Sitting silently on a stump I strained my ears to locate a distant rustling in the dry leaves that littered the forest floor. Something was stirring in the dawn daylight, quite possibly the object of my efforts. Staccato steps announced the game was drawing nearer, close enough it should soon reveal itself.

Then it did, a patch of gray in the leaves, the twitch of a tail. Slowly, quietly I raised my rifle, acquired the target, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. Pop! The sharp report of my rimfire rifle shattered the stillness as its tiny projectile barely broke the speed of sound before striking its target, a big buck squirrel.

That, and many similar scenes occurred long ago.

Like many youngsters of the day, I cut my hunting teeth on small game like rabbits and squirrels. We didn’t have many deer back then and thoughts of hunting them were set aside for later in life. Squirrels were far more abundant, providing ample opportunity to learn, from mistake after mistake, the woodsmanship skills that would one day serve me well when stalking larger, warier game.

Squirrels are still abundant and seasons still occur every year, but pursuing them has become something of a faded tradition. Big gray and fox squirrels were once among the most popular game animals in North America with a long and storied history. Naturalist John James
Audubon wrote about a hunt he shared with renowned frontiersman Daniel Boone, who demonstrated the art of “barking squirrels.” Rather than attempting to strike the squirrel with the projectile from his large caliber Kentucky long rifle, Boone would strike the bark just beneath, which would explode with sufficient concussion to dispatch the animal.

That legend likely sent many a lad afield attempting to re-enact the event, and no doubt accounted for a few character marks in oak boards later sawed for furniture.

Nowadays most new hunters skip over their primary hunting education and graduate straight to big game. Whitetails are far more abundant and popular than they once were, but it seems as though those who divert directly to deer hunting are missing a very important developmental stage.
Squirrel hunting is a far more casual undertaking. Rather than rising long before the cock crows, one can simply wander into the woodlot late in the afternoon, settle on a stump and wait.

Squirrels are far more numerous, offering ample opportunity to hone marksmanship and woodsmanship skills. Misses and mistakes, and successes don’t mean and end to the day or possibly the season. Missed targets will soon reappear, or be replaced by others, and daily – rather than season – bag limits ensure the hunting can continue.

While simply sitting in or stalking through a woodlot is effective, there are some specific tactics that can boost your odds of bringing home some limb bacon. One is to pair up. Squirrels seem to have a knack for finding the far side of a tree when potential predators pass beneath them. Setting a stationary hunter on one side while their partner loops around to the other can sometimes fool them into revealing themselves. Traditionalists who still employ squirrel dogs often use this technique.

Squirrels can even be called into the open. A few companies still make commercial squirrel calls but with a little practice, sucking on a wet knuckle will sometimes suffice.

Simple stealth and patience remain among the top tactics, and skills to be learned by a young hunter. The steady gait of a human will send squirrels scurrying but a slow, deliberate stalk will draw less attention and provide more potential opportunities. Sometimes sitting still is the best strategy, and certainly the most relaxing. Sitting still on a sunny oak ridge and watching the world around you has its own charm. You can wait for the optimal and safest shot opportunities and plink away as they present themselves.

And when a successful hunt is completed, you won’t need any help dragging your daily bag out of the woods.

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