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Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
I started squirrel hunting back about 1960. I was born into a family of small game hunters. There were no deer or turkeys much in the whole state of Illinois at that time. Large deer and turkey populations are a really new thing in most states and only exist because of the people who desired to hunt them. There were virtually no deer in illinois at all from the late 1800's to the late 1950's when the state at that time re-opened just a handfull of counties. European settlers had eaten them.
So I grew up hunting small game. Squirrels and rabbits were at the top of the list and plentiful. Every hunter I knew at that time were all the same...small game hunters.
It seems that small game hunting these days does not have enough glamour for most of the folks who take up hunting.
If a person hunts just on rare occasion, he usually is a deer hunter. The folks who hunt a lot are usually deer hunters who dabble at small game hunting ocasionally. Turkey hunting is also becoming one of the glamorous types of hunting.
Small game hunting is greatly benificial to big game hunters. The basics of still hunting squirrels will make anybody a better big game hunter.
The basics of hunting rabbits in a group is great for learning safe firearm handling in a group.
Small game seasons are usually long and provide more time afield to learn basic hunting skills and the hunting kind of marksmanship.
It takes time in the field to learn woodsmanship and small game hunting is the way to get out there more often!
Anyway, We are about to discuss squirrel hunting in detail.
Anybody with questions or observations to add are quite welcome to jump in. We all learn from each other. Ihave hunted squirrels for 43 years and in 5 states . You may know a lot of things I may be interested in. Don't hold back!
The squirrels I grew up hunting were the gray and fox squirrels. Fox squirrels in Illinois are the orange variety and are usually much larger than the gray.
Grey Squirrel (photo by me)
Some folks have gotten to calling the fox squirrel a "red" squirrel. This has lead to some confusion amongst folks from differant parts of the country about what a fox squirrel looks like.
Fox Squirrel(photo by me)
The true red squirrel is smaller than the common gray. the red squirrel is common in the northern part of our country. i have never seen one in illinois. i have reports that they do exist in other states than the northern most states. i suspect that they may prefer to inhabit mixed conifer and deciduous forest. it may be that any such large expanse of such mixed forest may hold some red squirrels.
Red Squirrel (Wisconsin. Photo by me)
Both the fox and the gray are decent size varmints and hunters, in most states where they exist, persue them. Red squirrels are not hunted to the same extent. They may not even be legal targets in some areas so it would pay to be sure before hunting them.
There are other types of tree squirrels as well. In illinois we have 2 color phases of the gray. One is pure white and the other is pure black. These color phases seem to be found in limited areas and localised. On the lake michigan shoreline of Illinois, the black phase can be found. The white phase can be found around the town of Olney, which is in the southern part of the state.
In the south part of the country, there are differant color phases of fox squirrels.
As tree squirrels have pretty much the same kind of habits where ever they are found, hunting techniques should be very similar wherever you get to hunt.
We are about to discuss squirrel hunting in minute detail. These few paragraphs are to leave no doubt about which kind of squirrels we be talking about!
SQUIRREL HUNTERS...THE TREE KIND!
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
Lots of folks have asked if it is neccesary to wear camoflage clothing while squirrel hunting.
The answer is, no.
What squirrels notice most is movement and noise.
I like wearing camo and feel a person can move more freely wearing it or woodsy colors. One of my favorite colors to wear in the woods is med. to dark gray. Earth tone colors are a good bet.
Clothes that are not camo can still blend into the landscape quite well. Blue does not blend in and I would avoid wearing blue jeans, as outer wear, if possible.
For hunting, I like old soft cloth type clothes. The sticker attracting kind. You want something that is as noiseless as possible when things like branches and stickers are dragged across the material. I hate anything covered in nylon for hunting.
For squirrel hunting, dark colored sneaker type shoes are great. The high top tennis shoes work well in the warmer months. You can "slip" through the woods more quietly in them, if you are still hunting and feel those sticks under foot before they snap.
A hat with a bill on it is also helpful to shade the sun off your eyes. It also serves the purpose of something to spray skeeter dope on. I usually spray it under the bill of the cap to keep the rascals out of my eyes.
For folks who just like to sit and wait for squirrels, all this is not near as important. I say again, movement and noise will likely be what tips squirrels off to your position. If you are sitting around most of the time while hunting and moving very little, you can wear most anything.
Early season hunters(May-Sept) will want to wear light, cooler clothes while late season hunters(Oct-Feb) are going to need really warm clothes and better footwear. The warmer gear will be a must in Jan. when most squirrel hunting is done by sitting or moving really slowly through an area.
I have worn a vest while squirrel hunting since the beginning. Serious hunters can get one made of heavy canvas that will last most of your life! They are usually a brown or green color to blend with the woods. The pockets hold ammo and neccesaries and there is usually a bag on the back for carrying your squirrels.
Some folks get by by cutting a green stick and carrying squirrels on it. You may even use a large horse blanket pin. The squirrel is usually stabbed though the back foot or the achilles tendon and the stick or pin is run through the cut. The stick is cut long enough to stick each end through a belt loop and the squirrels are carried hanging down your leg. You will get bloody...no maybe's about it!
But........ it works!
Last edited by SQUACKS : 03-27-2010 at 11:41 AM.
