September 01, 2017Broken nuts scattered under the oak tree was a signal that squirrels were working the area and I hunkered near the tree trunk and remained motionless. From the heavens a big acorn hit the ground near my feet as the mature white oak slowly shed its fruit. I looked across the forest floor and noticed hundreds of them along with deer droppings, turkey feathers and squirrel sign. When another acorn made a solid thud at my feet I looked up to see a fat fox squirrel looking straight down at me. I centered the crosshair on his head and the .22 rifle brought him down. When I picked up my prize I noticed the solid bed of white acorns on the ground which is the secret to squirrel hunting success. In most of Michigan it goes without saying you can up your odds for squirrel if you spend time hunting around oak heavy with acorns.
Michigan is blessed with booming populations of squirrel. Most hunters seek fox squirrel but there are fast growing numbers of black and gray in every county throughout the state. You can bet that plenty of Michigan hunters spend opening day September 15 looking for bushytails. September and early October provide an opportunity to get outdoors while the weather is warm and there is plenty of cover. Squirrels offer a unique natural resource that gives Michigan hunters a reason to go hunting and enjoy the great outdoors with family and friends. The dense leaves can make spotting ol' bushytail a challenge, but squirrel are very active during early season. The leaves also serve to conceal your approach and make it difficult for critters to spot you.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of hunting the early season is the acorns are falling like rain. Some hunters think they fall from trees in late fall but actually the big white oaks shed their mast crop in late August and throughout September. Wise squirrel hunters know that falling acorns will draw squirrel from near and far. When the food is falling the squirrels go on a feeding spree and they are extra busy gathering acorns, burying some and storing plenty in tree limb forks, sanctuary tree holes and lofty nests. My point is if you want extraordinary hunting look for squirrels where acorns are plentiful.
When oaks drop their acorns squirrels spend plenty of time on the ground searching for nuts.
Michigan has had some crazy weather this year and 2017 has seen massive rainfall that has helped oak trees to remain healthy and produce large acorns. In some locations there will be a bumper crop while other parts of the Wolverine state will see very few acorns. Some of my prime trees in mid-Michigan are loaded with acorns and the hunting will be exciting. One is on the edge of a corn field and I will be able to approach the tree by walking slowly in the tall standing corn which provides concealment and the soft earth hides my footsteps. Once I reach the oak honey hole I'll slow my pace, scan the huge white oak from top to bottom and probably catch a fox squirrel off guard. Once I harvest that first squirrel I'll sit down on a fallen tree which has upright branches to hide my human outline and I'll wait. Sometimes other targets appear in less than 15 minutes but as a rule it takes about 45 minutes for the woods to quiet down after the shot.
Some savvy modern day hunters are using pellet guns for squirrel hunting. Fast pellet speed guarantees easy kills and the silence of an air gun keeps critters coming that would normally hide from the sound of a conventional shotgun or rifle. Plus some of the new pellet guns come equipped with fancy scopes that provide the brand of pinpoint accuracy to place lethal shots on squirrels. Most pellet shooters prefer the .22 caliber because of its increased knockdown power over a .177. Although I must admit that my .177 has taken bushels full of squirrels for me over the years and I love the silent killing power of an air rifle. A pellet gun adds a new dimension of sport to the fun of hunting small game and they are the perfect starter rifle for young kids that are timid about the loud sound of a conventional gun or dislike the recoil. This old timer squirrel nut is reaching for the pellet gun more often than his beloved .22 Ruger rifle.
Some squirrel hunters use tactical methods for hunting and they wear Gillie suits. Others paint their face and hands with face cream to conceal their white skin. Most carry accurate guns and practice one shot kills by making head shots. Don't overlook the killing power and impressive accuracy of modern pellet guns and the ammo is cheap.
While Michigan law requires you wear some blaze orange while small game hunting, it is a good idea to wear as much camouflage as possible to hide your human outline. Smart hunters conceal their face with camouflage netting or a face mask and camo gloves, hat, pants; even boots is a good idea. Camo will break up your outline, hide your movement and up your odds of seeing more game.
Begin by scouting for oak trees that carry a good mast crop. The hottest strategy going is to find an oak ridge that has trees scattered for a long distance. Once you locate the trees with the most acorns you take stand and after harvesting a squirrel stalk the next acorn honey hole. The trick is to have several hunting locations based on oak trees and acorn abundance and you move from one location to the next. This gives you an increased opportunity to contact maximum number of squirrels.
Smart hunters stalk likely acorn hot spots. The idea is to wear camouflage and blend in with the environment and sneak through the forest. Savvy hunters move at a snail's pace and keep body movement to a minimum as they stop frequently to scan the trees for targets. Squirrel hunting gives you a golden opportunity to hone stalk hunting skills that can be used hunting deer, turkeys and other game. For this style of hunting you become the ultimate predator as you move like a fox on the prowl and catch wildlife off guard.
Once you spot a squirrel you slide slowly next to a tree and you use the trunk to hide your human outline and support your gun. A reliable gun rest is the key to accurate shooting. By resting the gun against the tree you can keep the scope on critters for extended periods of time and eventually settle the cross hair on target with ease. A small sapling or fence post can also serve as a gun rest.
The telltale movement of branches and sound of rustling leaves can indicate critters are dancing in the trees. Gotta love it when squirrels are chasing each other, playing in the canopy high above the ground and when they stop you can have an excellent shot.
Small game hunting is the ideal way to introduce youth to hunting. The weather is ideal, chances of seeing another hunter is slim. While your goal may be to take your kids deer hunting, keep in mind the weather is cold and kids need to remain silent and not move. Squirrel hunting can be a relaxing sport as you sit by a tree and share the many gifts of nature. Teach a kid how to enjoy the outdoors, give him the knowledge to spot game and he will be a hunter for life. Teach them the technique of slowly sliding through the woods, carefully not breaking sticks or branches, keeping body movement to a minimum and how to frequently stop, look and listen and soon they will see lots of game and be a hunter for life. Squirrels are abundant in Michigan and hunting them is an excellent training exercise for youth. Plus you can share hunting together, teach woodsmanship skills and how to field dress wild game and share respect for harvesting game. Most importantly you convey the importance of hunting for table fare.
Spotting and stalking squirrels requires woodsmanship skills and taking stand and hiding requires plenty of patience. One way to make hunts more exciting is calling. Some hunters use a distress call that brings them running. Many more make squirrel chatter that gets their attention and brings them out of hiding into view. A deadly strategy is to sneak near oak trees and get the attention of local animals with a few calls. After you harvest a critter or two, move to another acorn hot spot and call again. Use this run and gun calling tactic and you will soon fill your game bag.
Squirrel slow cooked until it falls off the bone is absolutely delicious and gives you a reason
to go get more. Early season gives you an opportunity to sharpen hunting skills, practice shooting,
get outdoors and enjoy the many gifts of nature with family and friends. What about you? Are you prepared to take advantage of this golden opportunity to get outdoors?