22 caliber rifle produces a longer range than a shotgun. The rifle also lets you go after just one part of the squirrel’s body.

Aim to be accurate and hold your gun steady. Fortunately, most .22 caliber rifles come with an automatic reloading feature. This feature lets you add multiple bullets into the rifle before you start shooting. The gun will release one of these bullets every time you fire the trigger.

Be sure to regularly clean the muzzle and barrel to get a more accurate shot. This rifle works best when you attach a scope to it. A scope gives you a clearer view of your target. It is also important to take wind, elevation, and distance into account when using a scope.

Bow and Arrow

Bow Hunting Squirrel
While not ideal, bows can be used to hunt small game.

Another option for hunting squirrels is with a bow and arrow. Take note that most squirrels are small and less than a foot in length. Because they are so small, it could be difficult to hunt squirrels with a large bow and arrow.  In other words, leave your deer hunting bows at home.

You should sharpen any arrow you use so it can pierce the squirrel’s body with ease. Even so, any arrow you aim incorrectly could cut through too much of the squirrel’s body, leaving little meat or fur to use.

5. Spotting Squirrels

Spotting Squirrels when Hunting
Picking the right place to look for squirrels is important.

Once you have your gun primed and ready to go, it’s time to search for areas where you are more likely to find squirrels. Begin by looking at the types of trees and foliage where squirrels like to forage and live.

There are a few tips you can use for finding squirrels. Some tips don’t necessarily require visually spotting squirrels, but rather hearing them. Be sure to look or listen carefully, so you know exactly what you are shooting at:

  • Listen to squirrels as they move through the leaves. Squirrels often hide in foliage and other shady, protected areas.
  • Listen for the sounds of cutting, hulling and scrapping. This is when squirrels scrape and nibble at nuts and acorns, dropping pieces on the ground and leaves. It sounds similar to raindrops. Also, look for cuttings on the ground. This is a sign that a squirrel is up in a tree and eating something.
  • Squirrels often make noises as they climb trees. You should hear the sound of tree bark rustling or sections of bark falling.

Also, remember that squirrels have many colors to their coats. While most squirrels have brownish coats, you may also see some gray, red or white tones. Some squirrels in Canada have shiny black coats, too.

6. How Big Do Squirrels Get?

A typical squirrel can weigh from 0.75 to 1.5 pounds. This small size makes it all the more important to be precise when shooting at a squirrel. You must be as accurate as possible when shooting. You do not damage the meat that could happen when hunting these small mammals.

7. How Far Can You Shoot?

You should shoot a squirrel from approximately 20 to 30 yards away. This distance is far enough to allow your shotgun shell or arrow to target the proper spot. It also helps you avoid scattering the rest of the squirrel’s body far and wide.

Although you can shoot further away when you use a .22 caliber rifle, you will be more likely to get an accurate shot from a closer distance. Consider your weapon and the size of your target when hunting squirrel.

8. Moving While Hunting

Be cautious when moving around while hunting. You need to be as quiet as possible. Avoid stepping on anything wet or damp. Stay away from sticks and other items, too. Debris and wet surfaces make more noise than other things.

Avoid walking directly towards a squirrel to get a better shot. The squirrel will most likely notice you as you get closer and scurry away instantly.

9. Use Bait If You Can

One helpful tip for hunting squirrels is to add bait to the area. The right kind of bait can attract squirrels effectively. Peanuts, sunflower seeds and other common nuts are worth adding to your bait trap. After all, most squirrels cannot resist such treats.

Nuts, seeds and fruit can create an irresistible smell for squirrel – and from a decent distance. Add peanut butter to your bait to create an even stronger smell. Oranges or other fruit make a sweet-smelling bait. Make sure they are fresh, so the fruit will produce a strong smell and squirrels will spot them easily.

Always keep the bait in a contained area. Put the bait in a space that encourages the squirrel to stick around for a while. Observe how the mammal moves around and if it stays in the same spot while eating. By keeping the squirrel still, you get some extra time to aim and shoot the squirrel.

10. Where to Shoot

It is safer to shoot at a squirrel on the ground. You may have the opportunity to shoot at a squirrel in a tree, but that could be risky. If you happen to shoot a weak branch of a tree, it could come down on you.

Also, the squirrel could fall off the tree and hit the ground hard, causing damage to the meat. Even worse, you could shoot at a squirrel in a tree that may just stay there, especially if the tree branch or ledge is thick or large.

11. Targeting the Body

The best place to shoot a squirrel is in the head area. The brain is the best spot as it ensures the squirrel will die nearly instantly. This lessens suffering, and preserves the fur and meat.

If it is too challenging to aim for the head, aim for the heart. It is located near the upper body not too far from the neck. Shooting the body, like a deer – isn’t something you should consider if you are trying to retain any edible portions of meat.

Watch the squirrel carefully when aiming, and try to shoot at it while it is still. Shooting while a squirrel is moving around could hurt your chances of getting a clear shot while also ruining the fur and meat.

Try not to shoot a squirrel directly from the front or behind. Wait to get a perfect side shot of a squirrel. Shooting such a small mammal from the front or back could force the bullet or arrow to penetrate too much of the body. This will cause too much damage overall, so you’ll end up poor quality meat.

12. Safety Points

Before you go out hunting squirrel, make sure you know the top safety rules for hunters. Some are simple common sense, while others may be new to you. Be sure to take all the precautions you can to stay safe while out in the field, such as:

  • Check your firearms before you go out hunting. Keep the muzzle and chamber of your gun clean, so no debris is in the way.
  • Stay far from the squirrel if possible. Use binoculars to see from a far distance.
  • Avoid hunting near damaged or broken trees. Branches and other parts of the tree—if not the entire tree—could fall off and hurt someone.
  • Point your firearm down to the ground when you are not using it. Make this a habit every time you go hunting.
  • Do not place your finger on the trigger guard area until you are ready to shoot. All it takes is a slight movement to make a gun go off, so be aware of where your finger is at all times.
  • You and everyone else in your hunting party should wear bright clothes. Such outfits make everyone easier to spot.
  • Check how clear your line of fire is before shooting. Do not shoot until you can see the target perfectly.
  • Never go after a moving target. Always go after squirrels that are sitting still so you can aim better.
  • Avoid hunting when it is windy out. Wind can cause your ammo to shift and miss its target. The wind speed is especially important for a .22 caliber rifle, because the bullets are small and lightweight.

13. Patience is a Virtue

The most important aspect of squirrel hunting being patient. Squirrels are energetic, so they move around a lot. They are quick and hardly ever sit still at certain times of the day. Wait and be careful when you aim at one.

You might have to stay in the same spot for 10 to 30 minutes at a time. But, when you are patient, you will eventually get the shot you want. The perfect shot will give you the most out of your hunt. If you have never gone, squirrel hunting is a fun activity worth trying.

It’s a thrill to find and hunt squirrels because you get food and fur to use. It is also a outdoor pasttime more people are enjoying nowadays. Just make sure everything you take with you is safe to use and do it legally. Be safe and enjoy the squirrel hunt by preparing and packing the right gear.

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