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
I want to mention weaponry a little before we get into the grit of actual squirrel hunting. This may not be what you are expecting.
I have used pellet guns, slingshots, bows, pistols, shotguns and rifles in pursuit of the squacks. I enjoyed hunting with them all.
I suggest you use whatever you feel the most proficient with.
Squirrels are a tough customer for it's size. Accurate projectile placement is important.
Lots of people like to hunt squirrels with a rimfire rifle. I am amongst that crowd. It is important to realise that not all places are acceptable to use them in. If it is not safe to fire a rifle in the woodlots you have to hunt, then by all means, use a shotgun. If there are buildings on all horizons, a shotgun or some other kind of short range weapon should be the gun of choice. Never use a rifle unless it is perfectly safe to do so.
#4, #5, and #6 lead shot is suitable for squirrels. In small guage shotguns (.410 or .28), you may want to go to #7 1/2 shot to fill the pattern some and reduce the amount of cripples.
In any guage shotgun, it is important to know what the pattern density looks like at differant yardages. This will reduce the amount of cripples. The pattern must be dense enough to ensure lethal hits at the distance of the shot. The lethal areas on a squirrel are small, so pattern your gun and know what its maximum effective yardage is.
In any case , it helps to be familiar and proficient with the weapon you use.
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
In its daily travels, a squirrel leaves sign of its presence.
These signs are a good thing to be able to recognize as they will help you a great deal when scouting or hunting a new piece of timber.
Fresh sign is the only kind of real interest. At times, in large expanses of timber, squirrels travel around a lot. Why they do is still a mystery to me...they just do. When squirrels are present in large numbers they leave a lot of sign of them being there. I have found them a couple of times in my life where they were so thick that I swear I could smell them.
There are basically two kinds of places a squirrel spends the dark hours. The first is in a hole in a tree which is normally called a den tree. In old growth forests with lots of old trees, there will be an abundance of den trees. The thing to look for when scouting is holes that are worn slick around it. These are usually year round dens where young are raised. I have seen a lot of squirrels come out of one hole in the dead of winter. They seem to take up community living when it's neccesary in the cold months. They fuss around a lot in there but must get used to it after a bit.
The second type of squirrel abode is the nest, which is woven mysteriously out of any leaves available. Sometimes these are called dreys. Squirrels build these even when there are plenty of den trees around. In younger timber where den trees are scarce, the nest is the common abode of squirrels. These nests can be smallish to huge. Both fox and grey squirrels use both kinds of abode.
A fresh green nest is a good sign of recent squirrel activity. Sometimes there can be a LOT of them.
The next kind of sign to look for would be diggings. Squirrels spend time on the ground poking around any time of the year. They are always digging. When they dig, they usually leave a small pile of dirt in front of a small hole. If the dirt looks fresh, it will have been done recently. If there are a lot of diggings on the forest floor, it is a good sign of a good population of squirrels.
The last kind of sign I look for is cuttings. When a squirrel eats a nut, it first must remove the outer husk. It then CUTS through the nut to get at the meat. It keeps cutting the nutshell away to get at the insides. These cuttings should be green and wet to be really fresh. Fresh cuttings is what is important. Last years cuttings are not fresh squirrel sign.
An interesting obeservation I have made in all these years of hunting squirrels is that gray squirrels almost always cut the nut completely into small pieces. Fox squirrels , a lot of times, will just cut one end off the nut and are somehow able to get the meat out that way. So, if you find a lot of whole nutshells under a tree with just one end bitten off...you can bet that fox squirrels are present.
It pays to know what fresh squirrel sign looks like when hunting large forests. When hunting small woodlots, it is not as important.
I am of the opinion that no squirrel hunter can really get good at his craft until he can identify the foods squirrels use and the trees that the food comes from.
Of course there are other food sources that squirrels use that do not come from trees. They will eat most grains from farm fields and probably some fruits, drupes and berries from plants.
At this point in this discussion, we will focus on the trees that produce mast or a source of food that squirrels use.
These types of trees and their existance will vary from state to state. Each hunter has to learn the ones that are in his specific area.
It also is of use to know when each specie of tree has its mast ripen to the extent that squirrels start to use it. Knowing where to find a single kind of tree is also of use. That means you must study the kind of habitat that you find such a tree in so you will know what kind of habitat to look in to find others of its kind.
When you find several squirrels in one tree at one time, you can bet it is probably a food source that they are fond of and that at that point in time, if you are able to find other trees of its kind, you will probably find more squirrels! Knowing how to identify the tree and the habitat it prefers, you will be able to find other trees like it and therefore more squirrels.
It is my intention to go through a list of tree types and the approximate time that these trees ripen mast to the extent that it is ready for squirrels. In actuallity, these times will vary from ,mostly, north to south as the seasons are differant. The times I will refer to relate to most of Illinois. Remember that as you go south from Illinois, that mast may become ready earlier and just the opposite will occur going in the opposite direction.
As the Illinois season starts on the 1st day of August, I will start with that date and then continue on for what I know about one cycle of growth. (a whole year)
Of course, if any of you have differant specie to add to this timetable, please do so. Remember to give a location for the timetable so we can get an idea of the differance in availability from one region to the next.
This topic of trees may take a few installments and will also not be a definitive list. I am just relating my observations and experiences in my state over the period of 44 years of squirrel hunting.
