While whitetail deer and ducks on the wing dominate much of the outdoor media, it is typically the small game that first forms a hunter’s introduction to the ways of the outdoors. For many, it creates a passion that becomes a part of who they are, and builds into a treasured way of life.
For Paul Beam, a chance encounter with a magazine story about squirrel dogs led him to investigate the matter for himself. Two decades later he is a trainer with a number of champions to his credit. Still, at the heart of it all, remains the joy of the chase. Training squirrel dogs means many hours in the woods, so knowing what to look for in a likely squirrel hunting spot makes all the difference.
Whether you’re introducing someone new to the squirrel hunting game, returning to the path yourself after years away or seeking it out on your own, Beam has a few tips that will point you in the direction you should follow:
Look for squirrel nests
- Especially now, with the leaves off the trees, the wads of limbs and leaves squirrels build, called dreys, are easy to spot. These are made of sticks and limbs and lined with moss, dried grass or whatever other soft materials the squirrels may find. Alternately, they will build nests in hollow limbs and tree trunks. These are called dens.
“If an area has a lot of squirrel nests, there should be squirrels in the area,” Beam says.
Favor young timber
- “I like to hunt in young timber if possible because younger trees won’t have a lot of holes for the squirrels to hide in,” Beam says. “The big, older trees that have hollow limbs give the squirrels somewhere to go to get away from you.”
Hunt where acorns abound
- Timber with a mast crop that hasn’t been consumed by deer will almost always have a population of squirrels, Beam says. Alternately, squirrels will eat pecans, hickory nuts and assorted other hardwood seeds.
Think safety first
- Shotgun or rifle? During the early part of the squirrel season, when the leaves are still on the trees, Beam favors hunting with a shotgun.
“With thick cover on the trees, they’ll be more likely to run limb to limb and jump tree to tree, and a shotgun is better for the running shots,” he says. “Later in the season, when the limbs are bare, the squirrels will hunker down on a limb to hide, and that allows you to get a good shot with a rifle if you’d rather use that.”
Whatever your preference, be aware of the trajectory if you’re shooting with a .22 rifle and houses are nearby. Rifle bullets, even very small ones, can carry a long way, whereas No. 6 shot fired from a shotgun will not.