Squirrel Hunting with Airguns
Hunters across the nation rejoice at the opening of squirrel hunting season!
I started squirrel hunting with a firearm. Now I almost exclusively use airguns. The tree squirrel is absolutely a challenging, fun quarry for airguns. I hunted them as a boy and I hunt them still. The allure of squirrels somehow never quite fades. For many folks, myself included, airguns are the only way to safely hunt the critters in an area.
It’s early squirrel season in Ohio, so here are a few tips to get you started.
Below. Hunting in the snow can make squirrels easier to spot. I nabbed this guy at 37 yards with the Kalibrgun Cricket in .25 caliber.
Location, Location, Location…
It seems anywhere you go in a suburb there are plenty of squirrels about. But when you step into the woods or a local permission there’s scant a thing!
The trick to finding tree squirrels comes down to the basics. The critters will need food, water, and a shelter of some sort. But it’s all about location.
When you are scouting spots to hunt, look for trees around a water source. Nut-bearing trees are crucial to a squirrel’s diet, though they can also be found marauding fruit trees as squirrels will eat just about anything. Check the base of trees for fruit and nut clippings.
If you watch a squirrel eat, you’ll quickly find out that they’re messy feeders. The animal will chip away at the husk of a nut then drop it right on the ground, making an awful ruckus. Slow down a bit when you’re squirrel hunting in those stands of trees. Listen for the noise of squirrels working away at their meal.
If you’re hunting some farm land check the trees around the edges of crop fields. Look for crops ravaged by animals and clippings on the ground. If there is food present, there’s an awfully good chance squirrels are around.
Shelters will be diverse in different parts of the country as well. The woods I grew up squirrel hunting in south east Texas were dense with pine trees in which squirrel nests stick out like a sore thumb. Listen and look for dropping pine cones as the squirrels feast for the coming winter.
In areas dense with hard woods you want to be looking for nut and fruit bearing trees. Squirrels build their nests in the limbs of these trees, but can also be seen slipping in and out of hollows in older trees.
Above. Fruit bearing trees like this apple tree and the walnut tree behind it heavy with walnuts are a good indicator that squirrels might be in the area.
Squirrels don’t hibernate in the winter, but they do sleep a considerable amount to conserve heat and energy in a food scarce winter. However, even during the winter, squirrels are a step ahead in a couple of ways.
During the fall season when the fruit and nuts were ripening, the squirrels were hard at work not only chowing down but stashing away a hoard of goodies. When food becomes sparse the animals resort to digging up their buried troves, though they will also store food in their nests. The fastest locator for holed-up squirrels is keeping an eye to the ground for fresh clippings.
Guns And Gear.
So you’ve found the squirrels and you’re ready to get into the woods.
Most air rifles can be used for squirrel hunting. But pistols are not suitable. My general rule is that I won’t hunt squirrels with any airgun with less than 8 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle.
8 ft/lbs is only about 660 FPS with an 8.4 grain pellet. This means that the popular “1,000 FPS” air rifles will be suitable.
Squirrels are surprisingly tenacious with kill zones that are deceivingly small, ethical respect should be given to the animal by using a rifle of the proper power. Get as close as you can, particularly if hunting for the first time. If you’re not sure of the shot – don’t fire! There’s always another chance…
Caliber will be your preference, though I like .22 caliber or above myself simply for the added stopping power.
Scopes are useful in spotting squirrels: they seem to meld right into the bark at times. I like to keep it simple with a 3-12x or 4-16x with a mil-dot reticle. I seem to find squirrels faster in the scope with a mid powered magnification, while the mil-dots will allow you to make hold over/under adjustments quickly.
Some folks will say bring a range finder for squirrel hunting. While I see the merit of the tool, a hunter should consciously practice range estimation on their own. After learning what different distances look like in a rifle scope you can make quick range estimations on the fly, without fumbling for a range finder.
I prefer to pack a compact set of binoculars with crisp lenses instead. These allow me to scan the trees easier than with a rifle scope. I’ve also found many squirrels by picking up slight movements through the binos.
The last bit of gear you need is some decent camouflage. I’ve gone squirrel hunting in a T-shirt and jeans and gotten lucky now and again, but a little hiding will go a long way in airgun squirrel hunting. These animals are incredibly astute. For every squirrel you see there are likely three hiding because they’ve already spotted you.
I like hunting boots in the winter to keep my toesies warm on those crisp mornings. During warmer weather I like a pair of moccasins to feel the ground and walk more quietly.
Below. I’ve taken more squirrels with my humble RWS 94 .22 caliber than any gun in my collection. This fella was taken at 31 yards while raiding a pecan tree.
Tis’ The Season.
While squirrels can be hunted year round in some areas, one thing to keep in mind is that mothers are still showing their young ones the ropes during the summer. Letting the squirrels feast through Summer and Fall will make a fatter, tastier squirrel overall.
Squirrels are fine to eat year round, though in summer months there are more squirrels with parasites. I’ve found that the first cold snap of the season kills off some of the weakest, lessening the chance of an unhealthy squirrel making it to my table.
Finally, sometimes squirrels are simply easier to find during the traditional hunting season. Barren limbs cascading snow as a squirrel acrobats to his breakfast are a good locator during these months. Just the bare branches themselves will skyline the animals on all but the thickest limbs.
Best of luck to y’all in your early season squirrel hunting. Check back in soon and I’ll share a few squirrel recipes after the freezer gets filled.
Don’t forget to check with your State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for details of when it’s legal to hunt squirrels in your locality.