Father and son squirrel hunting
Photos by J. Wayne Fears

Squirrel hunting is a great way to introduce youth to hunting.

Squirrel hunting

The overlooked fall sport

If you had been watching me from a hidden spot in the river bottom hardwoods, you would have sworn I was stalking a turkey. I wore full camo, including a camo vest, and was easing from tree to tree with my camo turkey gun in a ready position.

I wasn’t turkey hunting, however, but having about as much fun. It was the first week of November, and I was enjoying a morning of squirrel hunting — getting some added value from my turkey gun.

Not many decades ago, squirrels were the most popular quarry for fall hunting. But the explosion of deer populations across the country pushed squirrel hunting aside, as hunters transitioned to chasing the now plentiful big game.

Neglecting squirrel hunting is bad for several reasons. Squirrel hunting is a great training ground for woodsmanship skills. I owe much of my big-game success to the woods skills I learned growing up as a squirrel hunter. Squirrel hunting is a lot of fun with more shooting involved than deer hunting, plus squirrel meat is delicious. It also helps justify the cost of your turkey shotgun, since the same gun makes a great squirrel gun. Just add a heavy field load of No. 6 or 7½ shot and a modified or full choke tube — depending on the height of the trees in which the squirrels are feeding — and you’re ready to go.

Adding a child who is just starting his or her hunting career can make a Saturday about as much fun as one could wish for. Depending on the child’s size and experience, a youth model .410 or 20-gauge shotgun can be a deadly squirrel gun.

The squirrel woods are great places to learn gun safety, stalking skills, patience, game calling, marksmanship, woods navigation, camouflage and concealment and tree identification. Many children who start hunting squirrels with a .410 catch the shotgun fever and later become avid turkey hunters. By then, squirrel hunting has taught them many of the skills a good turkey hunter needs for success.

Boy looking at squirrel target
Photos by J. Wayne Fears

Use your turkey gun as a double-duty squirrel gun to get the most bang for your buck.

At this time, at least nine states — Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — have spring or early summer squirrel seasons. During this season, calling squirrels can help the hunter reach their bag limit quickly, and it offers the same excitement we find in calling gobblers. It can be a fun hunt after the spring turkey season is over or when you have taken your limit of gobblers.

For the turkey hunter, hunting squirrels extends his or her time afield while costing very little. You already have boots, a hunting license, a camo shotgun and clothing, so the only added expenses are a box of small game loads, a squirrel call and possibly a more open choke tube.

Spend a little time on the pattern board shooting at distances you expect to find squirrels in your local woods, especially if you are changing choke tubes. It will help you determine the right choke/ammo combination.

Add to this some great squirrel recipes, and you are ready to partake in the season that, many years ago, stores closed and schoolboys played hooky to enjoy. Homemakers often bragged about their squirrel dishes, and squirrel was the meat of choice at many gatherings. Rediscover squirrel hunting and see what you have been missing. — J. Wayne Fears


Squirrel and Dumplings

Ingredients:

Place squirrel quarters into a Dutch oven; add water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour or until tender. Remove squirrel pieces, and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from bones, cutting meat into bite-size pieces; set aside. Bring broth to a boil again; add celery, carrots and pepper.

To make dumplings, mix flour, baking soda and ½ teaspoon salt; cut in shorting until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring with fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out into a well-floured surface and knead lightly four or five times.

Pat dough to ¼-inch thickness. Pinch off dough in 1½-inch-long pieces, drop into boiling broth. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 15 minutes or to desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Stir in squirrel pieces and stir until meat is heated through, usually about 5 minutes.

Serves: 4 to 6