Laid-Back, Late-Season Squirrel Hunting

Delton Lord | January 1, 2007

It was still early in the morning when my brother and I made our way to our favorite hardwood ridge. Once there, we settled in for a bit to wait on the squirrels to come out and play. While sitting there talking about things brothers talk about we noticed a squirrel playing along a far-side ridge top. We quickly made our way down our ridge and across the small pasture until we reached the creek. David held my gun for me while I shimmied across a log that served as a natural bridge . He then unloaded both guns and found a shallow spot to cross up the creek. Once we had crossed, we were on our way to the squirrel.

I guess in the time it took us to cross the creek, the squirrel was onto our game and had hidden himself. David and I just picked a spot and in short order the squirrel came easing out on a limb and one shot from my 20- gauge brought him to the ground. The first squirrel in our late-season hunt.

There is something about late-sea- son squirrel hunting that just makes it “right.” The ease of it, the no-pressure attitude of it, and other things that can be accomplished without really much effort at all. After months of planting food plots, fertilizing food plots, getting up well before daylight, staying out way past dark, and doing all the things one does in preparation for deer season, a nice squirrel hunt does wonders for the body and soul of a hunter.

Think about it — no scent control to worry about; no go-to bag to carry around, no stands to move and place, no shooting lanes to cut, etc… The easiness of squirrel hunting after deer sea- son is a gold mine in itself! You can sleep in, carry along a thermos of hot coffee, a couple fresh biscuits or honey buns, and you are in business. Heck, take a nap if you like! I’m not too awfully concerned if I miss a shot at a squirrel — that’s low-pressure hunting.

Most of the time, the author prefers the challenge of making well- placed shots with a .22 rifle over using a shotgun to hunt squirrels.

A couple of seasons ago while deer hunting, I was covered up in squirrels. I made a mental note of the location and promised them a return visit once the season was over. After deer season had closed, I took about a week to recoup and catch up on some sleep and grabbed the ol’ .22 single- shot and made my way back to that spot. It didn’t take long before my first bushy- tail of the late season hit the ground, and the others went to hiding. With all the leaves gone, I just played sniper and patiently waited them out while sipping on a cold Mountain Dew and munching on trail-mix. Before the day was over, I had three more and a total of four for the crockpot.

There are many ways to hunt late-season bushytails. Some prefer dogs, some like to still-hunt the hardwood ridges or creek bottoms looking for the wary bushytail, while others, like myself, prefer to find a den-tree and just sit them out.

Some folks like to run behind dogs; while that’s not my cup of tea, I can understand their passion for it. To them, it’s about the chase. Hearing the dogs bark, watching the dogs work, and the end result of a bushytail in the tree or in the pot is both an “atta boy” for the dogs as well as the hunters.

To me, a nice sit by an oak tree or an area that the squirrels are using is the ticket. I prefer the laid- back attitude of squirrel hunting this time of year. The squirrels in most parts haven’t been pressured, so they offer up a fairly easy hunt for those willing to put up with the colder temperatures that late season seems to bring.

Still-hunting squirrels can be rewarding as well. You get to see the countryside, scout for late-season deer patterns, hunt for shed antlers, and even prescout your turkey areas. It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the land and better prepare yourself for seasons to come. If you’re a turkey hunter, you can condition your- self for the turkey season. I’ve taken many squirrels just easing along, looking for sign — whether it be from deer or turkey.

Most of the time I like to use a .22 long-rifle with or without a scope depending on the mood. Some prefer a shotgun, but something about picking off squirrels with a well-placed head- shot just appeals to me. I’m not the best shot in the world, but if a squirrel shows himself within range, he’s gonna know I’m there. My .22 of choice is an old single-shot Winchester. It’s not a fast rifle, but for accuracy and keeping it simple, a man could not ask for more.

I remember a hunt years ago when I got my little brother into squirrel hunting. We had found a nice ridge where we could overlook a creek bottom that was edged by a field. The squirrels liked to travel that edge along the creek bottom and find the treasures along the creek bank. From our vantage point, we could pick them off as they made their rounds.

We hadn’t been there too awful long when we heard the unmistakable sound of a limb shaking. We glanced up just in time to catch a pair of squirrels chasing each other round and round a big white oak. I picked the lead one, and Brian then fol- lowed. In two consecutive shots, we had two on the ground.

The author’s wife, Jamie, lines up a .22-rifle shot at a squirrel high overhead.

After rounding those up, we eased along over to the other ridge where we’d heard a squirrel barking. We saw the squirrel scurry up the tree into a V and hide about the time we made our way over the ridge top. All you could see was his tail, but he was there, and it was our job to take him home with us! I taught my little brother a trick to try when squirrels play hide-n-seek; I had him walk around to the other side of the tree, and to not worry about being too quiet about it, to just walk like normal. He did, and about the time he got opposite of me, that squirrel popped out of that V and headed to the skies to get away from Brian. That squirrel caught a load of No.6 shot and was No.3 for the day. Brian walked away from that experience with a new trick to show his buddies, and we both walked away with memories and some meat for supper. If you are hunting by yourself, you can toss a stick to the other side of the tree, and bring the squirrel around to your side so that you can take a shot.

