What makes squirrel hunting so popular? The answer is easy, squirrels are found almost everywhere, they make good food and they are easy to clean. Furthermore, squirrel hunting is extremely good fun and involves much more action than whitetails and turkeys.
Additionally, squirrel seasons tend to open earlier and stay open longer than many other game species.
The average life-span of a squirrel is approximately 18 months with fairly high death-rates as a result of predators, disease, harsh weather conditions, and car accidents.
Interestingly enough, different native species of squirrels are found around the globe with the exception of Australia and Antarctica being the only continents without native squirrel species.
To know your squirrel before setting off to hunt, might just be the determining factor for a successful hunt. So let’s take a closer look at what you may expect.
The three basic categories of squirrels are tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels and each category consists of a few different types, including Mountain Tree, Albino, Spotted, Grey, American Red, Antelope, Douglas, Fox, Pygmy, Idaho, Northern Flying, Southern, Arizona Gray, Franklin, Arctic Ground, Albert’s, Richardson, Rock, White and Black squirrel.
Of these, five common squirrel species in the USA can be singled out, each with their very own distinguishing characteristics and mating habits.
American Red squirrel – This species is found in most places in the United States. Their head and body are approximately 7-8 inches long and can easily be identified by the red-brown fur with a white underbelly. Looking at the tail, it is reddish on top and gray underneath and 4-6 inches long. Their front legs are smaller than their hind legs and have thumbs.
An additional distinguishing characteristic of this species is a ring of white fur around the eye. Interestingly enough, they grow tufts of fur on their ears during winter too.
When it comes to their nests, they prefer conifer (evergreen) trees to leafy deciduous trees.
Eastern Gray squirrels – In contrast with their name, Eastern Gray squirrels are actually not gray, but a mixture of black, browns and whites, with a white belly. However, they do assume a grayish look due to the fact that they are banded with whitish ends. They are common in the Eastern United States and live in nut-bearing trees.
Their nests are built with sticks but they will easily take over holes that a woodpecker made too. Ideally, their nests should be 40-60 feet off the ground to protect them from predators such as foxes, coyotes, and snakes.
The length of adult Eastern Gray squirrels, including the tail, is 18-20 inches.
Fox squirrels – Although there are quite a number of similarities between Fox squirrels and Eastern Gray squirrels, we can identify the Fox squirrel by its reddish-gray fur and orange-tinted belly.
Flying squirrels – they are almost the same size as Red squirrels but with grayish-brown fur and white undersides. While other squirrels are more active during the day, the flying squirrel is a nocturnal animal.
Flying squirrels can easily be identified by tapping on a tree trunk with a stick. This will cause them to poke their heads out of the nests in order to evaluate the situation and to determine whether they should find a safer location.
There are a few distinct differences between the Southern and Northern flying squirrels. While Southern flying squirrels breed twice a year, namely in late winter or early spring and again during the summer, northern flying squirrels only breed during winter or early spring. Furthermore, Northern flying squirrels live in conifers and are a little darker in color than the southern ones, while Southern fliers live in deciduous trees.
Ground squirrels – as the name suggests, live in hidden holes in the ground and include marmots, groundhogs, chipmunks and prairie dogs.
They are usually easily spotted because they often rise up on their hind legs.
Squirrel Habitat & Food
The short answer to squirrel habitat is wooded areas, in mature nut-bearing trees, preferably with a stream flowing through the area, or in the vicinity of a farm pond or corn field. However, since there are many different species, they can be found in a variety of different places such as tropical rainforests, Polar Regions, public parks, urban jungles, and waterless deserts.
It is important, however, to distinguish between the habitats of different species:
Tree squirrels – as the name suggests, they are arboreal and live in trees (leaf nests, inside tree cavities or even in abandoned woodpecker nest sites.) For this reason, they are mostly found in wooded areas.
Since their survival relies mostly on dry fruit from wooded plants, such as acorns and other nuts, their habitat consists mainly of nut-bearing trees.