Trees to follow! Stay tuned and join in!
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
Aug. 1 has been the squirrel opener in southern Illinois for all the years I have been hunting them. One thing you can rely on is that it will be HOT!
There will be lots of skeeters, chiggars and ticks as well. A lot of sweating will be in order to get any hunting in.
In August, the first 2 hours of daylight and the last hour before dark are going to be best for hunting. Squirrels will move more in the coolest daylight hours at that time. This means getting into the woods before light and sitting in a spot where you expect them to be or to come to in order to feed.
The knowlege of what kind of food is ripe and ready will help put you in a better spot at daylight, if you know where those food sources are.
One of the things that squirrels (especially young squirrels) eat in Aug. is black(wild) cherries. These are easy for young squirrels to eat as they have no hard shell to cut through. They are usually plentiful as well.
The only noise that squirrels make while eating them is the movements from branch to branch as they move about the tree in search of the cherries.
You will also, on occasion, find other varmints up a cherry tree. Coons, possoms and every bird in the woods will be up in there after those cherries.
I have found enough squirrels in black cherry trees in August to make the cherry tree worth mentioning. Few "nut" trees are ripe at the start of Aug. and a feller has to know about other food sources in order to find many squirrrels.
I am going to post a links to a pretty good looking site that has pictures and descriptions of the various types of trees and shrubs we will be dicussing. It will make identifying easier.
On the southernmost quarter of Illinois, the tulip tree (yellow poplar) can be found. This tree is enormous as eastern trees go. It can reach 200 ft! Check that shotgun pattern!
I will leave the description go. You can read about the tree itself in the following link.
The leaves are large and dense in the crown. A squirrrel in the middle of the tree may as well be under a mountain! He is pretty safe there.
I have found squirrels eating the fruit(seedpod) on the first day of August. They obviously start on them earlier than that. I have found them still eating the pods in november. If you look at the picture of the seedpod in the link, you will notice the pod is sort of christmas tree shaped. each individual blade on the larger end contains a small seed kernal that the squirrels eat. Thats the only part they eat. They usually just eat around the large end and as they do the individual blades that the seed is attached to get cut loose, then flutter to the ground. There is no noise much when they do hit the ground. The only noise is when the squirrrel is out on the end of a limb looking for seedpods and when he gets done with one and drops the core.
The tip that squirrels are up in a tulip tree is the endless amount of the little blades fluttering downward. I know of nothing else that uses the seedpods in the unripened state.
Hunting squirrels in tulip trees can be a miserable experience. There can be a lot of them up there and you will be lucky to get ANY of them. The only time you actually see them is when they are out on the end of a limb gettin a fresh pod and they don't stay there but a few seconds. After the leaves come off, it's a bunch easier but at that time there is usually an abundance of other foods that the squirrels seem to prefer.
I reckon the problem with tulip trees is that you have to stand right under one to see up in it much. I don't care how old you are, you are going to endure a lot of pain in the neck to get ANY squirrels out of a tulip tree.
I have been reduced to laying on my back while waiting. It probably is a more natural shooting position than trying to shoot straight up while standing!
Some things that squirrels eat are just not as illustrious as others! Almost nobody talks about squirrels in honey locust trees. It seems that it would take a squirrel of great daring to make a jump into a honey locust tree!
The tree is covered top to bottom in the most wicked looking thorns I ever laid eyes on! They grow all up and down the trunk and are REALLY long and branched even! It's a good idea to wear hard bottom shoes in honey locust timber.
First off, let me say that I have never seen a gray squirrel up in a honey locust tree. They may go up there...I have not seen it. It's those REALLY BIG fox squirrels that I see in them. We are talking 3 pound plus fox squirrels and tough as a boot.
The honey locust aint a bad looking tree. They have a long, flat seed pod that hangs from its branches. These look like a really long green bean!
Anyways, those old fox squirrels risk it all for the "beans" in this pod. A am not sure how long they might use this food source or how often but I found them eating them in the first part of august.
I must say that when I did find them in honey locust trees , the woods that contained them was usually not much of a squirrel woods in the first place.
Hunting in this type of woods is where I found squirrels eating some of the more uncommon and unsavory types of foods. There was little variety and they ate what was available at the time.
Haws are another type of squirrel food that one does not hear of often. I have found squirrels in hawthorne trees in early August. The haw is another of those trees that is full of nasty looking stickers. Big stickers too!
I found the haws growing in the same place as the honey locust. It was a plumb stickery woods!
Again, I have only seen fox squirrels up a haw tree, but the woods I found the haws in only had fox squirrels in it. Most of the trees I have seen occurred in the understory and were not much more than shrubs.
The haws I have run into in the woods were both black and red.
The osage orange(hedge apple or hedge tree as some call it) is another of the foods eaten by squirrels. I should say that , again. fox squirrels are the only squirrel I have ever seen eating them.
There are a great many osage orange trees in Illinois and especially through the central part of it.
This is the tree famous for the wood that is used to make bows.
I have found the fox squirrels eating the hedge apples in the first part of aug. It was comical to watch a fox squirrel wrestle one of those big ole apples into a fork in a tree and wedge it there so he could work on it in a more serious manner!
