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Tips will help outdoorsmen bag some spring bushytailsOriginally Published May 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2013 at 10:36 a.m.
Arkansas sportsmen have long enjoyed hunting squirrels in spring. This year, the season opens Wednesday, and those of us who enjoy small-game hunting celebrate being able to carry a gun to the woods long after most other game seasons have ended until fall.
Spring hunting and fall hunting are as different as dachshunds and Dalmatians. Consider, for example, the squirrel foods Ma Nature serves up. Instead of acorns and hickory nuts, squirrels thrive on leaf and flower buds, fungi and berries this season. To find the squirrels, find these foods. Mulberries are the crème de la crème, and a single fruit-filled tree could produce multiple limb chickens for a stealthy .22 hunter. Also look for spring squirrels feeding on seeds and buds of maples, tulip poplars, hackberries and dogwoods, which are also among their favorite foods this season.
Most times, you’ll see more squirrels by looking down, not up. They’re often scratching for mushrooms and remaining tidbits from last fall’s nut crop. But get comfy and watch den trees, too. Those with smooth-edged holes may be bristling with young squirrels that go better with dumplings than a barnyard pullet.
Concentrate your hunting efforts during the first three hours after dawn. Cooler temperatures this time of day make it more comfortable for squirrels and squirrel hunters alike. There’s also less likelihood of a heavy breeze springing up to spoil the hunt.
Stalking is a technique ready-made for the spring squirrel hunter. Squirrels aren’t as wary of hunters this season, and leaves on the trees allow the hunter to approach more stealthily.
To overcome the squirrel’s keen senses, you should select your stalking route carefully and shouldn’t attempt to stalk and hunt at the same time. Concentrate on moving noiselessly with your eyes to the ground, pausing frequently to study your surroundings for game. Extend your surveillance to the point that you’re searching the woods a hundred yards or so ahead. If you don’t, squirrels will see you and be hidden before you’re even aware of them.
When you spot a squirrel, move in waltz time. The slower you go, the better your chances are apt to be. If you can swing it, do your traveling at the same time the squirrel is in motion. For example, move forward when two squirrels are chasing each other around a tree and freeze when they stop. The single most important thing a squirrel stalker can learn is that patience is a golden virtue.
Remember, too, you should never stalk with the sun over either shoulder (to your right or to your left). Doing so makes your shadow sweep across the ground perpendicular to your movements, increasing your chances of being seen. It’s better to stalk into the sun if possible. It’s easier to spot moving squirrels in leafy branches if they’re outlined against the bright sky.
If you hunt deer from a box stand on wooded property, you probably remember seeing lots of squirrels last fall when you didn’t want to shoot and possibly spook a whitetail. Now’s the time to go back and do some squirrel hunting from that stand. Enclosed stands allow the hunter to move quietly without being seen. They also provide a gun support, so shooting accuracy is improved whether a scope or open sights are used. Deer stands also are great places to introduce youngsters to spring squirrel hunting. Their chances for success are improved, so they’re more likely to enjoy hunting and develop an interest.
A squirrel call can be fun to try while spring hunting. These handy gadgets don’t usually coax a squirrel to come to the hunter (although that may occasionally happen). Instead, they persuade a squirrel to expose its whereabouts by enticing it to bark or move. This is especially helpful when foliage is dense and sight range is restricted.
A variety of calls are available. Some bark, some chatter, some imitate the distress call of a young squirrel, and several mimic a squirrel’s sharp teeth cutting a nut. Some are operated by means of a rubber bellows pushed with the palm of the hand. Others are blown or have two pieces that are rubbed together. When properly used, each type should help you see more squirrels than you will without calling.
Another enjoyable method for spring hunting is floating a stream. Float hunters can travel to remote areas away from the crowds, and the constantly changing scene adds to the adventure. Riverbank squirrels are seldom wary of hunters, but even so, floating eliminates the sounds produced by even the most careful stalker. If there’s a lull in the action, there’s always time to fish.
Two hunters with decent boating skills can cover a lot of productive hunting territory in a canoe or johnboat. The helmsman moves the boat along the bank, taking advantage of cover provided by overhanging trees and staying within shotgun range of the shore. He moves the craft slowly, stopping when a likely area is approached. Occasionally, it may be necessary to tie up and spend time looking and listening. When a squirrel is spotted, the bow man prepares for a shot while his partner steadies the boat and paddles him quietly into position.
Be especially watchful when nearing bends in the stream; that’s where some of the best shots are presented. Search the area for squirrels in the trees and on the ground. Keep to the inside bend so you’re out of sight until the last second.
Always wear life jackets when float hunting. Abide by local hunting regulations. Confine your hunting to open public lands or areas where you have permission to hunt. And take along a dip net to gather your squirrels. Dead squirrels sink.
These tips aren’t the final answer to spring squirrel—hunting success. But if what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t produced the desired results, give them a try. Ol’ Bushytail’s brain may not be any bigger than a hickory nut, but he’s got plenty of survival instincts tucked away inside. To outwit him, you have to be better at playing his games than he is.
None Keith Sutton can be reached at .