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Scattergunning for Squirrels

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Squirrel hunters are usually an amiable, agreeable lot, at least until you ask them about the best way to harvest squirrels. Some hunt only with .22 caliber rifles. Others, for added challenge, opt for muzzle-loading rifles or .22 caliber pistols. Some even use bow and arrow. Hunters from these groups often claim there is no sport in using shotguns to hunt squirrels, and that squirrels riddled with shotgun pellets aren't fit to eat.

For years I held this view. My favorite firearm for squirrel hunting was a .54 caliber, flintlock, muzzle-loading rifle. Loaded with 50 grains of 2F black powder and aimed at a squirrel's head, the rifle did a superb job of fetching squirrels. It also infused hunts with a rich sense of history. In no way was I interested in shotgunning for squirrels.

Then, my friend Mark Haas invited me to join him on a squirrel hunt at his mother-in-law's farm. Mark had told me about this farm in the Bootheel. The ground includes a 60-acre patch of timber that has never been logged. Dominated by huge shellbark hickories, cherrybark oaks and towering pecans, the timber supports tremendous numbers of fox squirrels.

"What a place to hunt squirrels with my flintlock!" I thought. Then Mark added: "The only hitch is you will have to leave your muzzle-loading rifle at home. Rifles worry my mother in-law. For squirrel hunting, she only allows shotguns."

I had not hunted squirrels with a shotgun for more than 20 years, but I was not about to turn down a chance to hunt squirrels in virgin timber. When I hung up the phone, I started gathering gear for the next day's squirrel hunt. After all, purism has its limits.

I knew how to hunt squirrels with a shotgun. Use large shot, use full choke and limit shots to when only a squirrel's head is visible, or hold point of aim in front of a squirrel and hit it with the edge of the pattern. The principles were easy. I simply had little experience putting them into practice.

Mark and I talked about squirrel hunting with shotguns the following morning as we drove to his mother-in-law's farm.

"Done right, a squirrel bagged with a shotgun can be just as fine eating as one that's been cleanly shot with a .22," Mark said. "The key is limiting shots to the head and knowing your shotgun's pattern at different distances."

In the twilight of predawn, Mark

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