Want better Missouri squirrel hunting? Let your woods grow to maturity

  • Missouri’s two kinds of tree squirrels, gray and fox, depend upon the right combination of trees for food, shelter and nesting.
  • Squirrels thrive in nearly mature or mature forests. They are most attracted to land with at least 50 to 75 nut and shelter trees, such as oak, hickory, walnut, elm, maple and mulberry trees.
  • During drought, squirrels will migrate to within one-quarter to one-half mile of open water, such as a pond or stream, if their local water source dries up.

Threats to squirrel habitat

  • Annual fire. Uncontrolled burning destroys ground cover and food-producing shrubs, as well as slows regeneration of timber stands. Fire scars on trees develop into butt cavities, which are not suitable for squirrel dens.
  • Uncontrolled livestock. Continuous grazing removes wildflowers, shrubs and small trees that produce fruit and nuts. Acorn-eating hogs compete with squirrels and other wildlife.

Manage your woods for squirrels

  • Improve solid stands of even-aged timber by cutting an occasional tree to open up the solid canopy and promote tree crown growth, thus improving nut production and seedling growth. This encourages different kinds of trees and promotes the growth of uneven-aged stands, insuring a more dependable food supply and natural den development.
  • Leave these trees space to grow: mulberries, wild cherry, elm, maple, hackberry, sweet gum and ash are food producers for squirrels. Most of these develop den cavities more rapidly than some of the commercial hardwoods and are useful as fuel.
  • Girdle “wolf trees.” Trees with large, spreading crowns that dominate nearby trees can serve as excellent squirrel shelter if girdled and allowed to stand. As they die, they provide dens for several years before they fall, then create open spaces for new trees and shrubs to grow.

Undergrowth and odd lots for squirrels

  • Manage for a good undergrowth of hazel, hawthorn, dogwood, redbud, brambles and wild grape (browse our field guide for these trees). Windfalls or downed trees help create ground cover that attracts gray squirrels.
  • Leave nut-producing trees in the fencerows and odd corners where possible. Trees and shrubs growing in the open with less competition are thriftier and yield more food than those in forests. Grape, sumac, hazel, brambles and other shrubs (browse our field guide for more info) furnish ground cover and food. These also provide protection for squirrels using fencerows as travel lanes.


Key Messages: 

Conservation makes Missouri a great place to hunt and fish.

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