There is a catch with squirrels eating hedge apples. After a short time, the squirrel gets a strong smell and taste to them. You can smell it when you skin them. I never relished eating squirrel that had spent any time in the hedge apple trees.
The hackberry tree is another of the foods squirrels use that is little talked about. Over the years I have found both kinds of squirrels in hackberry trees in the early part of Aug.
Like the black cherry, there are other critters that can be up a hackberry tree in pursuit of its fruits. At least the berry makes a little noise when they are dropped from the tree and you may hear some stray ones hitting the ground.
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
I have found the hop hornbeam growing in the southern part of illinois. I also found both kind of squirrels eating the little nutlets inside the little capsules in the first part of August and onward.
I am always amazed when squirrels show interest in something so small. Of course, they make no noise at all in the process of eating them but only in searching the tree for them. maybe they taste like Hagen Das ice cream to them....who knows???
Squirrels also go for Dogwood berries in a big way at times.
The last non-nut type tree of interest is the cucumbertree. I have stumbled across a few of these in my wanderings through the shawnee forest.
It was always in the early parts of aug. when I found squirrels using them. As they were deep in the middle of the forest, all I ever saw using them was gray squirrels.
Most of the foods we have learned about so far make little or no noise when the squirrel eats them.
Toward the end of August, there becomes an abundance of hard shelled nuts that ripen. Those are what most squirrel hunters LONG for. Those are the next topic of interest!
The 3rd week of Aug. in Illinois, it is common to start seeing signs of squirrels sampling hickory nuts. Some years, they may be hard at them by then.
Some years, the whole crop of hickory nuts fail for some reason. It's enough to make hard nosed squirrel hunters boo-hoo in their cornflakes! To go a whole season without finding squirrels in the hickories is a big disappointment!
There are 5 kinds of hickories in Illinois. All five kinds are found in the shawnee forest.
In my experience, squirrels will start on 4 of them some time in late Aug. By mid- September, they are hard into all of them.
The shagbark(scaleybark) is the most recognizable of them all.
The bark makes it easy to spot. The nuts can be quite large and this keeps the squacks busy in one spot for a spell, which gives you time to slip up on em! There will be aLOT OF NOISE associated with a squirrel cutting hickories. You will hear the "grit...grit of the teeth on the hard shell. You will also hear the outer husks hitting the ground and the steady pitter patter of the smaller cuttings falling through the leaves. Their nails on the loose bark and limbs swishing around as they search the tree are other noises you will hear.
The next three hickories you may or may not have seen or heard of!
I know I have taken squirrels in the shellbark and mockernut hickories. They make the same noises eating them and really there is no reason to be able to tell one from the other than to be able to find more of the same tree elsewhere. They may prefer differant habitats.
The last hickory is important to me. In years where all of the preceding hickories fail, I have seen pignut hickory produce massive amounts of mast. They rarely fail completely. However, the squirrels don't seem to use them as early as the others. It seems that they wait until about mid-september to go at them in a big way.
They like high ridge tops too. There are ridges in shawnee that are just lined in pignut trees. It is also true that it seems that some of those trees are left untouched by squirrels. they will eat one up and let the others rot. Could be a taste thing I suppose.
One great thing about finding squirrels eating hickories is that nothing else I know of eats them! Not up a tree anyways. If you hear cuttings falling out you can be almost positive ...there be squacks up in there!
For you folks who have no squirrel season when the hickories are ready...I feel for you! You are missing it! A tree with 10 or eleven squirrels in it raining hickory cuttings will get the blood pressure up!
A lot of years ago(when I was a young un ), I hunted a creek bottom close to home. On the banks of the little creek stood a lone specimen of horse chestnut(buckeye).
Over the few years I hunted there, I found fox squirrels eating those buckeyes. In all the hunting I have done since, I cannot tell you that I have ever seen a squirrel eating buckeyes since then.
If my memory serves me correctly, I found them using them around the same time as they were at the hickories. I only mention this for the record.
If any of you have found squirrels eating buckeye, I would like to hear about it.
I have found squirrrels eating fox grapes. Fox grapes don't qualify as a tree but squirrels do use them as they ripen...if you can call it that. If there is something more sour than a fox grape, i don't want any!
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
Gobs and gobs of acorns!
Ii have read that in the shawnee forest , there are over 30 types of oak trees! I wish I could tell you that I can identify MOST of them. I can't.
The earliest I see squirrels in oak around me is in the first part of august. I find it amazing that the swamp oak in my yard is ready by then as it does not even have leaves on it until the end of may.
Oaks vary greatly in size and location. I will only touch on a couple of them and leave the rest for you all to study up on. The only reason I mention these two kinds is because of the great differance between them.
The first is the shingle oak. It is the only oak I know of that does not have the familiar oak leaves. Look at them closely. The acorns are really small as well. I have taken squirrels while they were eating them though.
This is another nut that would not normally seem worthwhile for a squirrel to mess with. The ones I am familiar with rarely got to a half of an inch(.500) in dia.
The other is just the exact opposite. The burr oak can have some HUGE ACORNS! The variety I am thinking of , we use to call overcup acorns.
Those nuts can be around 2 inches in diameter! That's a lot of dinner for a little bushytail!