Another trick is to make a “cutting” or “barking” noise, like the squirrels are cutting acorns. Take two quarters and rub them edge-ways against each other. It will make a clicking racket, much like the noise a squirrel makes while cutting. If you spook a squirrel while making your way into his area, you can sometimes put him at ease by making the cutting noise, making him come out and present you a shot. Another place to try it is if you have just taken a squirrel and put the others into hiding. By cutting at him, he may think all is clear. I’ve sometimes even barked and whistled back at them to agitate them, to get them to move. Most squirrels will twitch their tail while barking. If you bark and pay close attention while doing so, you may see the tell-tale sign of his tail, and make a shot, or position yourself so that you can get one.

There are other benefits to late-sea- son squirrel hunting, like scouting for the upcoming turkey season or next deer season. It’s one thing to pattern deer during the late summer and early fall, but once the leaves and acorns fall, deer pat- terns change. Late-season squirrel hunting can help you pick up on this pattern, and then capitalize on it when the next deer season rolls around.

Years ago, a buddy and I were doing some squirrel hunting in some hills near Canton. Deer season was about two weeks gone, and we were just out and about. We found a hidden spot along the bottom of a big stand of hardwoods. Acorns were abundant, cover was nearby, a small spring ran through the middle of it and it just had the feel of a honey hole. It had food, water and shelter. Three key ingredients when finding a place to put a deer stand. We took several squirrels from that bottom, and when deer season rolled around, we wound up taking a few deer from it as well. Had it not been for squirrel hunting, that spot would probably still be unknown.

Our scouting had been low impact, in the fact that the deer had been seeing hunters for a couple of months already, so our presence didn’t run them off. We were just playing along, so it seemed. We were essentially killing two birds with one stone. Getting some meat, and scouting. By the time our scouting was over, the woods were left alone until deer season rolled around. We didn’t go scouting in the weeks before the open- er, to avoid leaving our scent in the area, and bumping deer out of their comfort zone.

While doing your late-season squirreling, look for old rubs or scrapes that may have been used the previous season. During this time of year, most all leaves are gone, which opens up the woods so you can see the lay of the land better. You’ll also be able to see a rub line or scrape line and see which route the deer may be taking. If the face of a rubbed tree is facing a feeding area, you can about bet that trail is leading you to a bedding area. If the face of the rubbed tree faces a thicket, more than likely that’s an evening route, and the buck is making his rubs on his way to feed. Remember, the face of a rubbed tree will tell you the direction he was coming from. A rub on the south side of a tree means the buck was going north when he made it.

Pay attention to old scrapes. These can prove valuable as well. In most parts of Georgia that I’ve hunted, deer seem to use what I call “scraping trees.” You can pretty much bet the farm on deer scraping around or under these same trees, year after year. Mark these trees on your topographical map or GPS and hunt them the upcoming season.

Rubs often show up best in the bare woods of late winter and provide clues to bucks’ patterns during the season.

As for squirrel hunting and scouting for turkeys, the same principles apply. Look for sign while you are slipping around trying to fill a game bag with small game. Look for turkey scratchings, droppings, or even feathers. If you happen to find turkey sign while squirrel hunting in late January or early February, you’ll be way ahead of the game when spring rolls around and you find yourself looking for a longbeard.

Look for roosting areas as well. Big trees along creek bottoms are a good bet, not only for a squirrel or two, but also as a possible roosting site. Look for scat under the tree, or feathers that may have been knocked off during fly-down.

Most of my areas I have deer hunted and squirrel hunted for years, and I’m pretty clued in when it comes to knowing where the game will be, so my squirrel hunting is mostly just to verify nothing has changed. If your woods are pretty much the same year to year, you can do the same. If something drastic has changed, like the adjoining landowner cutting his timber, or some- one bushogging a field, etc., you’ll need to scout a little harder to make sure your birds and deer haven’t adapted new travel routes, or bedding and feeding areas.

The deer season of ’05 and ’06 on a farm I hunt was as usual. However, once deer season ended, and I began my squirrel hunting, the adjoining landowner decided to thin his pines, which messed my turkeys up. But by staying with it, and paying close attention to the times they were cutting and the areas they were cutting, I was able to predict when the turkeys would use the area and when they wouldn’t. The loggers would routinely come in early in the morning and bust the turkeys off the roost and into the field I was hunting. My set-up was simple. I set up on the opposite side of the field and when the birds flew down, they’d simply fly down about 150 to 200 yards from me. With the right decoy set-up and patient calling, I was able to get several birds within ALMOST shooting distance. A man can only do so much. From there it’s up to the Good Lord and Lady Luck. Point being, had I just left the woods alone after deer season ended and shown back up the morning of the turkey opener, I would have literally been in the dark and confused when I heard the heavy machinery fire up. But by doing some late-season squirrel hunting, I was able to keep in touch with what was going on in my area, and shift my plans accordingly.

Late-season squirrel hunting is a great way to relax while taking a break after the fast-pace of deer season. For those of us who love deer hunting, it’s a way to continue to hold onto those crisp mornings and evenings where the pink and purple pastel spears of color split the eastern and western skies. And what we may find while squirrel hunting gives us something to look forward to come spring when the turkeys are gobbling, and then on into the fall when we start chasing deer again.

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