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Man and boy with a squirrel
Photo by Bruce Ingram

Kevin Boeren with his first squirrel, taken while being shepherded by his father Bob (right) while afield on the author’s land.

Squirrels: Still the Best Starter Game

by Bruce Ingram

When Kevin Boeren was 11, his father, Bob, brought the youngster over to our rural Virginia property. The mission was to help Kevin kill his first squirrel. An hour or so later, the youngster used a .22 rifle to get the job done.

Regardless of whether someone is nine, 19 or 39, squirrels are marvelous starter game animals, according to Robert Abernethy, NWTF assistant vice president of agency programs.

“Squirrels are abundant and found throughout the United States except for areas in the Great Plains where trees aren’t available,” he said. “They are especially important game animals in the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest.

To help grow the sport of hunting, Abernethy feels NWTF members should offer to take kids and adults new to hunting out after squirrels. “They are relatively easy to hunt, don’t require an expensive gun, just a .22 rifle or a 20 gauge shotgun; and, very importantly, new hunters can learn the basics of woodsmanship by pursuing squirrels,” he said.

Dad’s daypack

Bob Boeren recommends the following items for a hunting daypack to make certain young hunters are comfortable and focused on fun:

  • snacks and drinks
  • a change of clothes in case the child becomes wet or cold
  • mammal, bird and tree identification books (Boren recommends the Audubon series.)
  • a seat cushion
  • turkey, deer and squirrel calls just for the young hunter. Crow calls can be especially fun for kids and almost always result in a raucous response.

Abernethy cites a West Virginia study where they tested experienced deer, turkey, squirrel and other categories of hunters to see which groups knew the most about animal sign, tree identification, and in what kinds of habitat certain species of mast producers lived. The bushytail enthusiasts easily won.

Bob Boeren, a forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry, agrees the pursuit of squirrels is a wonderful way to teach woodsmanship.

“One of the best things about squirrels as the perfect starter game animal is you don’t have to be overly quiet when you’re in the woods, so it’s a great time to explain the basics of woodsmanship,” he said. “On Kevin’s early hunts, I took time out to show my son game trails and buck rubs and scrapes, what turkey scratching and droppings look like, and how to tell the differences between various white and red oak species and also several of the hickories.”

Kevin was curious about everything in the woods, even the moss and lichens. And his dad feels their time in the woods even helped the younger Boren do better in his school science classes.

Squirrel call
Photo by Bruce Ingram

It’s important to make a new adult hunter or a child an integral part of the hunt. Here, Kevin Boeren employs a squirrel call while his dad looks for movement.

When to begin?

Boeren believes no magical age exists for when a child is ready to begin bagging bushytails.

“A lot depends on the maturity and interest of the child,” he said. “Kevin started not carrying a gun, just tagging along on hunts. He watched me practice gun safety and wait for the right moment to take a shot. However, I also made sure he was very much an active participant in the hunt.”

Boeren allowed Kevin to use a call to locate the squirrels, as well as practice using deer grunt and bleat calls and various turkey calls. He also learned basic hunting strategies such as stand and still hunting.

Of the right caliber

Like Abernethy, Boeren recommends youngsters start squirrel hunting with smaller guns such as the .22 rifle and 20-gauge shotgun. When it’s time to move on to center-fire deer rifles or 12-gauge shotguns for turkeys, opt for youth models. Don’t forget hearing protection for sensitive young ears; it will also help prevent flinching before pulling the trigger.


Cook up a healthy dish of pride

It is important for a new to share the day’s bounty with other family members. Here’s a my wife’s favorite squirrel recipe:

Elaine Ingram’s Baked Squirrel Casserole

Squirrel CasserolePlace the squirrel pieces in a casserole dish with lid. Place the vegetables on top of the squirrel pieces. Dilute the soup with a half can of water. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Cover the casserole dish with the lid and place in oven. Bake at 350 F for 1½ to 2 hours.