We are not going to talk about acorns a bunch. They are probably responsible for the biggest mast crops most years and assuredly must do a lot towards keeping a large populations of squirrels well fed. They also feed a lot of other critters as well.
Yyou will find them growing in swampy ground(pin oak) and on top of the highest dry ridges. They have lots of holes and are regular den trees.
Acorns are easy for young squirrels to eat as they have a softer shell. They make the usual noise looking for them in the trees. A hunter can usually hear the caps and cuttings hitting the forest floor. On some occasions, I am able to hear a little of the grit-grit of squirrel teeth on a nutshell, but, not often. It's the other sounds that normally give them away.
As there are other critters that eat acorns and knock them out, one never really knows from whole nuts falling ,what is up an acorn tree. You will find chipmunks, coons and all the birds in the woods up in there. That's why hickory nuts are special! There is no doubt what's up there!
As a general rule , you may find squirrels eating acorns anytime from late august onward. They pack a lot of them around after the nuts fall to the ground. A squirrel just can't stand for a bunch of nuts to be laying all over the top of the ground. It's his bound duty to bury them all! That's why in fall, after the leaves and nuts go down, that's where you will find him. Rustling the deep leaves under those big old oak trees!
One of my favorite trees to find squirrels in is the beech! Around mid-September, they become ready.
The beech is as fine a specimen of squirrel wood as there is in my opinion. The smooth greenish gray bark is the key to quickly identifying it. The trunk of an old specimen is normally full of enough holes for an army of squirrels to live in. The tree can produce an enormous crop of beechnuts too.
A squirrels love of beech is something to see. Each little burr contains 2 pyramid shaped seeds. The seeds are fairly soft and pithy. It is another food that is ideal for young squirrels as it is easy for them to get at.
I believe that every bird in the woods just sits around waiting for the beech to ripen. You will find them up there as well.
It can be tough to get squirrels in beech ,at times, with a rifle. The squirrels seldom sit long eating them. They are all over the tree, eating as they go. A beech can be huge. Sometimes, you can only see the tree from right beneath it.
Tthe beech usually grows around the bottom of deep draws and up the sides of it. The biggest specimens or usually close to the bottom of the creek. With a rifle, one can sometimes get above the treetop by climbing the sides of a ridge. It seems easier to spot the squirrels from above, if you can get there.
Believe me when I say, there can at times be a heap of squacks up a beech tree. Years ago while hunting with a shotgun, I sometimes would drop several from one tree. after all the racket died away, I would be amazed that the cuttings would still be raining out of there! I have also had the same experience hunting in the peak of the hickory season. At times the squirrels just would not quit! The beechnuts usually hang on the trees until mid october...if the squirrels don't eat them all!
Turkeys ,deer and bear also feed on the beechnuts. Some years it can cover the ground under it with nuts.
I have personally seen beech as far north as wisconsin and michigan.
In some parts of western wisconsin, the make up of a woodlot can be predominately black walnut. This tree can be found all across Illinois as well. Squirrrels in Illinois normally start on walnuts in mid to late September. This can change to drastically earlier in some years.
This is another great nut tree for squirrels! You can hear the grit-grit noise of squirrels cutting walnuts a long ways off! There is a pile of racket associated with squirrels cutting the nuts. Both fox and gray squirrels are quite fond of the walnut.
The walnut tree foliage is more open than a lot of the other trees. Their leaves are some of the first to fall as well. The nuts will hang on longer than the leaves.
When the leaves are gone or mostly so, the squirrels get nervous sitting in the bare tree. When you hear one cutting and get the walnut tree singled out you think he is in, look first at the junction of the trunk and the limbs. He can usually be found down low with his butt against the trunk. they may feel safer there as they can dodge behind the trunk to avoid predation by hawks.
The squirrel may also be sitting in the brush down low to the ground. Late in the fall you can sometimes find a spot in the brush with large piles of walnut cuttings in one spot. This is surely a spot where the squirrel feels safer. It takes a squirrel quite a while to eat a walnut and in the open , he is vulnerable.
If squirrels are hunted much in the walnut season they can become quite "cagey" when cutting them. They can cut so softly that you will have a hard time locating them. When they are doing this, they have usually seen you but have not become alarmed enough to "run for it".
I should also mention the butternut at this time. It looks similar to the walnut but is oblong shaped.
I have run into a FEW butternut trees here and there. I never saw a bunch of them anywhere! Squirrels like them. I mention them only so you will see the differance in the nuts, if you ever run up on them.
Squirrel hunting in walnut timber is what the rimfire rifle shines at! The old squack, once he starts on a walnut, is not going to be moving around for a while. You can really take your time and "squeeze down" on em! I have made my "most memorable shots" after the leaves come down in the walnut timber. You can sometimes spot them a long ways off if you know what to look for!
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
The pecan is found on the southern most end of Illinois and becomes ready about the same time as beech and walnuts. In Illinois, these are found in rich bottoms. The nut is much smaller than the ones grown commercially. This tree is not abundant but I have found them in small numbers in Illinois.
They still taste the same! Both kinds of squirrels like them and use them. They make the same kind of noises looking for the nuts and eating them.
With the ripening of pecans, walnuts and beech all of the nut bearing trees I know of have now ripened for the season. Usually by late october, the majority have fallen to the ground.
