Like so many other hunters, my introduction to the sport came in the squirrel woods. My first successful hunt, which resulted in my harvesting a big fox squirrel, occurred just a couple hundred yards from the office where I sit as I write this article and, if I look out my office window, I can still see the bent, gnarly limbs of a century-old white oak tree where the squirrel was sitting when I made that shot.
Despite living in such proximity to the woods where I hunted squirrels so frenetically all those years ago, I rarely pick up a rifle or shotgun and dedicate time to sitting in wait of bushytails anymore. Having a wife and small children certainly takes up a great deal of my day, and perhaps I’ve moved on to larger game: tasks like checking trail cameras, planting food plots, hanging stands and practicing with a bow or rifle occupy many of the hours I used to dedicate to simply sitting beneath a hickory and waiting for gray or fox squirrels to appear. I always intend to dedicate a few days in September to hunting squirrels, but I rarely follow through.
It was refreshing, then, to attend the Gamo Squirrel Master Classic in Alabama this year. At the Squirrel Classic, teams from around the country gather for what is undoubtedly the largest organized squirrel hunt in the nation, and with thousands of acres of Alabama pines surrounding the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge in West Tyler, the headquarters of the competition, there was ample room for every team to chase squirrels. Our team hunted behind a team of mountain curs, and although we didn’t win the competition, attending the Squirrel Classic was a wake-up call of sorts for me. There was no internet, no deadlines to meet and the central focus of each day was simple: spending time in the woods in search of game.
I believe it’s time for a squirrel hunting revival. Over the past several decades, hunter numbers have fallen in many areas of the country, and small-game hunting has seen some of the largest declines. Maybe that’s not just a coincidence. Here’s a list of five important reasons why you should be spending more time in the squirrel woods.
1. Access Isn’t an Issue I’ve watched prime hunting land all around my home being gobbled-up by deer leases over the past decade. That’s not altogether a bad thing—white-tailed deer are still the most popular game animal in the country, and whitetail hunters and the licenses and tags they purchase are instrumental in supporting conservation projects across the nation. But as more and more land is leased for deer hunting, access to hunting land is reduced, particularly for new hunters. While it can be difficult for hunters to find a place to deer hunt, it’s easy to gain access for squirrel hunting. It doesn’t require a great deal of property either; a handful of acres of wooded habitat is sufficient for a season’s worth of squirrel hunting, and finding productive public land to squirrel hunt isn’t difficult.
2. Squirrel Hunting is Affordable I perspire when I think of all the money I’ve invested in deer hunting over the last decade, but squirrel hunting is perhaps the most affordable of all outdoor pursuits. You don’t need any special equipment—a single-shot rifle, shotgun or air rifle is sufficient—and a small-game resident license is generally all that’s required to legally harvest squirrels. For an investment of a couple hundred bucks, you can hunt squirrels for the next decade—it’s a sport that every hunter can enjoy.
3. It’s Ideal for Introducing New Hunters to the Sport Squirrel hunting is a natural stepping stone toward hunting other game, and squirrels are an ideal quarry for new hunters. The sport doesn’t require the same early mornings and long hours in the woods that deer hunting demands, and success rates for squirrel hunting are high enough to maintain the attention of even the most preoccupied young hunters. It’s an exciting, low-impact way to get new or young hunters outdoors, which will be critical if hunting is to continue in the future. The friends that you invite squirrel hunting may never take up the sport themselves, but at least they’ll be exposed to the outdoors and gain an appreciation for hunting. Such an experience may help negate the negative press hunting receives from ardent animal rights groups, and something as simple as an afternoon of squirrel hunting may motivate them to vote for legislation in support of hunter-based conservation in the future. In addition, chasing squirrels teaches the basic elements of stealth, patience, ethics and marksmanship that are the bedrock of all hunting.
4. It’s the Easiest Way to Disconnect During the last decade, researchers have identified two disorders that are having a significant impact on America’s children—Electronic Screen Syndrome and Nature-Deficit Disorder. And while these two problems may seem trivial and manufactured, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the side effects of our unnatural dependence on electronics, which can lead to everything from vision issues to depression. This constant need for stimulation effects adults, but it’s especially damaging to children during their earliest developmental stages. The truth is, we all need to disconnect, even for a few hours, and squirrel hunting is a great way to do that. If you’re too busy to take your kids squirrel hunting and allow them to benefit from all the sport offers, you’re simply too busy.
5. It’s Fun Squirrel hunting isn’t competitive (unless, of course, you’re taking part in the Gamo Squirrel Master Classic). It’s just a fun, low-key pastime and great way to enjoy nature. It can be as simple as sitting under a hickory tree for a few hours after work. Or, if you prefer, you can hunt with squirrel dogs. I’ve called squirrels using a distress whistle, which is also highly-effective. Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll enjoy some low-key time in the woods with friends and family, and if you’re successful, you’ll have some wild game for the freezer. Isn’t it about time you devoted some attention to squirrel hunting again? This year, invite a new hunter to tag along, fill the pockets of your game vest with .22 ammo, and escape to the woods for a few hours. You’ll be glad you did.