By Mike Tomano
August in Illinois is a great month. Not only is summer fishing still in full-swing, but squirrel season is also underway. Add some bowfishing to the mix and outdoor adventure is at a premium.
Hunting squirrel is a great way to hone your marksmanship, spend time in the woods and introduce someone new to the sport. Bug spray is essential, as a damp forest and its lush greenery are ripe with bloodsucking mosquitoes and assorted flying pests. Ticks are also a concern. Make sure to protect yourself against these nasty foes.
I’ve been hunting squirrel for as many years as I’ve hunted. They remain an exciting challenge and a welcomed addition to the table. Fry ‘em or crock pot ‘em and you’ve got a succulent meal. There are plenty of recipes on-line or ready to be shared by your “nut-monkey” chasin’ buddies.
A .22 rifle is a fine choice for squirrel. Zero in your scope and aim for the head. If you choose a shotgun, I recommend a 12 or 20 gauge with a small game load; however, as they linger in treetops during the early season, a larger No. 5 or No.6 load is needed. Choose your shot timing and placement well to preserve meat.
The best time to hunt “limb-rats” is the first hour after dawn and as afternoon settles into dusk. At these points in the day, they are leaving and returning to their nests. Find a good area to sit and wait among hardwoods. Look for oaks and hickory trees and sit tight. After settling in, use your hand or a twig and stir up leaves, imitating a squirrel foraging and feeding.
Using a squirrel call can enhance your hunt. Learn to use one. A slow, steady bark indicates contentment and can stir curiosity. Quick little “chatter” taps on your call work well to keep nearby critters calm. “Cutting” is a sound that resembles a squirrel chomping on a nut. Cutting combined with stirring leaves works well to bring out inquisitive squirrels. The sound of cutting can be achieved by rubbing the edges of two quarters together. Old ways still work!
During the midday into early afternoon, a slow spot-and-stalk will work, as well. Keep the sun at your back. Move slow. Bring binoculars to spot squirrels in the distance. Keep your background broken up and creep toward your prey. When the woods go suddenly still, it means the creatures are aware of something afoot. Just when you think you are moving too slowly, slow down.
If you truly want to challenge yourself, hunt squirrel with a bow. I prefer flu-flu arrows with two-blade broadheads. Many prefer blunt tips or field points, but I have seen first-hand how tough a squirrel can be and choose maximum cutting power. Woodland squirrels are much warier and wilier than your backyard or city park variety. They have risen to the threat of predation and are extremely fast. Like deer, they can appear and disappear in seconds. I recommend camouflage from head to toe. Once you spot the tell-tale (tell-tail?) sign of a tree-dweller, enter the zone and be prepared to shoot quickly at first opportunity!
Once the leaves have fallen, it’s easier to spot them, for sure. Every deer hunter has been fooled by their stomping through the leaves. Even then, they are tempting. I was deer hunting a flood plain outside Plainfield some years ago, and the constant barking from a fat gray on a limb above me proved too much to resist. Mind you, this was the middle of the rut. After about twenty minutes I decided my bush-tailed friend "doth protest too much" and sent a shaft to end it. He fell into a brush pile below. I set my bow against the tree and went to retrieve him. The din of my breaking branches and twigs brought a grunting, drooling eight-point buck charging toward me! I stood there staring at this beast…with a squirrel in my hand…and my bow leaning against the tree.
Ah, yes. Limb-Rats. Gotta love ‘em. Go get ‘em!