Late Season Bushytails by Ken McBroom
So, deer season is over and you have settled in for the winter. A great time for lazing around watching football and maybe working a little overtime to keep the boss off your back when the turkeys are gobbling and the crappie are moving into shallow brush this spring. The coffee table is littered with Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and outdoor catalogs. Thoughts of the past season still fresh in your mind you are content, or are you.
Football season is winding down and your team has already been eliminated, your boss is starting to expect you to be at work everyday and your wife is piling on the chores. It is time to get out of the house and what better way to spend the day than sneaking up on some bushytails on a cold sunny day in January and February.
Squirrel hunting can be a very relaxing endeavor after sitting motionless in a tree waiting for the elusive whitetail. Those long hours on stand should give you an idea of where the squirrels are hanging or at least some good places where the acorns are plentiful. Squirrels may be using that area now even if they were not early in the year. This is also a good time to reverse this scenario and use your day a field to locate some great stand locations for next deer season.
A comfortable fanny or backpack is essential for squirrel hunting. You need enough room for your calls if you use them. A thermos of hot coffee if you drink it and a book if you read. A lunch is important in cold weather if you plan to hunt all day. Late season usually means very few hunters a field and with deer season over the fear of ruining someone’s hunt or getting shot by one of those “hunters” that can’t seem to tell the difference between a ten point buck and an out of shape hillbilly tromping through the woods and smoking a swisher sweet. Anyway this is the time of year, especially on public lands that you can wander freely and explore your hunting area while providing you and yours with some great game for the dinner table. If you do wander deep into the woods, far from the truck, that thermos of coffee, lunch and a good book or magazine will come in handy as the bushytails tend to go inactive sometime during the day and unless you plan on trekking back to the truck to wait for the evening feed then these items will make your wait much more enjoyable.
Late season usually means the breeding season is over and squirrels usually don’t travel far from home as they feed on the stockpile of nuts they buried in late fall. For this reason spot and stalk is usually the best way to harvest these tasty critters. Squirrels can be hard to see at this time because they are digging in the leaves for previously buried nuts. Since the nuts are buried close together and in large quantities movement is kept to a minimum therefore adding to the difficulties in spotting them. You may hear a squirrel rummaging in the leaves, if they are dry, and even though you know the thing is just ahead you just cannot see it. A good set of low power binoculars come in handy for spotting squirrels that are digging. The leaves they are moving in search of nuts tend to surround them making it even more difficult to see them.
This time of year squirrels are very skittish, as breeding subsides and hunting pressure continues, sneaking up on a squirrel takes patience. Late season tactics often times does not include calling. The squirrels are just too close to their den and tend to bolt right to their hole at the first sight or sound of danger. There are times, during late season that a call may help when used sparingly. If you can hear a squirrel digging for nuts but just can’t see it you can hit the distress call very lightly. At this close range it does not take much. The desired effect would be a quick jump onto the side of the tree as it glances back at where the sound originated. Be ready and shoulder that rifle quick or it will be gone. A good time to use this method of calling is when you know the squirrels are out and about and the sun is fast sinking. It is better to take a chance on getting the squirrel to present a shot than to spend the last waning minutes waiting this one out. Call and watch for a shot then move on to the squirrels you can plainly hear digging high on the ridge above this gives you more daylight to work with.
The 22-caliber rifle is the most popular round for squirrels. I have just recently switched to the .17 mach 2 with mixed emotions about it. The Mach 2 is a neat gun and fast, maybe a little too fast. I find that the small bullet is so fast that the squirrels barely know they are hit if its not a head shot. I have seen bullets start in at the squirrels head but instead of penetrating the skull the lightning fast round will slice its hide down to their tail leaving a nasty cut and a mess to clean. If you have the choice or you have not decided yet which gun to go with I personally would pick the 22 caliber round which with practice and a good scope you can make just as long of shots as the mach 2 as it tends to deflect easily and at long yardages beyond 50 yards the wind begins to effect the shot as well.
Squirrels are great eating, check out the recipe below for squirrel and dumplings. So if cabin fever has you down and the chores around the house are piling up, explore for a new area to hunt or return to where you spotted all those squirrels during deer season and enjoy your time in the woods. Squirrel hunting is a great way to introduce young people to the world of hunting. Squirrels are to getting young people started hunting, as bluegill is the way to start young people fishing. Squirrel hunting can be a great way to spend the day with your family.
SQUIRREL AND DUMPLINGS
3 whole squirrels
1 Box of Bisquick
1 large can of chicken stock (optional)
Boil squirrel until meat falls from bone
Remove meat from bones and return meat to pot
Add stock if desired if not retain stock from boiling squirrels
Follow direction on box for drop dumplings