When the nuts and leaves have fallen, squirrels spend a lot of their time on the ground packing and burying nuts of all kinds.
With the nuts on the ground, we will skip ahead to the spring period and talk of the trees that squirrels find food in at that time. Once we cover the entire season, we will get into squirrel hunting proper!
Illinois does not have a spring squirrel season. Shucks!
Squirrel hunters can learn a lot about squirrel hunting by observing their activities year around.
The critters usually start breeding here in late December or early January. I see the first litter out and about around April.
As I have mentioned before, when certain foods become available will depend on the lattitude in which you live.
In this installment, I will cover the basic spring foods that squirrels find in trees around here in the spring. These trees may be found in your area but may be done by the time the spring seasons come in.
The first thing I see squirrels eat is the leaf buds from most of the soft wood trees before they leaf out. Mostly, soft wood trees leaf out first.
Before the leaves of some trees appear, they may put on some types of seed. One of these is the maple.
There are many varieties of maple but most of you are familiar with the winged (helicopter like) seeds they produce.
I have squirrels eating these seeds in my yard at this time. They eat a lot of them....I wish they would eat them all!
The next is the elm tree. Morel mushroom hunters love elm trees! Anyways, what a squirrel sees in an elm seed is a mystery to me. They are so small that it seems a waste of energy eating them....but they do.
I said that I would stick to the trees that I know about personally and so I must leave some of the trees out. Anybody who knows of other spring trees that squirrels use are welcomed to post them.
In my yard, in late June, the mulberry fruits here. Birds and squirrels can be found in them eating all the mulberries they can hold.
Lots of young squirrels can be found in mulberry trees when they are ripe.
Later on in summer, I have found squirrels eating apples of all kinds. Here in my area there are a great many wild apple trees in the woods. Squirrels do use them on occasion.
Of course I can't keep the buggers off my bird feeders! That's where most city folk get the mistaken idea that all squirrels act like birdfeeder squirrels. Make no mistake about it....they don't.
Squirrels will also eat some types of flower buds and the flowers themselves such as tuliptree.
If you hunt a woods that has no squirrel hunting pressure at all and only hunt it once or twice a year....it will be pretty easy to get a limit of squirrels.
If you hunt where squirrels are hunted pretty hard...they can be amazingly tough to come by. Don't count on them being a cinch!
We are going to leave the trees at this point and focus on squirrel hunting tactics and strategies! Now that we know what squirrels like to eat and when to expect them to start eating it, we can make a plan before we get to the woods. This means knowing the woods that you hunt pretty good and how to identify the trees that squirrels use.
We have been preparing for just that.
We will now get into how to use the information we have just discussed!
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
This will be the first time we talk about how to actually find squirrels. My father started teaching me this lesson at the age of 9. It will suprise some folks.
A good squirrel hunter will hunt squirrels with his EARS and then find them with his eyes. When I start actually looking for a squirrel , I already know it is there.
In it's daily existence, a squirrel makes a few differant noises. Ii have learned to recognize all of them. I made it my business many years ago to study those noises and to be able to tell them from any other noise in the woods.
No matter if the leaves are up or down, if they are cutting nuts or not, you can still find squirrels...IF YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF NOISES THEY MAKE.
Your ears will guide you in close enough for your eyes to catch the movement or just plain spot them. No matter what squirrels are doing, it is your hearing that can guide you to them.
When a hunter learns to hunt squirrels by sound he does not need calls or any other kind of miracle devise to find them. I have never used squirrels calls and don't own one. I don't want squirrels to know I am in the same woods with them by making any kind of noise.
Squirrels bark for only a couple of reasons. One is a danger signal. Why would I want to give my location away with a danger signal? It may work sometimes, It may not.
Learning to identify the noises squirrels make is a definite advantage that will work anytime squirrels are doing anything but snoozing.(My ears aint good enough to hear them snore) Lol!
When I remarked on whether or not squirrels made noise while eating a particular type of food, I was arming you with the first of the differant noises we are going to talk about.
If your hearing is bad, you will have to resort to looking for squirrels. This will put you at a large disadvantage. A person with good eyes(or eyeglasses) and good hearing has the uppers on a person who doesn't. A person who has both and the knowlege of squirrel noises will be a pure nightmare to the squirrel kingdom!
Squirrel noises to follow!!!!!
Squirrel noises made with their mouth: Every tree squirrel hunter has probably heard squirrels barking. Excited barking is usually used when a squirrel sees or hears something out of the ordinary. It is alert. It usually has the disturbance pointed like a bird dog. A barking squirrel may or may not run away. It may come closer to you if he is new to squirrel hunters! If he saw several of his buddies knocked to the ground in the last couple of days he may not be so inclined.
Most squirrel hunters know this. Lots of times , if one squirrel starts barking, he can stir up several more into helping out with the racket. Barking squirrels may be aproachable if one move very slowly. The squirrel may keep it up until it is too late.
Tthe one thing I can tell you about squirrels barking is that if you listen to a fox squirrel and a gray squirrel bark, you will notice that they sound differant. If you get them both barking together, it will be much easier to notice. Fox squirrels have a much higher pitched and a cleaner sounding bark. A gray squirrels bark will be lower pitched and much more gutteral. So, you can tell what kind of squirrel you be sneaking up on before you actually put eyes on him. What differance does that make? Whether it matters or not to you, it has been my experience that a fox squirrel is a much dimmer critter than the gray. A gray don't stay put forever and usually is going to make a break for it if he don't like a situation. A fox squirrel will more than likely try to hide for a while and may not even bother with that. In my opinion, fox squirrels are a little easier to get all things being equal. That information may be useful to you in determining your approach.
