Squirrel Hunting: Getting Started

Squirrels don’t receive a lot of attention from today’s hunters. Most focus on other game, such as deer and turkeys, which is understand­able. Deer and turkeys are big game — and a big deal. Many hunters can remember when deer and turkeys were few. Squirrels are small, and their populations have never been threatened. Squirrels are, well, just common.

Yet consider these facts about the squirrel as a game animal: The hunting season for squirrels is one of Missouri’s longest, extending from late May through mid-February; bag limits are liberal: 10 squirrels a day; practically any stand of mixed hardwood timber, of a few acres or more, will support huntable squirrel populations; and, when taken with a rifle, shooting squirrels requires pin-point accuracy — a challenge for any marksman. As table fare, no game animal is better. If you have overlooked squirrels as a hunting opportunity, reconsider. Here are some tips to get you started.

Know Your Trees

The two species of squirrels you can hunt in Missouri are gray squirrels and fox squirrels. Trees provide these ani­mals with most of their food, as well as a place to live and raise their young. Accordingly, gray and fox squirrels are collectively known as tree squirrels.

Knowledge of tree species is key to finding good squir­rel populations. The Department of Conservation offers an excellent reference on tree identification through the online Field Guide at mdc.mo.gov/node/73. There is also a printed Trees of Missouri Field Guide, available for $7.50 (plus shipping and handling). You can order a copy at mdcnatureshop.com or by calling 877-521-8632. You may also purchase one at a conservation nature center or regional office near you.

Missouri’s woodlands are dominated by various species of oaks and hickories. All produce nuts that begin to ripen in August and serve as food for squirrels throughout the winter. Most squirrel hunters focus their hunting when hickory nuts and acorns first ripen. The sounds of squirrels scurrying among branches and cutting nuts make them easier to locate and provide exciting action. Yet excellent squirrel hunting can also be found when squirrel season opens in late spring. The key: mulberry trees.

Two species are found in Missouri, red mulberry and white mulberry. Both species produce fruit from late May until early July. Find a fruiting mulberry tree in woods that support a healthy squirrel population and fine hunt­ing is all but assured. But there is