Kenneth Kieser: A return to squirrel hunting
During my youth we went squirrel hunting every fall. October quickly became my favorite month because of the beautiful leaves and cool daytime temperatures. The generation before me loved squirrel for dinner and my grandmothers really knew how to cook it to perfection, fried to a golden-brown.
Their generation is mostly gone now and many of the younger folks consider eating a squirrel dinner totally gross. That is sad because squirrel meat actually is very good and the hunts are a lot of fun.
WHERE TO HUNT: Squirrel hunting is only a challenge for those without patience. Late fall trees have dropped most leaves making ground clutter even thicker. Squirrels are hard to spot if they are alerted to your presence, even in bare trees. Those who move too fast or don’t have the patience to sit still may only see or hear squirrels running from a distance.
Squirrels like nuts – old news, but a key to hunting the sneaky little critters. Hickory or oak ridges are perfect places to sit, watch and listen. Eventually you will hear squirrels working in the trees or on the ground. Many of the young squirrels will be playing, chasing each other up and down trees.
SNEAK IN: Wake up early and position around walnut trees or cornfields before daylight. Mornings are cool and wildlife is moving this time of year. Sit, look and listen for squirrels and remember, you may hear squirrels before you see them. You might even enjoy the show of young squirrels chasing their kinfolk up and down trees, especially in areas with limited hunting.
You may be out of shooting range, but sit still and wait for your chance. The young fryers may move into easy shooting range. When you shoot one, sit still. You may get a crack at the second or third.
I have known squirrel hunters to shoot their limit of six from the same spot. They shoot and mark where each squirrel falls. Then pick up their limit and walk away with little effort. This requires mega amounts of patience and has never worked for me.
STILL HUNT: Still-hunting is the term used for a dead-slow walk. Most hunters only move two or three feet in 10 minutes or longer. You don’t travel far fast, but you will definitely see more.
Watch each step to avoid cracking sticks or making any type of unnecessary noise – easier said than done in the fall. But if you do crack a stick or make some other type of noise, freeze and pretend you are a tree. Squirrels have sharp eyes making a good case for camouflage. Remember to move slowly and only move your eyes.
BUDDY HUNTING: Buddy hunting may be the best way to squirrel hunt. Still-hunt from tree to tree, about 10 feet apart. Then study the trees you pass and look behind you occasionally. You might just get an easy shot.
Squirrels move from one side of the tree to the other to escape danger. They are hidden by the tree, but during a buddy hunt, the squirrel will move around the tree to hide from one and become easy prey for the other. My brother and I have taken many squirrels using this technique. But beware of careless or even inexperienced hunters.
SQUIRREL DOGS: Hunters once depended on dogs to tree squirrels. A good dog was considered a prized possession. The dog would chase a squirrel until it sought refuge in a tall tree. Hunters would either have to scan the branches for a hiding squirrel or one would occasionally sit on a limb and bark at its tormentor who was still barking back. That causes quite a commotion in a quiet woodlot.
BLACKPOWDER: Want to try something different. Blackpowder rifles are great fun for squirrel hunting. Most hunters choose a .32 or .38 caliber black powder squirrel rifle. Bigger bores may tear up the squirrel making it inedible.
Loading the old fashion guns is simple. Start by pouring a pre-measured amount of black powder or Pyrodex down the barrel. You will probably use between 30 to 40 grains of powder for squirrels, but this is best determined by spending time at a target range to find your rifle’s most effective load.
Next place a cloth wadding around a small lead pumpkin ball and use a small ball starter to push the load just inside the barrel. The cloth and ball are both lightly lubricated with commercial gels, but saliva will do in a pinch.
The load is then pushed down the barrel with a ramrod until it will push no farther. When you are certain the load will go no farther, mark your ramrod against the barrel’s end with a sharp knife to ensure that the load is all the way down every time. Occasionally a load will jam in the barrel creating a messy situation when the spark hits black powder.
When you are ready to start hunting, cock your hammer back to the safety position (the clicking point just before locking the hammer back for a shot) and insert a percussion cap over the nipple. The cap shoots a spark down to the black powder when the hammer drops by pulling the trigger.
You can use percussion caps to clear out the barrel of dampness or debris before loading. This is accomplished by placing a cap on the nipple, cocking the hammer back and pulling the trigger. First make sure the rifle is pointed in a safe direction.
The first step to black powder hunting is a long visit at the shooting range. All black powder rifles are slightly different. Only practice shooting will determine the best load for your rifle.
SQUIRREL RECIPES: Check the internet for ways to prepare squirrel. I especially encourage you to try Brunswick Stew or fried squirrel.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.