Squeals: Cat squirrel! Louisiana squealer! You may have heard one of these terms. I have never heard a fox squirrel squeal. If any of you have...I would like to hear about it.
I have heard LOTS of grays squeal. I have made up my mind that the squeal serves 2 purposes. The first is extreme and immediate danger! Ever see a hawk sail through the timber. Squirrels will bark like machine guns! Then they break off into those long tapering squeals. They may keep this up for a long period of time. They usually are stuck to the back side of trees peeking around for the danger.
The second use of the squeal is a locator. I have heard them squealing up on the high ridges when they were scarce in numbers. I believe they use it at times to find other squirrels.
Growls or cchhhrrrr. When I have heard squirrels make this noise it is always 2 or more tail chasing. Around and around a tree they will be going and the sound of those sticky nails on bark is easily heard.
These are all the sounds that i know that tree squirrels make with their mouths. If anybody knows of more....I am listening!!!
More squirrel sounds to follow!
Riding the timber! Ever watch a squirrel jump from one tree to another? When he jumps off the first limb there will be a swish of leaves and branches. When he lands on the other limb you get to hear it all over again! If it's early in the morning and there is dew, fog or rain in the leaves, there will be water droplets hitting the ground. All these make a distinctive noise that broadcasts the existance of the squirrel and in which direction to head or look in.
Claws on bark.
There are a couple of bird types that run up and down on tree bark that may fool you at first, but after years of listening, you will begin to pick out the rythmn of squirrels nails on bark and be able to tell the differance. It probably has something to do with the squacks having 4 feet and a bird having only 2. My job here is to only make you aware that if you listen for ...oh....40 years or so, you will get pretty good at telling the differance! Then again, you may be quicker at it than me and it may only take you 30 years or so...Lol!
I mention this because new folks to squirrel hunting are going to find this out. There is a peckerwood or 2 that can sound a lot like a squirrel barking. The trick to tellin the differance is that the squirrel bark is more gutteral while the old woodpeckers is a nice clean sound. It will be embarrising , at first, slipping up on all those woodpeckers, but you will figure it out in ..oh say 30 ....well...you get the idea. Keep at it. Lol!
Grit...grit...grit! The sound that is distinctively squirrel! The sound of those evergrowing teeth cutting into the hard shell of a nut. Some can be heard for long distances. It is imperitive to know what this sounds like. There be no doubt what is up there when you hear this sound. This is why I related the noises when going through the food trees. This sound can guide you right to a LOT of squirrels that you may not find otherwise.
The sound of cuttings falling through the leaves. You may hear a whole nut hit the ground once in a while, but that won't convince me. It has to be a steady rain of small pieces coming to the ground. You can usually track them up the tree by watching for the leaves moving further and further up to get an idea where the varmint might be located. With a dozen up a tree cutting ANYTHING, you will have no doubt that they are squirrels!
On the ground.
After listening to squirrels rooting around on the ground and traveling on the leaves, you will be able to eventually determine that they are squirrels before you see them. Again, it's the rythmn of the movement that gives them away. You may have to listen to many hundreds of them to get it perfect, so I suggest you go hunting more often to get in more practice. Just tell the wife, I said it's ok......
That is the sound of squirrels hitting the ground! I hope you get to hear it often.
I will say this again because if you learn anything from this whole mess it's that if you take time to learn these sounds and how to filter them from all the other noises in the timber, you will have gone far and away from the average squirrel hunter. You will have the skills to find squirrels at any time of the year and in any type of timber. This will help greatly when hunting in new locations.
When you have it down pat, you will be able to locate squirrels with your eyes closed! Lol!
We aint done yet! I still have a trick or two up my sleeve!
Re: Squirrel Hunters...the Tree Kind!
A squirrel is a pretty tough critter.It can take some pretty hard hits and still have the gumption to get to a hole!
If you shoot a squirrel and it hangs on up in the tree, do not hesitate to shoot it again. Many times, I have seen them hanging on by one claw, looking like it was all over, only to have them jump to the limb and make a dash for a hole.
Sometimes, even if they do go on and fall out, they hit the ground with enough life to make it to a groundhog hole or brushpile.
When you do encounter a live, crippled squirrel on the ground(and you will), it should be dispatched immediately. It's better that it never know you are there. If you have a rimfire rifle, shoot it again if possible. If you try to get up on it, it may run and you may not find it.
Under no circumstances should you use your firearm as a club! You will eventually shoot yourself or at the least, crack the stock on your gun. If you want to use a club, the woods are full of them! Your gun should be considered a non club item!
For all these years, I have delivered the ole coup d grace with the heel of my shoe. Any squirrel that is still breathing at all , I will crush its skull with the heel. Just stomp down hard, heel first. This can be done to every one if you can't tell and want to make sure they are dead. You don't want the thing coming back around in the back of your jacket or tied to your belt! That could get purely exciting!
