Many youngsters learn to hunt by hunting squirrels first. And what a great start. They are usually plentiful, and the youngster can learn from squirrel hunting how to stalk, move quietly and slowly and how to make the first shot count. These skills come in handy later when hunting big game.
Some hunt squirrels by scouting for an abundance of feeding sign, then waiting patiently for the squirrels to come. I am one of another group of hunters who silently move through the woods, looking for movement and feeding activity. I also enjoy hunting with a good dog after the leaves fall.
Squirrels eat a variety of foods, but usually during August-October, they are feeding heavily on hickory nuts, acorns, beech, dogwood or blackgum. I have also seen them eat corn, sweetgum, poplar, cypress, pine, ironwood, wheat, mulberries and muscadines.
A study by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has found a high correlation between hunter success rate and the abundance of mast (food) the year before. Through experience, I have noticed that a good oak crop occurs on the average about every four years and beech every seven years.
In other years, they simply eat other things.
I've noticed that squirrels are very active when there are several squirrels and limited mast. This past year, for example, where I hunted, there were several squirrels and mast on most hickory trees. Consequently, they didn't have to move far to get to food, and they didn't have to rush to beat other squirrels to the nuts.
This limited (almost subdued) activity can make still hunting tough. You can have three or four squirrels in a tree and not know it.
Squirrels are social animals, and like most social species, they squabble — sometimes over food, sometimes over a female — and sometimes, it appears they just get aggravated at each other for whatever reason.
I have seen up to nine males chase and fight over a single female in heat.
Frequently while hunting, it's common to see a squirrel chasing another one around and around the food tree, squealing as they go. One day last fall I was watching a hickory tree that had a squirrel feeding in it — very quietly with little movement.
A squeal diverted my attention to a four inch sapling where a squirrel suddenly stopped, looking at me. I shot him with my little Stevens single shot .22. He fell the remaining four feet to the ground and lay still.
I knew another squirrel had been chasing the one I killed, but I didn't see him. So, I looked back at the hickory I had been watching.
Momentarily, I looked back at the dead squirrel, only to see it digging (at least he appeared to be digging). I couldn't believe my eyes. He surely appeared to be dead moments before.
I took careful aim and shot again. When he fell off to the side a couple of feet, the squirrel I first shot became visible. The second shot was at another squirrel!
Apparently, the second squirrel had not been digging, but was fighting with the dead squirrel. Both were young males (about a year old).
I have seen the same thing happen with turkey gobblers. After shooting a young gobbler in a group, the others would flog the dead one, apparently getting even while they had the chance.
My dad has often said he'd like to see the pile of squirrels all in one place we have dressed together. But he's quick to add, he'd hate to dress them all again.
There are several techniques, including cutting the tail and pulling the connected skin off from the rear end forward.
Another method is cutting across the back and pulling in opposite directions. You cut the tail, head and feet off with a knife when the skinning process reaches these points.
A couple of years ago I discovered that the quickest and most efficient method is to use game shears to cut off the tail, head, and all four feet. Then you simply cut across the back and pull in opposite directions — the skin comes right off with no additional cutting.
I also discovered a few years ago that Mepps Lures will buy squirrel tails and/or trade lures for them. They bring from 16 to 26 cents each, depending on quantity and quality.
They also give 40 percent off lures if you trade for them. For more information, contact Sheldons, Inc., 626 Center Street, Antiago, Wisc. 54409-2496 or phone 715-623-2382.