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Through the Lens

Making Squirrels Great Again

Thu, August 01, 2019


Let’s face it squirrel hunting – that long held traditional way to build hunters and woodsmen has fallen from grace.

R3 and hunter recruitment programs bypass the lowly squirrel in favor of focusing on large game, turkey, waterfowl, and in the process miss out on the critical foundation building that squirrel hunting provides not just young hunters but any new hunter.

Squirrels are not glamorous. There aren’t Squirrel Pro Staff positions. No Squirrels Unlimited conservation groups. Squirrels and squirrel hunting seem to have lost its “cool” factor. Folks don’t seem to see three or four squirrels on your belt or in your vest as the same quality “trophy” as a big buck, a tom with a full fan, strap full of greenheads. The squirrel has been relegated to lowly little rodent “tree rat” status, and that’s extremely sad. 

Generations of us began our lifelong love of hunting and being afield as wee little ones tagging along with grown-ups or the “big kids” roaming and learning about the forest, it’s inhabitants, how to read sign, how to be safe, how to feel successful in bringing home supper all from squirrel hunting. How many of us can remember the excitement of saving all our squirrel tails to send in to Mepps in exchange for that little bit of extra money? How many of us remember just how proud we were that Mom fixed a great supper of squirrel, biscuits, gravy, and sliced fresh from the garden tomatoes all because we were able to bring home that meat?



Squirrel hunting sets the stage not just for children, but for any new hunter to develop strong hunting and woodmanship skills.  Hunting requires a basic skill set: patience, persistence, self-discipline, camouflage and stealth. The ability to read and understand the signs of your quarry, the ability to read and understand the rest of the landscape around you.  Whether it’s a 200-inch buck or 2-pound red squirrel, the basic skill set needed is the same.

In my experience most of the really good hunters and woodsmen that I have come to know all started their time afield trundling along as a wee little one hunting squirrels. That basic foundation of gun safety, stealth, reading the surroundings, was all built in a hot, buggy, late summer woods.

I say – let’s make squirrel hunting great again! I say let’s go back to building those lifelong foundations of hunting and woodmanship skills by making an individual commitment to taking our youngsters and new hunters squirrel hunting this season.  You just might realize how much you miss those long-ago days when you traversed the woods chasing Mr. Bushy Tail.

I spoke with Dwayne Durr, a certified hunter safety instructor along with Jill Fox, a Mom who gets her youngster outside at every chance about why squirrel hunting works especially well for the young and new hunters. Both were in agreement on the key reasons:

1. Chance for success is high. We know that if youngsters are not successful harvesting game, seeing game, interacting with game the odds of them wanting to stick with it are just about zip. Squirrels are plentiful. While there is the learning curve of proper shot placement, the opportunity for available shots that lead to success is high. Because the chance for success is high it helps to build confidence and gives young ones the chance to proudly bring home supper for the family.

2. There are more opportunities for squirrel hunting. There are no Quality Squirrel Management Areas. No special fees, tags, permits, lotteries or drawings to hunt squirrels. They are found here there and yon. There’s not a packed parking lot at the local SFWA with squirrel hunters all vying for just the right spot. Any reasonably managed piece of public can and will produce squirrels. Landowners who would never grant permission to someone to hunt deer, turkey, or waterfowl on their property often will allow a squirrel hunter to make the occasional foray through the woodlot or along the fence row.  Especially if the little bushy tails have been sneaking into mama’s garden from the fence row wrecking the tomatoes and stealing all her pears.


3. More tolerable weather.
Yes, it can be darned hot, humid and buggy. However, hunting early in the day or on towards evening goes a long way to solve those issues. It’s hard to keep a young one interested in the outdoors or hunting if they are freezing cold and miserable or bundled up to the Michelin Man degree of roundness and can’t move. Done squirrel hunting for the morning? What the heck throw in a quick, barefoot, rolled up pant leg, wade in a creek for cooling off and just a little more fun in the woods before heading home.

 
4. Low entry investment. It doesn’t cost half the family coffers to get a young one set up to squirrel hunt. Study boots/shoes, lightweight pants and shirt (worn thin hand me down camo works even better as it’s cooler) a hat, a can of bug spray and you are set. The ability to use a lower cost entry level firearms like a .22 or a youth model shotgun also helps to decrease the entry cost.

5. The environment is vibrant and full of interesting things. Because of the timing of squirrel season, the woods are vibrant, rich, full of all sorts of things kids find downright cool. Snakes, spiders, birds, other small game, baby animals out learning their place in the world. Frogs, crawdads, mushrooms. Lots of things that can be incorporated into fun learning. If interest in squirrels alone begins to wane a little, there’s something new and cool to check out just around the corner in the trail.  It’s much easier to keep a child interested when there’s plenty going on around them than when just sitting endlessly waiting on one deer to walk by, or a flock of ducks to make an entrance. This same vibrant living landscape makes for great opportunities to learn tree, plant, mushroom identification and makes it easier than in a empty desolate winter hunting environment.

6. Squirrel hunting is forgiving. It’s okay to miss the shot. There will be an opportunity again shortly.  It’s okay to get a little loud and rambunctious and scare off the squirrels.  They are squirrels for heaven’s sake. They will return, it’s not a 200-inch buck that you just blew into the next county for next three days.  You can hike along for a little ways and find another tree to sit under and poof there they will be all over again. It’s okay to lose focus on the quarry while intimately examining a spider building a web or a mother bird feeding a nest of babies, or any number of things that present themselves along the trip. There simply is not as much pressure, not as tight time constraints, not as much impetus to be selective and get a “trophy”.  Squirrel hunting lets kids be kids in the outdoors while still learning and building that love of being afield and becoming proficient in their safety habits and skills. Squirrel hunting is what teaches youngsters that hunting is not all just killing. It’s about the total experience of being immersed in the outdoors, having fun and spending time with those we love.



Let’s get those kids and new hunters out there this squirrel season, and start making squirrel hunting great again!

 

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