Most hunters’ passion for the woods began at an early age, nestled against an oak tree, staring into the treetops and looking for bushy-tailed woodland creatures — squirrels.

Most hunters’ passion for the woods began at an early age, nestled against an oak tree, staring into the treetops and looking for bushy-tailed woodland creatures — squirrels. 

Single shot .410 or 20-gauge in hand, young hunters learn to respect the sounds and steadiness of each step while chasing squirrels.

As hunters grow older, oftentimes the chase for big game and winged quarry replaces squirrel hunts; yet, revisiting the squirrel woods can bring back the excitement that sparked a lifetime of adventures.

Gray, red and fox squirrels are the most common species in North America. When hunting these small packages, it’s important to identify their food sources. Squirrels are truly opportunists when it comes to their meals, and they eat a variety of nuts, berries and insects. 

Search out the following food supplies to pinpoint active squirrels:
- Acorn
- Walnut
- Hickory
- Beech
- Pecan

How they communicate

Squirrels are constantly communicating in the woods, whether to another squirrel or as an alert. Subtle tail movements, along with the tone in which a squirrel barks, are things hunters should understand.


Squirrels will bark to one another at a slower pace. When alerted, a higher-pitched bark is a signal of danger. Some squirrel hunters use calls, or even their mouth, to imitate a barking squirrel.

Tail movement

A twitching tail can be a signal or the sign of curiosity. A tail twitch might be the only movement a squirrel makes for hours as it sits in the treetops feeding. Walk into unfamiliar woods, especially early in the season when the canopy is still thick and listen for what some squirrel hunters refer to as “rain.” Squirrels will sit in trees cutting nuts, dropping pieces of nuts and shells into the canopy and on the forest floor. As the shells drop, they create what sounds like a light rain.

Big-game techniques

The best squirrel hunters adjust their strategies based on conditions, but there are several techniques that carry over from big-game hunting. These tried-and-true tactics will help refine skills needed in the woods this fall as well.   


Pinpointing a “cutting” or “barking” squirrel in a dense, early-season canopy offers the hunter an opportunity to stalk. Working quietly through the woods, hunters must first spot the squirrel, then get in position for the shot. Squirrels may be easy to walk up on in a public park, but true wild squirrels are quick to spot predators, including hunters, and disappear.


Using a common deer-hunting tactic, a hunter will post up in a ground blind or thick underbrush and wait. Knowing the area and understanding local feeding activity is crucial when using this approach.


A common tactic in agriculturally dominated regions, a hunter can stalk or sit along the edges of any agricultural field. Squirrels that can be hard to spot and stalk through the woods can become easy targets as they creep into a corn or bean field.  

Squirrel guns

A unique aspect to squirrel hunting is the opportunity to use a variety of firearms. There isn’t one go-to squirrel gun, and every hunter has an opinion on what is best.


Options include .410, 20-gauge, 16-gauge, and some hunters even prefer 12-gauge. The preferred shot size is No. 5 or No. 6, with 12-gague shooters going as high as No. 7. With limited range, shotgun hunters must make every effort to get within an effective distance.


A .22 long-rifle is preferred, but many smaller calibers are used, as well.

Black powder

Any small variation, most commonly .32.

Spending a morning or afternoon in the squirrel woods offers hunters young and old the opportunity to get familiar with the woods, guns and the hunt. Check state agency websites for information on squirrel seasons, legal hunting hours and blaze orange requirements.

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