Sept. 1 marks the opener for squirrel season in Ohio and there is no better way to introduce a youngster to hunting. Ohio offers a very liberal and long season for squirrel hunting staying open all the way until the end of January. Taking advantage of the warm weather in September is a perfect way to get a youngster hooked on hunting.
Very little gear is required for hunting squirrel. All you need is your weapon of choice, your hunting license, and some bug spray and you are ready to go. The best part of hunting squirrel is that you can get by with just about any type of gun. This makes it great for youngsters of small stature who can’t physically handle the bigger guns just yet. A .410 or 20 gauge shotgun is just fine for hunting those bushy tails and those lighter guns, especially in youth models, are much easier for a youngster to handle. Rig the shotgun with a full choke and #5 or #6 lead shot and you are ready to go. Youngsters with a little more shooting experience can do fine with a .22 rifle or as well.
The key to a successful squirrel hunt is finding the right woods with plenty of mature nut trees. Squirrels love oaks, hickories and beechnuts. One of the keys to being a successful squirrel hunter is learning how to identify those trees. When you find a woodlot full of nut trees, look for signs of squirrels. The best way is to look for “cuttings” which are pieces of the nut shells around the base of the tree. These “cuttings” are evidence that the squirrels have been feeding on the nuts up above in the tree tops. In dry time periods that can be typical of fall, keep your search close to sources of water like a stream or pond as squirrels will need a place to drink. Squirrels are also suckers for corn, so searching along woods that border a corn field can be successful as well.
The two most popular squirrels that are sought after by hunters in Ohio are the fox and the gray squirrel. Both are found through out the state but the fox squirrel is more common for this area. The fox squirrel does very well in small woodlots in agricultural areas where its cousin the gray squirrel prefers larger wooded areas especially as you head towards eastern Ohio. However, it is not uncommon to find both species in the same area. Their smaller cousin, the red squirrel, is legal game as well but most hunters pass on shooting them as they are really too small to mess with cleaning them.
A squirrel hunter has two methods of choice is pursuing their quarry. The most common method is to find signs of where they have been feeding and then show up early to the area and sit down with your back at the base of a tree and wait for them to show up. This is a very successful method if you do your scouting as you run less risk of spooking the squirrels.
Another method is called still hunting which is where you slowly and carefully walk through the woods looking for active squirrels. This method obviously runs the risk of spooking the squirrels before you can get close enough for a shot. The eyes from above are always watching and once you have been spotted by one, they will noisily warn their neighbors of your approach ruining your hunt. However, there is no better time to teach a youngster woodsmanship skills than during squirrel season.
Teaching them how to walk in the woods without making a sound by watching where they step and planning their route are skills that will come in handy during turkey and deer seasons. Sneaking up on squirrels as a kid to get in shotgun range is how I learned to move silently in the woods. If you do spook a squirrel, don’t be afraid to try and wait them out. Just sit down against a tree that provides a good shooting angle to where you last saw them and wait. Squirrels are curious creatures and if you have the patience to wait a while, they will often come back out from their hiding spot to check you out and resume feeding.
The only downside of hunting squirrels in the early fall is the foliage in the tree tops can create a challenge in finding a clear shot. Once the leaves fall to the ground in October, hunting squirrels becomes much easier. However, you couldn’t ask for better weather to take a kid hunting than September. Try to plan your hunt when the squirrels are the most active which is in the mornings and evenings. Pack along some bug spray, water, and snacks and you are ready to create some wonderful memories with the youngster in your life.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.