However, it is not out-of-the-ordinary to find a female squirrel looking for a nest, building one in a home’s attic or chimney.
Ground squirrels – they live in burrows in the ground, a system of underground tunnels which they dug. Burrows typically have one main hole for both an entrance and exit but there could easily be more than one, depending on the species.
Chipmunks and squirrels living in urban areas, often enter their homes through basements, chimneys or foundation cracks.
Flying squirrels – their homes are found in tree holes or nests that are built into the crooks of branches. Now, in order for them to move from tree to tree or from a tree to the ground, the muscle membrane between their legs and body are spread and they consequently glide on the air.
They can easily glide up to 160 feet, giving the illusion that they fly.
So where do squirrels sleep? As expected, tree squirrels and flying squirrels typically sleep in their nests. Although they are less active during the winter, they typically do not hibernate.
When it comes to ground squirrels, we find them sleeping and hibernating in their burrows.
Squirrel Food Sources
Most types of squirrels are vegetarians and not picky eaters. However, they do prefer vegetables and fruit. From September to March a squirrel requires approximately 1.5 lbs. of mast per week to survive.
Although squirrels’ staple food is nuts, they do sometimes consume insects and seeds and other food sources.
Since they are rodents, they have four front teeth that grow continuously, and they have to munch on limbs, twigs, and bark to keep them filed down.
A squirrel’s digestive system is not equipped to absorb cellulose, and therefore their diet will consist mainly of foods rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Consequently, they will only consume green plants, twigs, and bark in desperation.
Some favorite squirrel foods include:
- Hickory nuts
- Pecan nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Flower bulbs
- Plant roots
- Wild cherries
- Wild grapes
Early spring might just be the hardest time of year for squirrels since the buried nuts are sprouting and are no longer available to eat. This becomes a problem as many of their other food sources are not yet available, and they are consequently forced to rely mostly on the buds of trees. Although squirrels are vegetarians, they have on rare occasions been seen to eat young snakes, small birds, bird eggs and insects to survive.
So why is it important for a hunter to have knowledge of the food sources of squirrels?
There are various reasons for this.
Firstly, fruits such as hackberries, wild grapes, persimmons, and mulberries concentrate squirrels in small areas. And although this is only for brief periods, it will provide you with the perfect opportunity to have a successful hunt.
Secondly, during both winter and spring you should look out for Osage oranges and fruit of the bois d’arc tree where you could easily find squirrels.
Thirdly, check for acorns and fragments of nutshells on the ground. You will be able to identify fresh cuttings easy by their bright colored edges. These are prominent signs that squirrels have been feeding there.
- Squirrels mate and breed once or twice per year.
- Mating time is early spring, and for some squirrels again in the summer.
- Gestation period or pregnancy is between 21–45 days.
- Babies are born in the nests, in trees or holes in the ground.
- Depending on the species, they give birth to 3-8 babies.
- Mothers take care of the babies for approximately 3 months.
- Squirrels are quite curious and because they are rodents too, we can assume that they are really smart.
Most squirrels do not hibernate and remain active all year-round, such as tree squirrels (Eastern Gray and American Red squirrel). Yet, although they do not hibernate, they tend to sleep a lot during the winter months which leads to the assumption that they hibernate.
Even though they do not hibernate, they do implement procedures to survive the harsh winter temperatures. For example, they build up a thick layer of fat in the months preceding winter, and by shivering they can raise their body temperatures.
In contrast to this, ground squirrels (e.g. the yellow-bellied marmots) will easily keep themselves tucked-in from early October to April or even May.
Squirrels are hoarders. They love to dig various holes for storing food in multiple locations. Although they do this throughout the year, they get increasingly busy and even frantic during fall to build up their nut stashes. This is simply to prepare for the harsh winter, which is called caching.
Squirrels demonstrate interesting behavior to avoid predators which look quite similar to kids evading a dodge ball. So, when a predator approaches, they dart from side to side while running away until they find a tree to climb.