Lots of folks have told me that they field dress squirrels when they first kill them. This is something that I have never done. I usually only hunt 3-4 hours of a morning or evening. Even in hot weather, I have never seen squirrels spoil in that time. Since I have never field dressed squirrels , I can't tell you how it might be to skin them afterwards. A slit belly may not be beneficial to the way I skin them.
A few years ago, my hunting partner and I made a little video on how to skin squirrels. He had a new camera and just had to film something! I was awful camera shy but after a few "takes" and a lot of laughs he got one. It took him quite a while to figure out how to go from the camera' format to the video in the net.
Thanks to num_1dad for hosting this for us all these years!
Here are a few tips that may help you.
1. Pull the tail along the back towards the head. Just before the point where the tail joins the body there may be a part in the hair. This is the place to make the first cut. You cut straight down through the tailbone towards the back. Some folks leave 1/4" or so of the bone on the body when finished. This won't hurt anything. It sounds like you are cutting below the tailbone. When you get this part right, you should never be cutting into meat at all.
2. After the tail bone is severed, you want to skin a flap of skin big enough to get the edge of your foot onto solidly. That's what this is all about. It's the flap of skin you stand on and not the tail. The tail is weak and will break. When you skin this flap back with your knife, as you get further back and wider, start to angle the cuts on both side toward the underbelly. I skin to about where the back legs join the body. At that point I will have the cuts angled toward the underbelly. On fox squirrels, I may make a longer flap for more surface contact. Their hide is considerably tougher than the grays.
3. When you step down on the flap of skin, use the edge of your shoe and get it as close to the meat as posible. It helps to do the skinning on a flat hard surface. This is to keep the skin from slipping out from under your foot.
4. If the skin starts slipping from under your foot as you are skinning, it is best to stop and reposition it. Breaking the tail makes it more difficult to get your foot into the correct postion. I have broken tails and still manage to skin them this way but it is a little more difficult.
5. If you get a big fox squirrel and the skin does not want to seperate at the belly on its own, you may have to use your knife to seperate it. This is not usual but with the tougher fox squirrels, it does happen.
6. I skin the squirrel all the way to where its head and front legs are showing and then stop. I wipe the hair on my right hand onto my britches(this keeps most of it off the squirrel) and grab the varmint with that hand around the skinned out ribs. Do not take the pressure off the tail! Now wipe the hair off your left hand onto your britches for the same reason. The hide is very tender on the belly. You can push your finger under it there and pinch it between them and your thumb. Then with a quick jerk rearward the skin will come right off. See video. Wipe off any hair on your left hand. With that hand, pull the front legs out of the skin.
7. You can now do one of two things. You can either grab the body with both hands and pull the head loose or you can just cut the head off while still attached to the skin. I usually just pull the head out of the skin. I normally never touch a knife once I have made the first cut through the tailbone. See video!
I believe the biggest reason for tearing up the meat is making the first cut too low(to close to the vent) and not cutting the flap back far enough while angling the flap towards the underbelly. The first cut should be just above the point where the tail joins the body.
Since we got the squacks skinned already, we might as well get them ready for storage or eating.
When you cut up a squirrel, you will find some fatty kernal under the front armpits. You want to pull these off while you are gutting them. They can make the meat taste strong.
When you have them cut into usable pieces, put them in a large container and cover them with fresh water. I salt the water heavily and add a little white vinegar. Soak overnight in the fridge. This will draw the blood from the parts and leave your meat nice and pretty.
If you have more than you are going to use for some time, you will want to freeze them. Before the season comes in, save up a bunch of milk cartons. You can use those plastic jugs. Cut a hole in the top big enough to put the pieces in. Leave enough room to cover the pieces with water. Write the date and all the other info you need on the carton, so you know what it is a year later.(you won't remember). Use a laundry pen or indelible marker. Now, stick them in the freezer. ANY GAME frozen in water, will not dry out or freezer burn. Fish either. I have eaten them 2 years later and they were fine. If you freeze them without water, you had best eat them right away. Of course you can freeze them in anything that will hold water.
Here is a recipie for squirrels. It is easy for us non cooking types and any squirrel can be made tender using it. If you have young squirrels it would be downright awful not to fry them and make squirrel gravy! If there is a better gravy than squirrel gravy....PLEASE...somebody tell me what it is!!!
cut up the squirrels into pieces and soak in strong salt water with a little white vinegar added. This is best done overnight in the fridge.
Take a mess of squirrel pieces and place them in a large enough pot to boil them in. Cut into it one whole white onion. Add fresh ground pepper, salt and a tsp of white vinegar or 2. Cover squirrel with beer....ok....you can use water too.
Bring to a boil and then cut the heat to a simmer. Simmer until you can stick a fork easily into the meat. Remove each piece as this becomes possible. Old tough ones will take a mite longer.
You could also use a pressure cooker!
When all pieces have been removed, pour off the liquid. Replace the squirrel pieces into the pot and pour SWEET BABY RAY'S BBQ sauce over them. This can be thinned with a little beer...or water. You can also do this part in a slow cooker if you have one. You can also substitute your favorite bbq sauce but the brand mentioned is powerful good!
Cover and slow cook the squacks until they are completely tender.
Wouldn't some fresh sweet cornbread to go with this? Better get to makin it! Lol!