Double teaming for squirrelsBy: Steve Cooke
Hunting squirrels takes patience, stealth, bushcraft, accurate shooting, and an intimate knowledge of the quarry to consistently fill a game bag. Of course, the same requirements are necessary for any hunting situation, but being a good squirrel hunter seems to set the standard.
There are three basic ways to hunt squirrels. Setting up and calling them is effective. Squirrel calls are easy to learn and use. Finding a favourite feeding area and waiting for bushytails to arrive for breakfast is another common technique that produces well for patient hunters. The third way is to hunt with one or at the most two partners.
A partner can help defeat the grey(black)squirrel's primary means of defence, concealment. A squirrel avoids a predator by putting something between it and the danger. The most frustrating situation a squirrel hunter faces is not being able to get a clear, safe shot. As the hunter manoeuvres around the tree, the squirrel stays one step ahead, always keeping behind a limb or the trunk. In this game, the squirrel usually wins. Partners even the odds. Partners can also cover more ground and locate more squirrels than a lone hunter usually can.
One of the best partners is a good squirrel dog. A well-trained dog will not only find squirrels for you and tree them, it will keep a squirrel occupied until you arrive and help to position the bushytail where you can get a clean shot. Unfortunately, few people bother training a squirrel dog these days, and finding a good one can be difficult. If you ever get the opportunity to hunt with one, however, don't pass it up.
The more traditional partner is usually a relative. In my case they were my father and brother. When my family hunted together, we would spread out on line about 30 to 40 yards apart. Moving slowly and as quietly as possible through the bush lot, we would constantly scan tree tops and the bush ahead for movement. We used low whistles and hand signals for communication. When a squirrel was sighted, we moved into position around the tree and one person would circle it, trying to make the squirrel move to reveal itself. It was then just a question of time before it could be tricked into exposing itself to one of the shooters. Since we always used .22 rimfires and were shooting upwards, we had to wait until we were sure we had a suitable backstop.
Using this method, shooters should remain as still as possible, so the squirrel forgets about them as a threat and concentrates its attention on the one who is moving. This system works just as well with only one partner, but it takes longer to cover the same amount of territory. Of course, it's more effective late in the season when all the leaves have dropped and visibility is better. An early-season variation is to have one hunter equipped with a shotgun. When there's more cover, squirrels attempt to move out of the area by leaping from tree to tree. Keeping track of their progress is usually fairly easy, but getting a clear standing shot with a rifle is almost impossible. A shotgun loaded with No. 6 shot is fine medicine for the little acrobats, and a rifle is perfect if it locks up in a tree where you can get a look at it.
A hunt like this is great training for beginners. They soon learn the importance of moving quietly, not talking, and how quickly a sudden movement alerts or spooks the quarry. They also learn that accurate shooting is required, because a squirrel is a small target. These skills will stay with them the rest of their life.
Squirrels also make for excellent eating. My favourite recipe is simple. Skin and cut the squirrel into serving-sized pieces. Shake the pieces in a bag with flour to coat them and then brown them in a frying pan. Next, add salt, pepper, a chopped onion, cover with water or beer, and simmer for a couple of hours until tender. This makes its own gravy while cooking and is excellent served with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. Squirrel can also be used as a substitute for any recipe that calls for rabbit.
If you're not a squirrel hunter, give it a try. It doesn't require any special equipment, and the experience will likely hook you for life. Just remember, wild squirrels are not like their city cousins. For every one you actually see, there will probably be at least 10 that you didn't spot. You'll have to work for a full bag limit, but believe me, it will be worth it.