Squirrels flick their tails in quick arced movements to indicate exasperation. In addition to this, they whip their tails in long, flag-like movements when a predator is in the vicinity.
Squirrel Hunting Season and Weather
Weather patterns are extremely important when hunting squirrels since it influences their behavior significantly.
Like most animals (and humans for that matter), they enjoy fine to mild weather. Their most favorable times for feeding are still, sunny mornings and afternoons, provided that the weather plays along.
If you are a beginner hunter, you should not head for home in foggy weather or when there are soft drizzles. In this weather, you might actually find squirrels easily as they use the trees as shelter, but are on the ground looking for nuts. They can easily be spotted since their tails are held over their bodies almost like an umbrella.
Furthermore, damp forests create the perfect floor for a quiet stalker. This might be a superb opportunity to take a few squirrels home for dinner.
Opposed to this, harsh weather conditions such as heavy rains or strong winds will limit your chances of a successful hunt. During such conditions, squirrels will be hiding out in their nests.
Solunar Calendar: squirrels show different behavior than larger animals when the moon is full. The larger moon limits and decreases their activity since it makes them more visible to predators.
In most States, squirrel hunting season is from September 15 to March 3 but varies from State to State so it is crucial that you check with your local Department.
How to Hunt Squirrels
Squirrel Hunting Tips
- Squirrel hunting preparation and techniques should not be overlooked merely because it is a small animal. Your first step to a successful squirrel hunt begins with proper planning and preparation.
- It is extremely important to have the right gear and equipment is extremely important.
- Safety is of extreme importance when hunting small rodents, so choosing the best weapon possible for this, is not an option.
- You have to get a small game license in order to hunt squirrels legally.
Although many States permit the killing of game squirrels, they do not allow the use of pellet guns, and many States require the use of shotguns.
Bows and Arrows are approved weapons to use for hunting game squirrels, with the exception of the District of Columbia. All wild squirrels are protected by law here.
- How to find squirrels? Easy! The fact is, squirrels make noise when they move and you will hear them moving through leaves.
Listen closely for cutting and hulling sounds, and also what sounds like raindrops – this is caused by pieces of acorns and nuts fall on the ground as they nibble on it.
Squirrels also make noises when climbing trees and you could easily identify this when you hear sounds of a tree bark rustling or see pieces of bark falling.
Choosing a weapon
Shotgun – by using a shotgun you can cover a large amount of space during your hunt so you can easily have a successful kill. Furthermore, it will cause less damage to the meat.
.22 Caliber Rifle – an excellent choice as it has a smaller bullet and produces a longer range than a shotgun. As with the shotgun, it will not cause much damage to the meat.
Bow and Arrow – it is not a good choice to use your deer hunting bow and arrow when squirrel hunting. A squirrel is a small animal, and it would be extremely challenging to hunt them with a large bow and arrow.
Passive Squirrel Hunting
If you are familiar with hunting deer from a stand, then you have already mastered the art of passive squirrel hunting. When you hunt squirrel passively, you would typically find a comfortable spot in the woods where there is an abundance of food and appropriate trees, and then you wait for the squirrels to show up.
A squirrel call is perfect for this type of hunting since it will either draw them out of their hiding or at least have them call back which will reveal their location.
Active Squirrel Hunting
This is by far the most popular and fun way to hunt squirrels for you don’t merely sit and wait for them, but you get actively involved in searching for squirrels in the woods.
Compared to hunting deer and large game, squirrels are a lot less fearful, so making noise is not such a big deal. For this reason, it is the ideal way to get kids and youngsters involved in hunting. Now, this does not mean that you should be unnecessarily loud, but simply that normal hiking sounds will not scare them off the same as it would scare deer.
When actively hunting squirrels you should always be ready to take your shot when you get the opportunity. If you hesitate too long or have to get ready first, you might simply miss your target.
Check out our article about the best squirrel hunting dogs.
Always remember, squirrel hunting should be fun!