They’re fast, furry and feisty. They’re all over the woods. Not only are they entertaining to hunt, they’re tasty, too.
Of course, we’re talking about squirrels! And if you’ve never thought of hunting this small-game quarry, think again.
Targeting squirrels is a great way to prepare for bowhunting season. You’ll get lots of opportunities to range shot distances, practice your shooting form, and arrow small targets. While you’re on the pursuit, you might even stumble upon hidden bowhunting hotspots.
What’s not to love?
We spoke with avid squirrel hunter Kevin Murphy to learn how to hunt these small-game creatures. Murphy has 50-plus years of experience and lots of great tips for hunters tackling the challenge with a bow and arrow.
Murphy said squirrels are regularly moving near summer’s end because they’re gathering and storing food for the winter. If you determine what they’re eating, you’ll know where to hunt.
“Squirrels are opportunists,” Murphy said. “They eat just about anything that’s out there. Some regular food sources include nuts, fungi, berries, tree buds and scaly bark. Mulberries are one of their favorite foods. Also, I haven’t seen them eat this, but I know they eat cicada or locusts when they hatch.”
It’s important to understand how to identify tree species so you know what potential food sources are available in your area. Bonus: Squirrels and deer compete for several food sources. If you find a squirrel sanctuary, look for a tree for your treestand, especially if you see fresh sign in the area.
If you’ve found a squirrel hang-out that’s laden with food sources, quietly slip through the woods until you’re there, Murphy advised. He suggests taking five or six slow steps before stopping to survey the area. Carefully scan the tree line and watch for movement. If you spot squirrels and you’re within range, post up against a tree and shoot. If they’re too far away, you’ll have to stalk them to get closer. When stalking prey, only advance when the squirrels move, look away or lower their heads.
If you see multiple squirrels in an area or on a tree, Murphy suggests shooting the bottom one first. If you hit the squirrel, watch where it falls but don’t retrieve it right away. Instead, identify a nearby landmark, such as a bush or stump, to remember where the squirrel fell. Then, continue hunting patiently.
“Squirrels will probably scatter when you shoot, but if they aren’t often hunted, they probably won’t feel too threatened so they’ll start to mull around again after 10 minutes or so,” Murphy said.
Hunt when you can, but dusk and dawn are ideal times.
“Predominantly, squirrels move real early in the morning or real late in the evening,” Murphy said. “If I had to pick any time of the day that I’d go hunting in fall, it’d be the first two and the last two hours of daylight.”
Murphy said squirrels seem more active on the eastern side of hills and ridges because that’s where the sun hits when it rises. Likewise, squirrels are more active on western slopes in the evening when the sun sets.
Squirrel movement will depend on the weather, so you’ll want to plan your hunt appropriately.
“I don’t think squirrels move as much when it’s really hot or humid in the summertime,” Murphy said. “They also don’t move as much on windy days, unless they’re in a protected area such as a valley.”
According to Murphy, the best time to go squirrel hunting in the fall is when it starts to warm up after a cold front drove the temperature down for a few days.
You can also gauge squirrel activity based on the squirrels near your house or in city parks. Murphy said city squirrels don’t always act like rural squirrels, but they might give you a good idea. When they’re running around, take note of the weather and time of day. Those conditions might help you pattern squirrels so you can pick better days to hunt.
If you’ve never squirrel-hunted before, “just start going,” Murphy said. You’ll learn a lot through hands-on experience. If you’re nervous, do more research to better prepare. Read the Bowhunting 360 article “Is Squirrel Hunting a Thing? Yes! Here’s What You Should Know” to learn what archery equipment to use and where to aim. Another excellent resource from Bowhunting 360 is “Bowhunting Squirrels: Big Fun in Small Packages.” Then, apply Murphy’s advice, and let your arrows fly.
For more tips from Murphy, read the MeatEater article “Squirrel Hunting with Kevin Murphy.”
Remember, when you’re searching for squirrels, make the most of your time by scouting the woods for deer signs, tracks and food sources.
“The more time you spend in the woods, the more you’ll learn about squirrels and other wildlife in the area,” Murphy said. “Even if you don’t kill many squirrels, your time spent in the woods can be productive if you’re aware of what’s going on and you look for trails, tracks and other signs. Pay attention and you’ll learn the terrain, too.”
And don’t be afraid to shoot at every squirrel you see, until you’ve killed your legal limit. Check your state wildlife agency’s website for season dates and bag limits. Meat in the freezer plus an opportunity to scout and practice for deer season equals a win-win!