By Kevin Tate/NEMS Daily Journal
Combining stealth, woodsmanship and marksmanship in an exercise that results in a great meal on the table, a patient still hunt for squirrels can also be great, instructive fun for student and mentor alike.
In almost any situation, new hunters have to learn to whisper quietly and as little as possible, practice how to walk quietly, learn to look more than they walk, figure out how to spot game and how to wait for the right shot once the game is in range.
This is where a squirrel hunt bridges the gap between a dove shoot and a deer hunt. Squirrels offer lots more shooting and action than deer while demanding elements of woodsmanship and stealth doves never touch.
In the style of all hunting that will follow, the effort begins by locating where the squirrels are eating, a task often done more by sound than sight.
Squirrels perched high in oaks, pecans and hickories and feeding on the nuts these trees provide will create a unique combination of sounds with bits of hull and shell raining down to the forest floor below. Sometimes you hear the squirrels’ claws on bark as they scurry and chase through the trees, occasionally you’ll hear them bark and squawk at each other, but the dominant sound where squirrels are plentiful is that of their cuttings falling to the ground. Like a steady rainfall one drop wide, this sound may be the easiest to pick out and course through the woods.
Seeking this sound and looking for squirrels on the move high and low at the same time is the perfect opportunity to teach a youngster how to stalk through the woods. It’s a deliberate skill they should learn.
Show them how to slowly and carefully walk 10 or 15 yards without breaking sticks and, especially, without creating any manmade noise. Then have them stop and intentionally scan every limb of every tree in sight, then repeat the process. The perfect speed for this maneuver is about a half notch faster than completely stopped.
Help them see how to be perfectly still while they’re in the stopped-and-looking phase so that movement stands out to them instead of the other way around. When you reach a promising area, stop and sit for a while. When this effort eventually leads new hunters to squirrels, the light will go on and they’ll be permanently hooked.
If you’ll be hunting in an area where a .22 rifle is safe to fire, this is also a great way to introduce them to shooting with a scope in a hunting scenario. Introducing scope shooting from a bench rest is one thing, but the practicalities of finding game in a scope in a real world scenario is another, and it’s something that can only be worked out through first-hand experience.
Whether with rifle or shotgun, a squirrel hunt also creates good, practical experience with handling a firearm, and should provide several teachable moments for safe carry and safe shooting.
At the end of the day, both teacher and student should have found a good time and put some meat on the table.