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Squirrels provide great sport and excellent eating

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Due in part to lack of hunting pressure, squirrel numbers are high in many areas. Many younger hunters have never hunted squirrels, due in part to the interest in deer and hog hunting the past few decades.

On a trip back to rural Red River County where I grew up, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman at a local café where a buddy and I were having breakfast.

“You up here for a squirrel hunt?” quizzed one of the older gentlemen from my distant past.

“Yessir,” I replied. “It’s been about 35 years since I hunted squirrels in my old “stomping grounds.”

He smiled and informed me the woods are full of squirrels and he assured me that I would find the hunting much better than when I hunted here as a kid.

Back in the sixties and early seventies, squirrels were considered a delicacy on the dinner table as well as a great game animal. They were hunted hard and I remember a squirrel hunt was considered successful when three of four busheytails were bagged.

“Where you hunting?” he continued our conversation.

“I have permission to hunt the patch of woods behind our old place, where I hunted squirrel as a kid,” I replied.

He and a couple of his cronies followed us out to our truck and took a look at my .25 caliber Condor air rifle by Airforce Airguns. He was shocked that the powerful airgun was fueled by 3,000 psi. of compressed air; charged via an air tank and that it had plenty of “uumph” to knock a squirrel out of the highest Pin Oak tree!

In the seventies when deer became much more numerous, a lot of the old timers and almost all the younger generation abandoned their .22’s and shotguns loaded with #4 shot that they used for squirrel hunting for scoped deer rifles.

This very rural part of the state is ground zero for some of the very best squirrel hunting to be had and I was pleased to learn squirrel numbers were even more plentiful than when I was a kid.

A couple of hours hunting the woods of my youth proved the old gentleman to be right on target. I “eased” along the same little creek and hunted the same pin oak flats that my footsteps had traversed many decades earlier. I quickly discovered that although the busheytails were much more numerous, my squirrel hunting skills had become a bit rusty. I was moving way too fast.

When I slowed down and moved very slowly, stopping often for several minutes, keeping my eye on the treetops for shaking limbs and listening for the sound of a squirrel “cutting” a tree branch or claws on bark, I began to connect with a few squirrels, enough for that dinner of smothered squirrel, rice and gravy that I had been eagerly awaiting!

To my way of thinking, if a young hunter can learn the stealthy ways necessary to “slip up” on and harvest squirrel, he or she is well on their way to learning the skills necessary to hunt bigger game. Most veteran squirrel hunters stay on the move when hunting but, they move very slowly. Through the years, I’ve found still hunting to be the most productive way of finding and getting within range of squirrels.

When a prime area is spotted ahead, such as a grove of oaks or pecan trees, I usually ease just inside the trees and sit down with my back against a tree and set the woods become quiet. If I don’t see limbs shaking or actually spot a squirrel within about ten minutes, I move a few yards to a spot that gives a view of the woods ahead. If a squirrel or the movement of a squirrel is spotted ahead, it’s sometime best to stalk ahead, moving very slowly, using trees to conceal your movement.

Back in my early career, clothing for hunting squirrel consisted of blue jeans and a red and black flannel shirt but considering the keen eyesight squirrels, I’ve learned that camo clothing does help.

Fox squirrels can often be found not only in the oak “bottoms” such as pin oak flats but on edges where stands of hardwoods meet field edges. Later in the fall when the acorns are gone, I’ve had good success hunting fence rows with standing bois d arc’ trees, squirrels love to “cut” horse apples which serve as a late fall and winter food supply. While red or fox squirrels prefer the higher elevations, gray of “cat” squirrels almost always are found along the creeks or drainages.

If comparing squirrels to horses, the fox squirrel would be the docile work horse, the cat squirrel the high strung racehorse. Cat squirrels are nervous little critters and seldom set still for more than a few seconds, that’s what makes hunting then with a scoped rifle so challenging. When I was a boy, I did most of my “high ground” squirrel hunting with an iron sighted little single shot J.C. Higgins .22. I killed far more fox squirrels with my little rifle than I did gray squirrels.

When I finally got that Mossberg bolt action .410 shotgun, I began spending more time in the “bottoms,” hunting pin oak flats and along Pecan Bayou for the challenging cat squirrels. Many shots on cat squirrels are passed up by rifle hunters waiting for the critters to stop running but with a shotgun, it’s much easier to bag a running busheytail.

I do have friends that are devout rifle squirrel hunters; they simply will not go after their squirrels with a scattergun. They use the excuse that the shot messes up too much meat but in truth, I think it’s the challenge of placing those tiny little bullets precisely in a target as small as a squirrel’s head that causes them to accept the challenge of rifle hunting.

As a veteran outdoors writer, I have the opportunity to hunt a good many ranches for whitetail deer and I’ve noticed that the many feeders set up for deer attract lots of squirrels. While the majority of ranch managers don’t want squirrel hunters banging away around the feeders with shotguns or .22 rifles, I use an Airforce Condor SS .25 caliber air rifle with the company’s new “sound reduction technology” that is an absolute “squirrel hammer.”

It makes very little noise and is ideal for sniping squirrels around a feeder. I have introduced several of my friends that own hunting ranches to this method of squirrel control and many of them have learned those pesky little corn eating squirrels are some of best eating of small game.

While they don’t hunt squirrels the conventional way of stalking the hardwood bottoms like I grew up doing, some of them have become devout squirrel hunters hunting the busheytails much like they hunt deer, over a feeder! It’s great off season sport and also helps fill the freezer with more quality meat!

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton with hunting and fishing news via his website www.catfishradio.org.