Go Small For Big Game
Small game hunting may not thrill you as much as a whitetail or elk hunt, but it's a great way to keep your skills sharp. Squirrels can provide quite the challenge, and will help ensure that your technique doesn't pick up any rust while you await fall.
July 19, 2013
Are you above shooting squirrels? Maybe it’s that you don’t want to eat the tree rats? There are recipes that can solve the second dilemma. The first should be overcome by necessity: Just imagine that buck or bull that got away. See it in your mind’s eye as you miss or try to get a solid rest or just plain panic. Now realize if you weren’t above hunting squirrels with your .22 rimfire you’d have been better prepared for that shot. Practice sessions at the range are fundamental, but targets won’t teach you how to control yourself and time the shot with an animal’s movement. Shooting at the range won’t force you to shoot in awkward positions and to still-hunt, stalk and kill living game. Only hunting can teach those things. Only hunting can keep those skills sharp. Squirrels are great teachers.
Chose the Right Gun
If you hunt big game with a bolt-action rifle, use a bolt-action .22 LR or .17 HMR that has a similar safety and trigger. If you hunt with an AR-15, consider Smith & Wesson’s M&P 15-22—or at least use a semi-auto like the Ruger 10/22. Top the rifle with optics similar to your big-game rifle’s. Set the trigger to the same poundage. Use the same sling. Do everything you can so that when you create habits with your squirrel gun they’ll naturally transition to your big-game rifle.
Hunt Like You Mean It
When squirrel season opens stalk an oak ridge with the same intensity as you have for deer. It gets addictive. Gray squirrel season opens Sept. 1 in my state. It’s a perfect time to get out when evenings begin to cool. It’s a chance to tune up skills before deer season. Public areas are great for this style of hunting. You probably won’t see any other squirrel hunters and all the deer hunters won’t be there for months. Soon you’ll find you’re getting into the mini stalks. Squirrels make you hold the rifle in every position imaginable. This gives you a chance to practice hunting with shooting sticks—a necessity in the West. If you miss or blow a stalk, just listen for another feeding squirrel and start over. I’m always passive at first. I like being out there but it’s hard to take it too seriously. Soon though, I’m stalking and shooting like I’m after the biggest buck of my life.
Use Ballistic Tables
A lot of hunters from the East don’t have a range where they can shoot to 300 yards—many think 100 yards is a long shot. Your squirrel gun offers a remedy for this. When zeroed at 25 yards, my Savage Mark II in .22 LR shooting a 40-grain bullet at 1050 fps drops 2.25 inches at 75 yards and 7.2 inches at 100 yards. When I shifted to CCI’s Quiet-22 Segmented HP ammo, with a 25-yard zero, the 40-grain bullet dropped 7.3 inches at 75 yards and 10.6 inches at 100 yards. Quiet-22 is subsonic. It’s about 75 percent quieter than traditional .22 LR ammo. This makes it a great squirrel remedy for places where you don’t want to bother the neighbors, but where you can shoot safely and legally. I used it because its more challenging ballistics made me range and think more before pulling the trigger, just as I’ll need to when hunting elk in Colorado and Utah this fall.
When you use a scope with a ballistic reticle like Nikon’s BDC, you’re adding another element to your training. For example, Nikon’s Prostaff 3X-9X-40mm Rimfire Matte BDC 150 uses a “.22 LR-specific BDC 150 reticle” that allows you to quickly compensate for different distances. If you use this same system on your big-game rifle, you’ll be able to practice with it first with your .22 LR on squirrels. There are a lot of other scope and reticle options out there. The point is to make your small-game hunts as similar as you can to your big-game hunts.
Whatever system you use, hunting this way for squirrels will force you to use your rangefinder and to think about bullet drop. You’ll then get used to those calculations when hunting. You might even tape a ballistics chart to your squirrel rifle’s stock, just as you might to a big-game gun you’re taking west. This makes squirrel hunting a lot more interesting.
This way, when an elk guide asks what your longest shot has been, you can say, “Well, I’ve been killing squirrels at 100 yards with my .22 rimfire and a squirrel has a kill zone of about 1 inch, whereas an elk’s kill zone is at least 20 inches in diameter, so I’m comfortable to … .” You’ll still need to know your big-game rifle’s ballistics and your limitations and to have practiced with that rifle, but because your skills will have been honed by your neighborhood squirrels, you’ll be ready.